Same Stop

21 May 2023

I retired a year and a half ago after having worked for twenty-six years as a programmer for Apple. I’m not sure which would have been more surprising: if I had continued programming in my spare time after I had retired or if I never programmed again.

I suppose most people would not be surprised by, perhaps might expect the latter to be the case — might expect that I would hang up the keyboard after I retire in the same way we expect that a retired doctor probably stops performing surgeries and begins to spend more time on the golf course.

In fact right after retirement there was a sense of relief that I would never again have to step through code trying to determine why a dispatch to a background thread never completed. No longer would I have to worry about completely screwing up the project repo because of my misadventures with git.

The respite from programming though lasted maybe about four months after retiring. I started a small project , in part to learn Python, in part to play with e-ink displays. I was back programming (back abusing git) but of course the pressure was off. It both was and wasn’t like the day job I had left behind.

A younger programmer in the late 1980's.
In college, unknowingly anticipating the next three decades of his life.

I should mention though that before my twenty-six years at Apple, I had originally been writing shareware games for fun and, a few years after that, a few commercial games for a living. Since programming had initially been a kind of hobby to me it is probably less surprising then that I would eventually return to writing code.

I am not sure though if this is still the case for software engineers. Are there younger engineers, new to the career, for whom programming is not merely a job but something they can imagine doing in their spare time? I think I met a few as I was winding down my career. I do feel though that back around 1988 or so when I started getting serious into programming that all fellow programmers I met were also doing it with a kind of passion. How is it you can love a machine?

I dabbled with writing a game in Javascript after my Python foray. And then roughly a year after I retired I went back to Python to write an application this time.

But this year, 2023, I find myself suddenly on a kind of tear. Though I eventually began programming again, in the first fourteen months of retirement I did all manner of other things in my spare time as well. I kept also-busy with woodworking projects, experiments learning Blender and 3D printing, bike riding — just to name a few. But somehow this year I have found myself tipping head-long back into full-time programming. It is distinctly reminding me of my sleepless days spent writing shareware games for the Macintosh thirty-five years ago.

I’m not sure if that is a good thing. I am back to coding late into the night, and back at it after coffee and an English muffin the following morning (thankfully though I quit the cigarettes decades ago). Programming is beginning again to be to the exclusion of all else in my life. (The table saw sits slowly rusting. The bike hangs on the wall in the garage.)

And just to further complete the circle, it's not Javascript or Python (or Swift) that is calling to me, but my old nemesis C. And further, I have this desire to revisit/rewrite some of the shareware games that I wrote over three decades ago.

What am I trying to say? I have a programming addiction? (Maybe.)

From here I could go into detail on any number of things: working for Apple in the 90’s vs. working for Apple post-iPhone, why something that others would consider a job (programming) some do for fun, why game authoring appeals to both sides of the brain.

I guess at this moment though I am simply marveling at having hopped off the career train only to find I have come full circle — somehow got off at the same stop where I got on. Perhaps I can talk about some of those other things in the future.

Laughably, I’m reminded of the last MST3K episode where Mike and the ‘bots finally get back to Earth only to plop down in front of a TV to watch “The Crawling Eye”, one of the first films they riffed a decade earlier.

Or maybe I’m just an old guy looking back and romanticizing the early days. I’m back to coding in C again, writing little inconsequential games to amuse myself. Or maybe there was something a little magical then. Simpler times?

Lets be clear, I’m not back coding on a Mac Plus with a floppy drive, habitually hitting command-S to save my progress every few minutes — no dial-up modem (ha ha, no land line). I comb through StackOverflow like everyone else trying to figure out why toggling fullscreen mode trashes the SDL_Textures I marked as targetable. (Right?)

But there is something becoming more familiar to me as I go back to the wild west of C programming (where very little happens behind the scenes I might point out - no garbage collection here!). And so why not rewrite some familiar little games as well?

Now thirty-five years older.
To be clear, Glypha is 35 years old, not me, ha ha.