A Focused Autobiography Centered around my Passion for Computers

(meant also to reveal the relationship between people and things they love)

My Life and the Computer

August 12, 1981: International Business Machines Corporation releases the IBM PC; it will go on, for better or worse, to become the basis for the most successful computer architecture of all time. Thirty-eight days later, September 19, Nancy Mitchell Dahlman is wed to Richard Sperry Guy at the UVA Chapel in Charlottesville, VA. Current energizes freshly fabricated circuits, fans whir, a screen flickers to life.

May 22, 1990: Microsoft Corporation releases Windows 3.0, the first widely-used release of what will go on, for better or worse, to become the most successful operating system of all time. Eighty-eight days earlier February 23, I, Donald Breckenridge Guy, am born at Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, NC. Hardware initializes, diagnostics run, network connections are initiated.

August 24, 1995: Microsoft Corporation releases Windows 95, it established a user experience and interface that will go on, for better or worse, to become the most widely experienced of all time. Two hundred fifty-eight days later, Nancy D. Guy is elected to the Virginia Beach City Public Schools school board; she will go on to spearhead technology programs and along the way get her family's first Windows Desktop and, enroll me, her son Donald, in FutureKids Technology Education Program. For the first time, my life boots all the way up. What has thus far been an inert machine, an object with huge potential to solve problems and create things but no way to do so, has, for the first time, a controlling program, an operating system, a hobby then a love. A passion.

Throughout the life I can remember, I have always been the “computer whiz.” At times it has been corrupted to geek, hacker, or nerd, but never has it varied far from this archetype. It began in first grade, when I was sent from classroom to classroom to help teachers install software, configure printers, and make things work. Already, I was beginning to develop a reputation as that kid; when the school syste faced a shortage of qualified technicians, the principal of my elementary school commented to my mother, “We don't need a technician, we have Donald.” Fast forward to fourth grade, my elementary school holds its first parent-student Great Computer Challenge; my mother and I take first prize; she comments in the family Christmas card letter that year that “it was like playing in a pro-am with Tiger [Woods], I just tried to stay out of the way.” Continuing through elementary and middle school, I compete in the regional Great Computer Challenge, seeing every position on the medaling podium. Summer before my sophomore year, I write a web application using HTML, PHP, and SQL to allow my friends and classmates to compare schedules automatically; it gets brief mention in the Virginian-Pilot and garners such comments from friends and strangers as “dude, you're a frickin' genius” and “I love you man.”

So that is how others see me, what about myself; do I define myself in terms of the computer? Not entirely, but it has unmistakably played a significant role in shaping my life. In my lifetime, the world has changed; as Thomas L. Friedman puts it in his New York Times Bestseller, “Columbus reported to his king and queen that the world was round, and went down in history as the man who mad this discovery. I... shared my discovery only with my wife... I think the world is flat.” What has led to this re-flattened world? Above all, the computer and the Internet. I had mastered the use of a computer at seven and had a website and e-mail address at eight; the world was changing and because of my love of learning and my fascination with the machine, the power flowed right into my hands. This year TIME magazine made “You.” person of the year for using computers to create the world we live in, but I've been doing it for years.

That, in essence, has always been my fascination with the computer. At the age of six I was exposed to two simple graphics manipulation programs called Print Artist and Arts & Letters Express. My freedom of expression started with the former. Move over Hallmark, I had the power to make greeting cards. Sure it doesn't seem like a lot, but that is where it began . Next came Arts & Letters, I could produce pictures and flyers no one else in my family could duplicate; I could produce gradients, customize clip art and make 3D text, but they could not. Who taught me how to do this? I did. From humble beginnings as a graphic artist, I moved into the world of business; learning from FutureKids, I quickly mastered the art of Microsoft Office. I could make a database, extract one table to a spreadsheet, add further formulas, format it beautifully, and paste it into a Powerpoint before many adults had even heard some of those terms. FutureKids was my Eden: computers everywhere, an endless fount of learning, and a file cabinet full of games to play when I got far enough ahead of the class to need to wait for them to catchup. Additionally I got to review games and other software for Family PC magazine, allowing me always to be learning new software—I was a beta tester before I knew there was a Greek alphabet.

Like all good things, FutureKids came to an end. Improvements in computer education in schools, largely helped in Virginia Beach by FutureKids, Inc., drove the niche market to a premature death in 2000. My only consolation was that, that on my tenth, I received my own computer. The previous two years I had attended FutureKid camps in web design and robotics. Becoming bored with the limitations of programs available, I had planned to go to programming camp that summer. Due to FutureKids closure, this could not be. Thus, I moved into middle school with a lack of computers, possibly prompting my decision to take band rather than computer classes; music after all, is but another form of creation. While I liked music (more after I moved to drums from my short lived career as a saxophonist), it was not the same. Thus, I started to learn things from books for fun, teaching myself HTML and PHP.

That summer I attended American Computer Experience (ACE) Camp, learning my first non-web language, a bit of C++. It was also the first time I met other people as interested in computers as me. The following summer, ACE Camp having gone bankrupt, I attended Cybercamps. Supposedly working in game design, I came out of this summer with something much more potent. First, though ACE camp gave me a taste, it was the first time I was submerged in geek culture: LAN parties, electronica, late night food runs well after our consolers were supposed to have taken us back to our rooms; I realized that despite the fact that some of these looked and acted strangely and weren't “cool,” they were intelligent and fun. Second, that summer I learned of Linux and the open source movement: breaking my dependency on Microsoft, introducing me to copyright law and freedom of information, and ingraining in me certain ideals in software and well beyond. Being thus inspired, I rounded out that summer by building my first computer, learning the perl programming language, and beginning an open source game project called “province” with a friend (one of the few not at my high school with whom I still speak regularly).

In high school I have not let up one bit; I have learned several more programming languages, taken classes in computer programming and computer science (being the only student in the city to take the harder AB level test and receiving the highest grade), read many more books (several of which I asked for and received as Christmas gifts), and attended the National Youth Leadership Forum on Technology in San Jose, CA. This year I went even further, learning about computer architecture (how computers work at a near physical level and how to program them in a language they understand without translation). Computers have pushed me further in other interests: mathematics, electronics, physics, religion, philosophy, and an innumerable number of topics I have discovered via Wikipedia or Google. I don't know what I plan to do with the rest of my life, but I know whatever it is it will somehow involve my passion: computing.