(When I asked Robert Morris to read a draft of "What Doesn't
Seem Like Work?" he replied with his own story, which he has allowed
me to publish.)
My father tried to interest me in programming somewhat before
high school; it didn't work, and I didn't continue then. My life was
pretty aimless, and my father delivered some hard words about how boring
my life was going to be.
I re-started programming in early high school. I don't remember any
gap between re-starting and total absorbtion. Programming was off the
radar for nearly everyone at my high school, and was unrelated to
studying, so the question of whether it was work never arose. Just as
well considering how little effort I put into school. I mentally moved
to Bell Labs, first because I was using their computers and software,
then because I got a part-time job there in late high school.
Because college acts as such a strong sorter, when I got there it was
much more like Bell Labs than it was like high school. I spent time
with people like Rich Draves, for whom programming was not work. CS
wasn't the same as programming (I still remember my confusion and
disappointment at a recursion theory seminar early freshman year), but
it was close enough that I could get by.
Even in college it took me a while to admit that it was all about
programming. People at Bell Labs believed that CS was not serious,
that one must study something with inherent value like math. Not
wanting to look like a loser to the people I most admired, I was
pretty late in admitting the obvious about math. Straightening myself
out was tough, and I was not mentally flexible enough to keep in touch
with the Bell Labs people after ignoring their advice.
The idea that one should ask questions about one's own life (e.g. your
"What seems like work...?") and act on the answers was completely alien
to me in those days, and I doubt I could have absorbed any wisdom in