Life changer

Meeting someone who changed my life and didn't know it

Published on 
3 min, 580 words

Categories: life

I was fortunate enough to meet someone who dramatically changed my life but didn't know it. And when I met them I didn't even get the chance to speak to them or say thank you.

My father was an electronic engineer who worked from home, well the shed at the end of the garden. When the Sinclair ZX81 came out he bought one and this was my first contact with a home computer. This was soon joined by it's successor the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. At one point we had four of these in the house. We also had a BBC Micro, a BBC Electron and they were later joined by the ill-fated Sinclair QL and one of the first Amstrad PCs.

I wrote my first ever program on a ZX Spectrum. I had typed in a bunch of programs from magazines but this was the first time I had written something from scratch. It was to move a character left and right on the screen and the key insight was to put a space either side so that it would rub out where it was before. I remember that moment of discovery clearly and going into my parents bedroom to wake them up so I could show them. I was much more excited about it than them.

My skills developed and I did a few school projects on it. One of them was winning a prize for religious education by writing a program to explain and draw a bunch of key terms we were learning. The school didn't have any Spectrums so the teacher had to come to my house to view it.

I ended up doing a degree in Computer Science and now have over thirty years of commercial programming experience but it all comes from that initial ZX Spectrum.

In about 2003 (I would guess) I was working for a consultancy I helped to start. We won a piece of work to develop one of the first online poker games. We were dealing with some of the top players in the UK and an American who was one of the top players in the world. It was a challenging project - we developed a full 3d view of the card room and animated the dealing etc. while backed by a scalable backend, and this was in the days before Unity and the cloud.

As part of the project they wanted us to experience what it was like to play in a poker tournament so they signed us up for one in the basement of some casino in London. It was actually quite nerve wracking - playing against some top players when you have no idea what you are doing and they even show their disapproval at your lack of ability to shuffle and deal.

However the highlight for me was that one of the people playing was Sir Clive Sinclair - the creator the aforementioned computer. I got to, sort of, meet and play poker against someone who changed the direction of my life.

Unfortunately the combination of my lack of skills and his better skills meant that our paths diverged quite quickly and I wasn't able to speak to him and say thank you however it is nice to think that I at least got to meet him ... and help him win some money I guess.

And yes I have the ZX Spectrum t-shirt.