1978 - Processor Technology Sol-20
1979 - 8K Pet
1981 - 32K Pet
1983 - IBM XT
1989 - PC Clone
Some great stories here! Never too young to start, or old to learn! Very cool :)
I started on in 1978 (I was 12-13) and my dad bought me a Sol-20 from a colleague of his. It was sold as either a kit computer or a completed system and I remember the dude from whom he bought it, so I think it really was bought as a kit rather than pre-assembled. It came with 8K of static ram, a tape recorder and a copy of their 5K integer (no strings) Basic. Do that math; that left 3K for program space.
Other than hello world programs, my dad also bought me a copy of Creative Computer's Book of 101 Basic Games. I found a few of the smaller games (many wouldn't fit into 3K), diligently typed them in from the book, and watched them fail (SN-ERROR AT LINE 10). Thus began my world of debugging and adaptation. I learned that this basic would not handle strings, data reads, or matrices (only arrays). But the debugging and modifications gave me the foundation to start writing my own work. Wrote a dice-rolling game, then a horse-racing game (horses ran according to their odds). My dad bought me another 8K S100 card a year later, and I could run the advanced basic on that.
In high school I sold the Sol-20 and bought an 8K Commodore Pet computer, which was handy since my high school had about six of them, and I could trade programs (Creative computing games!) with the other kids.
I bought a DEC LA-100 printer cover from a local surplus store in 1981 which had an acoustic coupler built into it. Got a wiring diagram and Steve Punter's modem program (I'm a Toronto boy like Steve, and he was at the TPUG meetings), and I was off to the telephonic races! I quickly became a junkie of the Toronto BBS scene.
First thing I did in 1983 when I got my IBM XT was to find BBS software (written in basic - sloooow), and re-write it so I had my own BBS software. Found the PC-BBS source (in basic), stripped out everything other than the parts that worked the modem, and wrote the rest from scratch. It was sluggish (interpreted Basic) and not ENTIRELY bug free ;) Dropped messages here and there; we ended up calling our first BBS the Black Hole.
Re-wrote the entire thing in Borland Turbo Pascal 3.0 in 1984, and it motored! By then my friends and I were running 4-5 Vanguard BBSes in Toronto. This was when FIDONet had started batching mail between their systems, so we set out to design a multi- topology short/long haul mail routing system.
The rest as they say is history :)