RetroCoders is the brainchild of Melody Ayres-Griffiths.
A ‘Xennial‘, Melody grew up in Colwood and Langford (in the Westshore, suburbs of Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia) in the late 1980s, and was fortunate to have access to an Apple II and Commodore 64 at her elementary school, Wishart Elementary, where she learned BASIC and Logo, before getting an Atari 130XE computer at home. At Dunsmuir Junior Secondary she was quickly made an administrator of the schools brand-new Apple Macintosh lab, due to her computer-savvy, and she taught both fellow students and teachers how to use them.
She learned Pascal and Hypercard programming on those Macintoshes, while at home her family bought an Atari ST computer, which came with ST BASIC, and she later acquired a copy of STOS (the ST version of AMOS for the Amiga), an extended BASIC dialect. At Belmont Senior Secondary she learned a bit of C.
Melody was an early user of what was to become the Internet, downloading software for home and school computers from universities in the US using FTP, a file-transfer network. She was a frequent user of local computer chat systems and bulletin-board systems. Melody even wrote her own BBS and chat system software.
Interested in music, Melody also learned about MIDI programming, and music ‘tracking’, a primitive way of producing music on 16-bit computers. Some of her music was shipped in the WebTV / MSNTV box, which was sold in the millions.
Having learned about technology progressively and organically, Melody developed an intuitive sense about coding and electronics during an area where constructivism – the idea that children learn best when they discover things for themselves – was championed. In recent years, as coding once again became important in children’s education, Melody began to notice that modern coding programs were more ‘rote’ than ever, telling kids what to do without properly explaining, and providing no real opportunities for self-discovery.
Melody realized that much of her understanding of computers was the result of having learned to code on simpler hardware, using simpler languages, which allowed for immediate feedback and were much better suited for exploration. Further, the history of computing is as important to coding as history is to any other discipline – biology, physics, chemistry – and its current neglect is an obvious deficiency in computer science education, particularly for children.
To address this, in the late 2010s Melody published Paleotronic, a magazine that explored these subjects, during which time she interviewed technology luminaries such as Apple co-founder Steve Wozmiak, Broderbund co-founder Doug Carlston, Sinclair Spectrum designer Richard Altwasser and video-game developers such as Rob Fulop. But while the magazine had a positive reception, it was too passive to make a serious impact on the education of today’s young people. Melody realized she would need to get more directly involved.
And so, the idea of RetroCoders was born, a coding program and accompanying software that teaches programming using modernized or emulated versions of simpler, 1980s computing languages such as Logo and BASIC, while also providing context around the development of those systems and languages, and the key industry figures and events involved.
RetroCoders gradually progress through the history of computing, learning about increasingly sophisticated hardware and programming languages, while building their own self-directed projects, discovering for themselves the unique idiosyncrasies present in different computers. At in-person events, they even get the chance to try their programs on real vintage 1980s computer hardware!
RetroCoders eventually progress to modern programming languages, but with a firm foundation of understanding about just how and why these languages do what they do.
This process makes RetroCoders better coders.