I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa to Jorgen and Shane Ravn. My dad was born in Denmark and my mom was born in Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe). They both immigrated to South Africa as kids where later they met and had me.
My brother Nick was born a year and half later. It was 1984, and the situation in South Africa was rapidly deteriorating (due to mounting opposition to apartheid). My parents decided we would have a brighter future in the U.S., even if it meant leaving all of our family and friends behind. My dad, having recently sold his company share, secured a work visa and we immigrated shortly later. I was about 3. It was a big journey, being financially and emotionally tough for my parents.
Lots of different places
Finding work in an unfamiliar country can be tough, especially for an immigrant on a work visa. I spent much of my childhood traveling across the states, as my dad followed job opportunities.
We first lived in Nashville, Tennessee. I spent a good deal of my childhood there but never managed to pick up the accent (although occasionally someone claims I have a slight Southern twang). We all had strong South African accents though. I clearly remember my 2nd grade teacher showing the BBC version of “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” and pointing out, incorrectly, that they had an accent “just like James!”.
I moved to Foster City, CA when I was about 10, and then to Suffolk Long Island when I was 12. Right before high school we moved back to Foster City where I went to San Mateo High School for 4 years. After that, due to the crazy house prices, my family moved to Southern California (near Irvine in Lake Forest).
I made a lot of friends while traveling around, and thanks to IM (icq, aim, gtalk), have kept in contact with many of them. Without that technology I would probably have lost touch with these people.
When I was about 10, my family bought a shiny new IBM i386 PC (my mom worked for IBM at the time as a programmer). I thought it was the coolest thing ever. We had a big ol’ 5.25” floppy disk filled with games. I fondly remember playing VGA trek with my younger brother Nick, commanding him to fire photo torpedos and charging into black holes.
At some point I discovered this great thing called GW-BASIC and it was downhill from there. QBasic was my next stepping point, which I used to create a few mouse driven graphical games in DOS (wish I still had those!). One of my favorite creations was called UFP – “Unidentified Flying Pizzas”. You had to click on pizzas and other objects as they scrolled across the screen to shoot them. That game was awesome.
This was also the start of my experience with being online via a 2800 baud modem. I found it incredibly exciting to be able to interact with others through PCs and telephone lines. I became heavily involved in the local bulletin board systems (and some not-so-local ones to my parents’ chagrin), and later migrated to the nationwide systems, like Prodigy, before finally the internet replaced it all. I’m really lucky to have been part of that brief spurt of pre-internet history, it was something magical.
Becoming a programmer
In high school I started diving into C and C++. I also had a TI-82 calculator and TI games were all the rage at the time. I created a game or two that got pretty popular around my highschool. One was called “TIE Fighter”, based on a similar MS-DOS game I had played. You had a target that you moved around the screen, and you would shoot lasers as TIE fighters flew around blasting your base. In retrospect I probably should have been studying harder rather than making games for TI calculators.
At this point I had a really good idea what I wanted to do. I loved programming, and everyone told me I needed to get a college degree, so that’s what I did. College was an interesting experience for me, and I could write a lot more about it. Apart from class work, I spent a good deal of my time programming in C on Circle MUDs. At the same time I somehow managed to meet my amazing wife and fool her into marrying me.
When I was writing this page I showed Lizzie a draft and she told me sarcastically “I see how much you wrote about your wife”. I was just saving the best for last, of course. 🙂
One of the greatest experiences of my life has been meeting my wife. And now we have two awesome kids. Really, I’m just a lucky son of a submariner.