NERD HEAVEN: Tales From Computer Camp

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Computer camp.It’s just like any other summer camp but, instead of canoeing or playing capture the flag, kids play DOOM and learn C++.

It turns out a lot of tech enthusiasts spent their summers this way.  We asked readers for their computer camp memories and found it was the best time of their lives.

“Holy crap..I’d love to talk to someone about my computer camp. I went for 9 years including 5 as a counselor. Amazing!” one reader wrote.

We got hilarious responses from giddy readers who were all to eager to dish about camp activities, the smoking hot counselors, and what it took to win Camper of the Week.

Here’s what happens when you put hundreds of nerds behind closed computer lab doors.

The campers: Stoners, semi-geeks and life-long friends

Computer camp attendance ranged from handfuls to hundreds of campers per week.

'It was definitely pretty nerdy,' one serial computer camper tells us. 'There were a fair number of Aspergergy types with serious social disorders.' He recalls a fellow camper threatening to stab another with a butter knife in the cafeteria.

'There were also quite a few stoner/slacker types and a handful of goth kids.'

Despite all of that, the campers, he says, weren't all that strange. 'The plurality of kids weren't weird, they were just semi-geeky kids who liked doing computer stuff.'

Another recalls similarly strange social misfits at his camp. 'There was Brett Coorey, the kid who claimed he was a sponsored roller-blader who made fun of us for playing Starcraft. Coorey became convinced that we stole his 'lucky' penny. He would follow us around and go, 'Steeeeealer, steeeealer.' He later found it in his room.'

Among the social misfits, there were great friends to be made. 'I made friends that year that I am still friends to this day,' says one camper. 'The kid with 'C++' shaved into the back of his head? I was not friends with him.'

All former campers agree that the counselors were much cooler than the campers.

'They seemed to be college students, a lot of them liberal arts types who just knew a few things about programming,' a reader recalls.

While they were cool, they weren't the most responsible leaders. 'They had no idea how to handle pre-pubescent boys,' one camper recalls.

'The older CITs were caught smoking pot with one of the counselors and got fired,' says another.

But many former campers still went on to become CITs and counselors. 'Not only was I a computer camp counselor, I designed the curriculum for Plant Kids' Computer Camp in 1997. I'm still involved today,' says one reader.

'I returned as a CIT (Counselor in Training),' says another. 'Before arriving, I dyed my entire head of helmet-hair bright blue. I looked like Milhouse, but was instantly one of the coolest kids there.'

'I taught a class on Visual Basic to really young kids who got a huge kick out of writing a program that's sole purpose was to shut a computer down,' he recalls. 'I also remember punishing a camper by making him stand out in the busy intersection near the college campus, holding a sign that read, 'Computer-Ed High Tech Summer Camps.' Ah, shame.'

Activities: Model rocket construction, finding mathematical patterns in tie-dyed shirts, and flailing around at sports

Like most other camps, computer camp was comprised of games and sports with some lab time worked in.

'In the morning we'd start with some outdoor activity (dodgeball, etc) then head inside for some games around 10:30. The original Prince of Persia was all the rage back then,' says a YMCA computer camp goer.

'Then it was lunch time and in the afternoon we'd have a a word processor assignment like writing a diary of the day before.'

Another reader who attended ACE Computer Camp at the University of Michigan recalls a similar schedule. 'We'd wake up early every day, grab breakfast at a campus cafeteria, and then head to class. We'd have an hour or so to work on homework. We basically ran amok.'

Sports were also a big part of computer camp, much to the dismay of the campers. 'There were occasional sporting events at which we all flailed around without talent,' says one reader.

'A couple of times they had us do actual physical activities which had disastrous results,' says another. 'We played a 12 on 12 basketball game and it was total chaos: double dribbles, going out of bounds, and sloppy fouls.'

Computer camp was a mix of activities. 'We did model rocket construction (and aerodynamics), race car construction, different sports activities, art classes (tie-dying, where we learned about the mathematical patterns that the tie-dye may represent), music classes (we recorded our own album using a Korg synthesiser), and... lots of computer classes,' a camper recalls.

Girls were scarce at computer camp and thus vied for by the male campers.

'There were two girls, Connie and Megan. We NEVER spoke to them. But we'd have fairly in-depth conversations in our room at night about the girls,' one reader says.

'There were TWO girl campers,' says another ex-camper. 'Turns out one was A) from Sweden and B) super hot. I totally made out with her. A Swedish girl. At computer camp. Rock star.'

Others recall the guy/girl ratio to be about 70/30. The numbers, they say, are much more even now.

Multiple readers told us they've waited years for the chance to boast about computer camp. Some even say it was the best time of their lives.

'I loved computer camp and went every year from ages 9-15,' says one.

'It was a huge part of my childhood and pre-adulthood. It helped me grasp computers as a way of life.' says another.

'I would send my now 6-week-old daughter to a similar camp. It opened up a whole new world for me (art, music) that would have been otherwise cut off from my maths-and-science brain,' another reader says.

And finally, 'It made a huge impact on my life and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to attend. While dorky, I had a blast. I even turned out as a socially ok adult.'

To find some people who probably went to computer camp, check out:

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