I have been a professional programmer for more than 20 years; which is to say that people have been paying me to do what I love since I was in high school.
My professional career started out quite by accident. As an officer and founding member of the Long Island PC Users Group and as the resident IBM/Microsoft BASIC expert I was asked to contribute to a "DOS 2.0" seminar given shortly after that operating system was introduced in 1983. The seminar went well and raised much needed funds for our group. My portion ended with a typical question and answer session but the first question threw me for a loop. A gentleman from the back of the room asked: "Hey kid, you got a summer job?"
The truth is that I did have a summer job lined up working at my dad's company, Volt Information Sciences but that was going to be a near-minimum wage gig with few technical aspects. As it turns out, Don Gutman (the gentleman in the back of the room) was looking for a programmer to work for him at NavCom Incorporated. After realizing he was for real and then making commute arrangements (I didn't have my drivers license yet!) I took the job.
The pay was great for someone still in High School but I was still "cheap labor" for NavCom so everyone was happy. I worked on a ton of fun projects, mostly in IBM BASIC, and really kick-started my career by learning how professionals work before even having to pretend to be one.
My relationship with NavCom (acquired by Magnavox shortly after I started) continued for years and kept me busy during my college breaks.
Eventually, though, I landed at UCLA (having started at Brandeis and working my way through Molloy College and Hofstra University on my quest to go west) which made commuting back to Long Island difficult.
At UCLA I managed to find a newly created paid internship with the Office of Financial Operations, sponsored by John Dahl. I ended up as an information technology generalist spending time helping set up computer equipment and training users on Word 1.0 and Wordperfect as well as writing various office management applications for the department. I stayed with that job, ultimately as a Programmer Analyst II, until shortly after receiving my BA from UCLA.
My first "out of college" job was with Electronic Data Systems. I started with them as a "Business Associate" and worked my way up to Advanced Systems Engineer (ASE) during my six years with the company. My most important accomplishment, though, was getting transferred from Texas to the San Francisco Bay Area.
I left EDS for a faster paced and more exciting job with IMPAC Medical Systems where I have been ever since. I've had a lot of fun over ten years I've been with IMPAC and man has it been a wild ride. I started with the company when there were maybe fifty employees and watched them grow from there to over 500. In that time they acquired a sizable number of companies, went IPO and then got acquired themselves by Elekta.
More detail can be had in my resume which is also available for download.