Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Unfortunately (or maybe not) I missed the punch cards.
I entered the digital age with a brand new Atari 800 XL, complete with a very nice monochrome green monitor and datasette. If I recall correctly, it included the manual, which was actually pretty complete. It contained the complete hardware wiring, a complete Assembler reference etc.. I soon had a few books with listings which I typed in fervently. I remember as if it was yesterday, having typed in a quite longish (for my taste) BASIC program, and then trying a new command... NEW. Oops.
Eventually I got most everything - 5 1/4" floppy etc., "real" games. I programmed it in assembler and BASIC a lot. I actually almost, but not quite, got a 300 baud coupler running with it near the end of it. I also wired LEDs to most of the hardware lines (like the adress/data lines going from/to the CPU) and got an awfully expensive 320KB RAM expansion (which had to be memory banked for a whopping total of 384KB). I did everything. Like write a very large assembler program from scratch including a GUI and everything; it was used to inspect, copy, format floppies. Please guess how I lost this program.
I could use a 2-floppy Amstrad PC (8068 I believe) at an uncle's. I learned the hard way what the RENUM command of that particular DOS flavour did - it renumbered all files on the floppy starting from 00001 in case the directory information got lost. Guess how I lost my DOS boot disk (hey, only one way to find out!).
Then, 268 (40 MB HDD! Unbelievable!) and from there on the whole shebang. The 286 was actually the one and only PC I ever bought. The computer I am typing on right now (more or less a gaming rig) is a direct, unbroken descendant from that one back then, being updated piecewise. I must have used a dozen or more programming languages over the decades.
Times they are a changing. I pitty the kids today who do not have the chance of a pickle in a supernova of repeating such a journey, i.e. understanding every and any single detail about such a machine, from the very level of transistors upwards, at the time it is current state of the art.