Hey there are some really captivating stories there.
richardjdare : yours was kind of sad :'(
Schrompf : yours was a bit bitter
and the best hacker medal : DracoLacertae
My turn then, I'm self taught at first then Academy taught. And both worlds completed each other very good.
At around 13 I started with QBasic but it took me 1 year to be good enough at imperative algorithmic to start to make a game, a copy of mario basically:
I had a mentor at the time, same age, but like two years ahead in terms of comprehension and he had a knack to really read books which I hadn't.
Then I went to Visual Basic 6, following the tracks of my mentor.
(by the way, who is this man : http://www.irisa.fr/alf/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=94&Itemid=15)
I made several little games, like a worms game and a live-chat html formatting for messages in AOL chatrooms.
I also did a serious worm game on Ti-89 calculator but the basic integrated language was too slow. Also I had to print the whole code out because the screen was too small and my code was all in a huge functions with lots of goto.
So I went over to C to harvest performance on that machine, gcc is my first C teacher, I did another horribly coded game but perfectly functional called "envahisseurs de l'espace" (space invaders).
Directly after that, I moved on back to PC and with an illegal copy of Visual Studio 6 I started my biggest indie project until now : Projet SERHuM. I planned on taking 5 years, but 5 years later I was only at like 10% of the whole dev so I gave up.
In the meantime I had joined the "classe préparatoire" which is a special elitist course to prepare for french engineering shcools.
So basically, I ended up with the 40 heads of classes of the town's high schools, doing math (12hrs/week courses), physics (11h/w), electronic (5h) and mechanic (5h) + 4hrs of severely graded weekly tests, during two years. And I don't mention the almost equivalent time that you are expected to work at home.
During this perdiod, the teachers shout at us, tell us that we are so hopeless, and yet in the same time can't stop to brag about that course path being the golden one, and that all the most important person of the country took it. (which is 70% true)
Then I passed the exams for the two majors lists of "Grandes Ecoles" (engineering schools) of the country, and some other private ones. I got accepted to the private stuff but the quality of the teaching was not as good as my first public school choice, the ENSEIRB. So I went there for 3 years and could never have been happier. We were taught true computer science from the Unix perspective all along. The school was associated with the Bordeaux 1 University laboratory (the Labri) which is the place where Shlick published his PhD. (for the one who has already seen his name doing fresnel reflections in shaders for example.)
Parallel to the engineering school I took some supplementary lessons from the University to complete a Master degree (which is looked down by engineers generally because the engineer diploma is superior).
This allowed me to study multimedia from the academic point of view, so I learned the canonical way, colors spaces, from fourier and laplace transforms to C.e.l.p. coders, by image treatment operators, as well as classic literature of image rendering theory : the rendering equation and stuff.
I also had to review Antoine Bouthors papers about cloud rendering http://www-evasion.imag.fr/Membres/Antoine.Bouthors/ during my master, in the meantime as doing some other school projects like a compiler with flex and yacc, or distributed compilation system to learn networks, or doing proper third normal form databases, or assistant researcher-related-work to make graphics visualizers for a task scheduling set of libraries/algorithms that the Labri is working on. (http://runtime.bordeaux.inria.fr/Runtime/)
After that I went to Japan to do some research on Supercomputers, then back to France I worked 4 years at e-on software, which is my greatest skill leap after my internship at Etranges Libellules. E-on software has many people graduated from the best schools of the country : Centrale and Polytechnique, and even if I had some practical C++ tricks to teach, I had many work practice to learn and stuff about 3D rendering. This gave me the chance to attend the siggraph with a full conference pass and exibitor as well since we are showing Vue and LumenRT at our booth.
I could implement crazy stuff while there like message based OpenGL engine, water rendering, caustics, tree rendering, clouds rendering and even real time indirect lighting...
But I decided it was the time to go back to Japan and now, believe it or not, I work at the desk just beside L.Spiro at tri-Ace, and I do tooling for artists and designers.
As an indie, I presented on gamedev my 2D car game before : http://www.gamedev.net/topic/564828-extreme-carnage---shoot-cars-buy-weapons-plant-defense-turrets/
I also did nuclear age on the same engine : http://forum.games-creators.org/showthread.php?t=7837
and extracted the engine into : http://sourceforge.net/projects/carnage-engine/
and many other little stuffs.
What I learned about self teaching, is that there is a severe limit. Isolation and self learning can get you somewhere, but when you are surrounded by super amazingly intelligent people then suddenly you realize that there is a "next level" and you thrive to go play in that same playground. Basically, you're pulled forward by the "masters" of the field. Then it becomes all so thrilling. You understand more and more with the years of experience, the research papers read, re-read, re-re-read...
You realize that the world is very small, and you are generally not one person away from knowing e.g. the CEO of nVidia, Carmack, Torvalds, the demo groups like Farbraush or in my case the guys of narbacular drops (portal, portal 2..), Cyril Crassin or Eric Bruneton. Yeah even you jcabeleira, we know each other through one person who is one of my colleagues right now.
To all the community, I say : you all rocks, let us all make great games !