I have long had some interest in photography, but did not have the time or money to really get into it as a hobby. Owning only a film camera which did not provide timely feedback (in fact it may take weeks between shooting and seeing the finished product) and which had a high cost per shot made independent learning slow and frustrating.
Eventually I picked up a compact digital camera but found it quite frustrating as it had many limitations and was really only suitable for tourist snapshots. If I was a brilliant photographer I could perhaps have gotten more out of it, but having poor to average skills and a cheap camera was a barrier to learning. On the bright side it gave me a lot of practise in framing shots, provided instant feedback and had almost zero cost per shot.
A little over a year ago I finally took the decision to make time for it and picked up my first DSLR, a Canon 60D. This was done just ahead of a trip to Japan for which I strongly wanted to have the possibility of taking higher quality pictures of memorable places and people. I opted for an upgraded kit lens (18-135mm) which gave me some extra zoom compared to the standard 18-55mm kit lens and quickly started learning the camera basics.
When I came back from Japan it was with 10,000 pictures, more shots than I had taken in my entire life before that trip. This was a complete game changer as feedback was instant (through 'chimping' on the small LCD display on the camera) and the camera capabilities were fantastic. The kit lens turned out to be more limited than I expected but other than that it was a great experience.
Since then I feel I have made huge progress as a photographer, developing both skills and confidence. There was some external validation of this as last year there was more than 50,000 views on my Flickr account, one picture was used by news.com.au and I got a couple of pictures into the top 100 on Reddit's ITAP community. A couple of pictures were also picked to illustrate Wikipedia articles or picked up by other websites.
I've been sharing my experiences with friends and as a result a few of them have also gotten into photography over the last six months. If you have been thinking about getting started or making the move from film or compact to a DSLR then I would definitely recommend going for it. It is a great time to be a starting photographer.