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Human Computers

January 19th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

Ours is a very young profession – we don’t have hundreds or thousands of years of experience. But we are blessed with some amazing pioneers that did truly groundbreaking work – discovering things that are still amazingly powerful today. Sometimes I think we forget our history or at a minimum fail to understand it. When you think about the essential paradigm of mainframe computing, it isn’t that different from web applications, something I mentioned at Code Freeze (and something Douglas Crockford covers in his State of Ajax talk.)

Of course it isn’t just raw technology that echoes its past – no, our development languages do as well. Look at the features we are trying to add to mainstream languages today – despite what some developers think, these aren’t new ideas. Languages exist on a spectrum, and many believe Lisp, invented fifty years ago, is the most powerful language around (though it’s hard to get paid to write it.) Usually, things improve with time; I don’t think any of us would trade in our MacBook Airs for an Altair but apparently not so with languages – I’m not really sure what to make of that.

Anyway, back to history. On the way home from the Code Freeze speakers dinner the other night I was listening to the radio when I stumbled upon A Technical Camelot, the story of Jean Bartik whose first job was as a “computer.” Let me repeat that – her title was literally human computer (which makes more sense than some of the titles I’ve held frankly.) In the mid 40s, she found herself in the midst of history as one of the first programmers on the ENIAC and listening to her describe how she became a programmer and the kinds of things she was working on was quite something.

My point here is simple: history matters. With the advances in hardware, we’ve done some amazing things, but let’s not forget where we came from and the people that propelled us to where we are today.

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  2. November 22nd, 2017 at 03:52 | #2

    I don’t think any of us would trade in our MacBook Airs for an Altair but apparently not so with languages – I’m not really sure what to make of that.

  1. January 20th, 2008 at 13:43 | #1
  2. February 5th, 2008 at 20:31 | #2
  3. February 9th, 2008 at 03:36 | #3

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