July 28, 2008
I was a teenager in the 1980s. In the teenage years you learn a bit about history, including recent history, and for me (and probably most people) I learned it in a relative way: Nixon was 12 years ago, moon was 16 years ago, Madonna was now, and programming had been around for an eternity. I established an “origin” to my timeline and that origin hasn’t moved. If you mention the date 1975 my first instinct will be to place it 10 years ago. That wasn’t such a problem in the 1990s because the adjustment was small, but now it’s a bit rough to think that disco, which should be 5 years ago, was nearly 30 years ago.
The most shocking, though, was to realize recently that I’ve been programming for more than half the lifetime of the discipline. That’s if you count the mid-1950s as the beginning (Fortran, Lisp), and that I started in 1980. In my mind I’m inheriting a long history of computer science, standing on the shoulders of giants, etc., but in fact I’ve literally witnessed more time than had elapsed when I wrote my first program.
I interviewed a new grad last month and he complained that for one of his internships he had to maintain code that had been written in the nineteen eighties (pause for shocked reaction from his interviewers). I mocked him a bit for that, but then realized that for me the equivalent would have been to maintain code from the late 1960s, and no wonder he treated the 1980s like ancient history.