A Bright Idea and State of the Art

I think everyone likes to talk about “their first program”.  I suspect though it’ll become a less common topic with future generations, just like most kids don’t recall the first book they ever read.

My first program calculated things in Celsius if you provided the Fahrenheit temperature.

I was probably 11 when I helped write it.  It was stored on paper tape and ran on the local high school’s minicomputer (probably a PDP-9 but I honestly have no idea).

It wasn’t a long program, it was probably in FORTRAN.  Again, that is so long ago, I can’t recall the details.  And it wasn’t a very impressive program.  Heck, these days you can do it in a Windows CMD script as one line. (well two for clarity, SET F=212, SET /A (%F%-32)/9*5)

I wrote more complex programs in High School (by then had moved up to Turbo Pascal) and made my first money programming in FORTRAN while in college.

Things had improved from paper tape to floppy drives to hard drives.  Writing programs and debugging programs for the most part became faster. But generally anything more complex than basic input and output through the screen and keyboard was still tough to do and time-consuming.

About two weeks ago I had an idea for project.  I was on the road at the time and didn’t get a chance to sit down at my desktop until last week.  In less than 24 hours I had prototyped the idea and tested it.  The program involved a website, a database, doing some lookups, writing to the database and a bit more.  Even just 10-15 years ago it could have easily taken me 4 or 5 times as long to do something like that.

On Thanksgiving Day, my son wrote a program in a language called Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/ that would take input, make it circle around then settle on the screen.  The more times you entered text the bigger the resulting “wordle” spiral would grow.  He wrote it that morning before our relatives showed up.  It took him maybe an hour or two, including debugging and overcoming some initial limitations.

He’s been writing programs in Scratch (and other languages) for years now.  I doubt he remembers his first program since writing programs now has become about as easy as using a computer.  I’m sure he doesn’t remember his first time using a computer like I do.  He writes programs at age 11 that in many ways are more complex than anything I wrote in my teens.

The state of the art has certainly changed and it’s made the world a better place all-around.  Languages and frameworks make developing faster and easier than ever before.

Though at times I’ll admit I miss the days of FORTRAN.

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