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Where Are the Original PC Programmers Now?

kdawson posted more than 3 years ago | from the nobody-expects-the-internet dept.

Programming 124

Esther Schindler writes "In 1986, Susan Lammers did a series of interviews with 19 prominent programmers in a Microsoft Press book, Programmers at Work. These interviews give a unique view into the shared perceptions of accomplished programmers, the people who invented the tools you use today. In Programmers Who Defined The Technology Industry: Where Are They Now?, I tracked down the fate of these prominent developers — from Robert Carr (Framework) to Dan Bricklin (VisiCalc) to Toru Iwatani (author of Pac Man, I'm glad you asked). The article quotes the developers' 1986 views on programming, the business, and the future of computing. In two cases (Bricklin and Jonathan Sachs, author of Lotus 1-2-3) I spoke with them to learn if, and how, their views had changed. One meaty example: In 1986, Bill Gates said, on Microsoft's future: 'Even though there'll be more and more machines, our present thinking is that we won't have to increase the size of our development groups, because we'll simply be making programs that sell in larger quantities. We can get a very large amount of software revenue and still keep the company not dramatically larger than what we have today. That means we can know everybody and talk and share tools and maintain a high level of quality.' At the time, Microsoft had 160 programmers."

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124 comments

So.... (4, Funny)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985152)

... 160 programmers is all you'll ever need?

Re:So.... (5, Insightful)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985182)

Well those were back in the 8 bit days when the database couldn't hold more than 256 employees at once. They had some wiggle room, but not much.

Re:So.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33987122)

8-bit days? 1986? On the PC?

Sorry, no. We were already on 32-bit 80386 machines back then.

Re:So.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33987960)

There were no databases, it was years before DBase or Condor appeared. You had to roll your own at the time and the limiting factor was the amount of ram you had. 16k bytes was a lot in those days

Re:So.... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985192)

"160 programmers ought to be enough for anyone."
--Bill Gates

Re:So.... (5, Interesting)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985214)

... 160 programmers is all you'll ever need?

I would be interested in a then/now of how many lawyers they have. That would really reflect the change in the IT industry.

Re:So.... (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985264)

Developer/lawyer ratio over time... now that'd be an interesting graph.

Re:So.... (2, Insightful)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986454)

As a proportion of their employee total, I'd suspect it's actually shrunk a bit. Microsoft wasn't exactly a litigation-free company back then.

Re:So.... (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33988368)

Gates forgot to take into account two things:

- Since 1986 computers have developed new tools that did not exist then (on PCs anyway), like Paint programs, music creation programs, web browsers, media players. That required hiring more programmers to develop those new tools.

- Microsoft had been a small company serving IBM, Commodore, etc, but now they have to serve thousands of businesses and millions of consumers directly. That requires additional programmers to handle the extra grunt work ("No ma'am the CD drive is not a coffee holder.").

Re:So.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985436)

depends... for what? changing a lamp?

Re:So.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985638)

> ... 160 programmers is all you'll ever need?

That kind of eases the task. Ok, now, how to find 160 real programmers at M$?

Also, I find great inspiration in Gates example: I can prevail despite being a moron! It has been done before! Yay!

Re:So.... (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986810)

When I read the comment I thought something along the lines of 'perhaps a great man isn't one who's never wrong; but one who's willing to admit his mistakes and move on'. I'm probably stealing/paraphrasing a quote from somebody, but have no clue as to who.

Bill Gates certainly wasn't 100% on predicting the future; but apparently he was willing to adapt when the world didn't follow his vision.

Re:So.... (3, Interesting)

iluvcapra (782887) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987218)

There's a very active debate on wether or not Microsoft at the present time, or throughout its growth after they finished NT has had simply way too many developers, and if its corporate culture hasn't suffered because of the bureaucratic overhead involved in keeping something like 30,000 programmers merely busy, let alone productive, creative, entrepreneurial and all that other awesome stuff you generally need cutting edge development to be. This is the view taken by Mini-Microsoft [blogspot.com] and others.

Compare also the opinion of John Sculley [cultofmac.com] when he talked about the Mac unit when him and Jobs were still working together -- the whole division, hardware and software was only a hundred people or so, and only maybe a dozen were OS engineers, with another team of equivalent size writing the bundled applications. Apple presently has about 35,000 employees, but its been mentioned in sources that at least 2/3rds of them are in the retail side of the business, and for all of their OS and application development some people put their actual headcount in the mere hundreds.

Re:So.... (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987394)

That's what he said. And he would have been right. If he hadn't had competitors who added features that threatened his sales.

The more features you have, the more programmers you need. Especially when you have shitty strategies for integrating functions, reusing code, automating tests, and fixing bugs.

640K ought to be enough for anybody (1)

buck-yar (164658) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985178)

This guy sure does generalize.

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (1)

Dumnezeu (1673634) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985528)

That was from IBM, not MS. Look it up, really!

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (2, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985782)

That was from IBM, not MS. Look it up, really!

I can find Bill Gates denying [wikiquote.org] he said it. I can find someone saying they don't believe him [imranontech.com] . I can even find someone saying that the quote is likely apocryphal [itbusiness.ca] .

It doesn't seem like anybody is actually reliably attributed to this quote. So, either it's a meme that's stuck, or Bill Gates is lying, or it's mis-attributed and nobody knows who said it.

Anybody got something more definitive?

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986202)

Anybody got something more definitive?

No programmer would ever, in the history of computing, say any amount of resources is enough?

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33986550)

Bill Gates was NOT a programmer. He could write some stuff, but he was a N0b at best. His genius was at business.

Honestly, why do all of you perpetuate this bullshit that Bill actually designed or wrote anything? ASK the guys that actually did write MSbasic how much bill actually contributed.

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986790)

Honestly, why do all of you perpetuate this bullshit that Bill actually designed or wrote anything?

Look it up.

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (4, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987398)

"Honestly, why do all of you perpetuate this bullshit that Bill actually designed or wrote anything?"

Look it up.

Well, take this with a grain of salt, but this [zdnet.com] would indicate he's done some programming. He's believed to have written a BASIC interpreter

I'm pretty sure he isn't credited with actually writing DOS. He didn't invent as much as he marketed. He's not some uber coder who actually created a lot of things.

He even said as much [wordpress.com] in 1986:

INTERVIEWER: You obviously have a lot of responsibilities as chief executive officer of Microsoft. Do you still program?

GATES: No, I don’t. I still help design algorithms and basic approaches, and sometimes I look at code. But since I worked on the IBM PC BASIC and the Model 100, I haven’t had a chance to actually create a program myself.

Bill Gates is a business man with a grounding in tech, and has been around while most of it was created so has a lot of perspective. But, I think his actual "hands on" coding is more limited than people think.

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987760)

Well, take this with a grain of salt, but this [zdnet.com] would indicate he's done some programming. He's believed to have written a BASIC interpreter

There's some interesting stuff in his Wikipedia page, too. However, you've already said enough to validate my point. You also managed to write a really nice rebuttal to a bunch of stuff I didn't say. Heh.

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (1)

chthon (580889) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987362)

I definitely remember this quote from the beginning of the eighties in the Dutch version of the magazine Elektor/Elektuur.

No electronic hobbyists here who have old archives?

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33989496)

"Elektor" is also distributed in Germany although I don't know whether it's the magazine you mentioned.

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (1)

theaveng (1243528) | more than 3 years ago | (#33989586)

Could also be that someone DID say it, but not those exact words.

It's often repeated that nobody said, "Play it again Sam," but if you watch the movie there's a quote very similar to that (Play it Sam.). At some point someone, somewhere decided 640K would be enough to run MS-DOS apps and because Bill Gates was the boss, it was probably him. After all the original IBM PC only had 16k, so Gates probably figured ~40 times that amount was plenty.

Re:640K ought to be enough for anybody (1)

indeciso (1350357) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985654)

You mean 640K programmers? :P

Best. Gates. Quote. Evar (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985186)

blah blah blah ...and maintain a high level of quality... blah blah blah

Yeah. That famous Microsoft "quality". ROFL

Bill Gates said what? (2, Insightful)

cindyann (1916572) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985206)

"We can get a very large amount of software revenue and still keep the company not dramatically larger"

Translation: more money for me.

Re:Bill Gates said what? (1)

CannonballHead (842625) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987020)

Isn't that kinda how businesses work? Try to make more revenue without wasting?

To a certain extent, of course... but isn't that just trying to be efficient? Maximum sales, least amount of work?

I mean, there are other things too, like developing good products, having good developers, etc. But I find it hard to fault a business owner for wanting to expand sales and not have to expand the company by an equal amount... that would mean his profit isn't going to go up much.

Re:Bill Gates said what? (1)

cindyann (1916572) | more than 3 years ago | (#33988032)

We need a Nike (s)whoosh icon.

Oh wait, this isn't The Register. Never mind.

Re:Bill Gates said what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33987878)

Also, Gates gets the internet before the tubes included the www. When the www arrived to the tubes he quickly ungot it.

If they did well, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985210)

they are sitting pretty on a beach somewhere...

Von Neumann Archetecture (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985218)

PCs are little different than then the big iron when computers were new. I'd say that people like Grace Hopper who wrote the first compiler, Von Neumann who came up with the archetecture, John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry, John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert, etc. were the real pioneers.

Re:Von Neumann Archetecture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985282)

Nope, there were no computers and no smart people before the Space Age. It's true, ask Tom Hudson.

Re:Von Neumann Archetecture (4, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985488)

In defense of TFA, it is called "Programmers who Defined the Technology Industry", following up on the book "Programmers at Work" which was about Microsoft programmers.

Listing who the real computer pioneers were is a bit like replying to a post about singers by stating that Robert Moog and J.S. Bach were music pioneers.

Re:Von Neumann Archetecture (3, Informative)

plcurechax (247883) | more than 3 years ago | (#33989224)

following up on the book "Programmers at Work" which was about Microsoft programmers.

No, many of them never worked for Microsoft. The book was published by Microsoft Press as I remember.

Though most if not all were microcomputer (i.e. Personal Computer aka PC) programmers. That's were the revolution was happening. Mini and mainframes had been around for a while by that time in computing's history.

  • Gary Kildall
  • Andy Hertzfeld
  • Jef Raskin
  • Toru Iwatani
  • C. Wayne Ratliff
  • Dan Bricklin
  • Scott Kim
  • ...

All of these programmers never worked at Microsoft, and neither did I.

Re:Von Neumann Archetecture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985916)

... What about Turing?

This is impossible. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985224)

The resident Slashdot Space Nutters have assured me that we only have computers, mice and keyboards because of the Space Age. Who are these impostors in the article? They're not astronauts, and they didn't write their code in space.

Back in the days (5, Insightful)

Drakkenmensch (1255800) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985226)

Everyone from my parents to job counselors kept telling me that learning programming and computers was a dead end because it was both a fad and a saturated market. IBM already had all the programmers they would ever need, who would hire more?

Re:Back in the days (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985286)

And since then, how many penises did you have to put in your mouth to scrape together money for room and board?

Re:Back in the days (0, Offtopic)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985394)

penises, scrape and money all on the same line. How on earth did this get passed the web filters?

I want to rewrite it and put - scrape into your mouth - But I just don't wanna.

Re:Back in the days (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985850)

How on earth did this get passed the web filters?

I'm pretty sure you could put far more profane things into a comment and it would stick.

I don't think there's as much filtering as you think -- I've seen most of the major swear words used on Slashdot. penis is comparatively tame.

I bet you could post the "seven words", which I leave as an exercise to someone else ...

Re:Back in the days (1)

Mister Whirly (964219) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987364)

Shit
Piss
Fuck
Cunt
Cocksucker
Motherfucker
Tits

Re:Back in the days (1)

tokul (682258) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985500)

IBM already had all the programmers they would ever need, who would hire more?

We all die sooner or later.

Re:Back in the days (5, Insightful)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985534)

Everyone from my parents to job counselors kept telling me that learning programming and computers was a dead end because it was both a fad and a saturated market. IBM already had all the programmers they would ever need, who would hire more?

Then, you went into programming. Life was good ... but you start noticing that more and more programming jobs start going overseas. But you don't worry, they're just doing the maintenance and boiler plate code. You, after all, are doing the intense design and algorithms. Life is still good - your pay just keeps going up and up!

Then one day, you're asked to train a young man from an Asian country about your code. You answer questions like, "What does an asterisk by a variable mean?", "What's this arrow mean?" and "What's a pointer?" and other questions that make you wonder if this person is even qualified to be doing what they hired him for.

You think nothing of it because you have skills and you are always willing to learn and adjust - you'll be employable for ever!

Time goes on and you're getting closer to 40. You start doing more documentation type of things because the coding is being done more and more with outsourcing companies.

Then one day, they don't need you anymore and when you try to get more work, you hear nothing. Many, many, many resumes out - nothing. You get more education and training and still nothing. In the meantime, you see posts on places like Slashdot saying that they are having a hard time getting qualified people. Resisting the urge to flame the poster, you walk away from your computer mumbling, "Bullshit. Bullshit.Bullshit. Bullshit. ..."

You then see that some "loser" you knew years ago went into management and is still employed and you think "Why oh why did I insist on staying technical!?!"

Re:Back in the days (1)

Ironhandx (1762146) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985680)

Mod parent up.

This has happened to so many people its ridiculous. Its actually gone to the point where Governments should start writing extra tariff and tax laws into moving positions overseas for work that needs to be done in-country.

That said, I do have a hard time finding qualified people but thats more a factor of geography than any real limiter. No one wants to move here, haha.

Re:Back in the days (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33987194)

Where is "here"?

Re:Back in the days (1)

ginbot462 (626023) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987832)

Where is "here"?

It's where you are.

Re:Back in the days (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33986796)

Don't blame outsourcing, blame having 20 years experience and still being a code-monkey. Your job should be "business analyst" by now - yeah, cringe at the title, but the point is to apply that experience towards requirements analysis and planning, and let the kids waste time in actual IDEs.

Re:Back in the days (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 3 years ago | (#33988844)

And what if you want to continue writing code? No one tells a carpenter they're a loser if they don't move onto managing younger carpenters and perhaps software quality would be better if we would value experience rather than low-cost inexperience.

Re:Back in the days (1)

plcurechax (247883) | more than 3 years ago | (#33989322)

That depends, not everyone is good at, or prefers dealing with the analyst role. For many medium and small firms they don't even have designated analysts because many strong programmers don't function well in purely that role.

Anyhow, I know programmers-turn-whatever adaptable types that were laid off from IBM and others regardless.

Thankfully, my employer can't outsource due to business nature, and our customer depends upon us to manage so much of their own business (process, assets, strategy) that we don't expect to go away anytime soon.

Re:Back in the days (4, Insightful)

VGR (467274) | more than 3 years ago | (#33989846)

Don't blame outsourcing, blame having 20 years experience and still being a code-monkey. Your job should be "business analyst" by now - yeah, cringe at the title, but the point is to apply that experience towards requirements analysis and planning, and let the kids waste time in actual IDEs.

You are a major part of the problem. What I see in your words is that all developers are identical to entry-level code monkeys. In your mind, someone who spends decades becoming an excellent software engineer is worthless; the only worthwhile use of his time would have been learning to be a manager.

This is the real reason managers are so willing to outsource: they think everyone who can make code compile is equivalent, whether their experience is one month or twenty years. In the context of that belief, it makes sense to send the labor overseas.

I'll admit, though, that any engineer who's no better than he was twenty years ago has only himself to blame. (And I've met at least one who fits that description.)

Re:Back in the days (1)

eriqk (1902450) | more than 3 years ago | (#33989978)

Congratulations! you just invented the Peter Principle [wikipedia.org] !

Re:Back in the days (1)

Vreejack (68778) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985774)

I remember my father being really disappointed that I was studying dead-end stuff like programming back in 1982

Re:Back in the days (1)

SuperQ (431) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986528)

I had a similar experience when I wanted to know more about UNIX systems. The funny thing is he continues to be a MS fanboy. This is slightly understandable since he works in business software systems.

I wonder if he still thinks snowboarding is a fad.

Re:Back in the days (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985794)

Coincidentally, I just this morning finally recycled my PC-XT clone that I bought in 1986. $1595 with 640KB RAM, 20MB hard drive, one floppy. State of the art. I also bought a copy of Turbo Pascal at the time and was in hog heaven. There's something to be said for the metal discipline of coding complex programs that are small enough and efficient enough to run in a small memory footprint. I thought I was the luckiest guy in the world when I got hired to actually write programs for these things. "You want to *pay* me to do this? Really?"

(Still have my Kaypro 10, but alas no longer have my original Osborne I.)

Re:Back in the days (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985938)

Both true.
The market is saturated and also its a fad.
However it depends what constitutes a fad :)
PC's have only been with us 30 years or so. In the scale of things as compared with the steam engine which has been around for hundreds of years.
Pc's will be gone in another 10-15 years to be replaced by phones/pdas/pads , computers will write more source code and the world will end in 2053.
You can also still get a job as a steam engineer,

Re:Back in the days (2, Interesting)

CAIMLAS (41445) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986506)

Yeah, what a perception change, eh?

As someone who works in IT today, I'm tempted to tell my children the same thing - that programming and computers is a dead end - but for different reasons. Today, it's that the job competition is so stiff, and the pay is not commensurate with the responsibility, experience, knowledge and stress.

On the other hand, what else is there for a technically inclined youth? Electrician?

Re:Back in the days (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986984)

On the other hand, what else is there for a technically inclined youth? Electrician?

A good electrician has the advantages that most of his work can't be outsourced, he's always needed, and perhaps due to our 'COLLEGE COLLEGE COLLEGE' cry, a good electrician can make comperable wages to many with college degrees, and that's only working a 40 hour week, no overtime. Add in some and the effective pay goes way up.

Then add in that an electrician gets a good amount of exercise and movement just doing his job and he might even be healthier than a college degreed desk jockey, and that's without having to pay for a gym membership and spend personal time working out.

There's issues with illegal labor, but for a while my brother was making more money fixing the work of electrical workers with questionable immigration status than running original wiring.

BTW, if you buy a house in Florida I recommend having the wiring checked *CAREFULLY*. He's found things like 20 amp circuits run with 14 gauge wire - where it's 12 leaving the breaker box, 14 once it hits the first junction, crossed hot/neutrals, unhooked grounding wires, etc... A lot of the times he was called in AFTER the wiring melted or started a fire, and that gets expensive.

Re:Back in the days (1)

jmizrahi (1409493) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987312)

Are you seriously suggesting that you can think of no other technical field besides programmer and electrician? How about physicist? Chemist? Biologist? Engineer? And of course, within each of those fields are a thousand subfields...

Re:Back in the days (1)

chthon (580889) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987434)

Elektromechanics.

None survived ... (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985242)

... past Dec 31, 1999.

Re:None survived ... (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985344)

That is 2 weeks later than my graduation date with my first computer science degree... DOH!

After a few years of manual labor, I went back and got another one... Just in time for the recession... DOH!

Note: I did manage to ride this one out though, even if 2 out of 3 employers of mine have gone bankrupt in the last 3 years.

High level of quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985294)

That means we can know everybody and talk and share tools and maintain a high level of quality.

Irony, yes?

Re:High level of quality (3, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985346)

Yep - he seems to be describing Open Source development, rather than Microsoft.

Re:High level of quality (1)

abigor (540274) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985392)

I guess you were working at MS back in the '80s to make such a comparison. Can you share any other gems from that era with us?

Re:High level of quality (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985692)

Huh? My post was a joke pointing out how the atmosphere he describes MS had in the 80s is much more like a modern open-source project than modern day Microsoft.

MS now has over 130,000 employees, and probably at least 200 people just working on Microsoft Word alone (programming, testing, managing, etc), which is larger than the entirety of Microsoft was back then.

Re:High level of quality (1)

abigor (540274) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986988)

Sorry, I totally misunderstood - I thought you were implying that MS in the '80s was not what he described, when in fact it was just that. My apologies.

However, having contributed to lots of projects from Gentoo to Debian to Asterisk, I will say that not only did I not know any of my fellow contributors other than by the occasional email conversation, I have no idea what they even looked like. The atmosphere of early MS was like a startup - a very close atmosphere that builds some pretty intense relationships, nothing like open source in my opinion.

Re:High level of quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33988780)

MSFT has more like 90,000 employees.

The weirdest thing about MSFT of late is it doesn't really feel like one company. It's more like a bunch of fiefdoms, with petty political battles between them. Culture in these fiefdoms can vary a lot. Some of them are freewheeling, startup-resembling types. Others are very entrenched, very cautious about taking on things deemed potentially disruptive.

Agile (4, Interesting)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985420)

"Most of these programmers had (and have) a programming methodology that today would be called Agile. They mostly created a prototype that worked, and kept adding functionality until it was ready to ship. They worked iteratively in small teams. And, as Bricklin's current thoughts indicate, these developers were always cognizant that at some point you have to quit adding to the software and send it out the door. I found myself wondering how many readers imagine that "Agile" is something new."

Duke Nukem Forever, are you listening???
The implementation of plaid shirts also seems to be a pre-requisite for effective programming.

Re:Agile (1)

chvyzl1 (813550) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985526)

"The implementation of plaid shirts also seems to be a pre-requisite for effective programming." - Thats hilarious :D

Arrghh deploy != implement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33987002)

Sigh. Programmers should know what "implementation" really means, and very few programmers implement a plaid shirt. They deploy a plaid shirt, according to normal installation procedures. They implement a beard, or the stains on the shirt, using their own creative powers.

It is only silly IT people who think they "implement" something every time they use it. They probably think they cook when they place an order at a restaurant too...

Good Old Day? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985454)

I was hardware guy in a computer store in the mid 70's. Bill Gate was a guest speaker at 1 of the computer club meetings we hosted, It was in the early days of the Apple II and mostly we sold S-100 systems (Altair, Cromemco, Processor Technology...)
Bill gates whined aboout making 3 dollars and hour on Altair Basic because everybody just passed around the paper tape. He tried to convince us that he thought that software should be bundled with the hardware. We booed him off the stage.

I remember people coming in and asking to by a Visicalc computer, We always got a chuckle out of it when we had to explain they wanted an Apple .

Mostly what we were interested in was getting a program by Ward Christensen called CBBS working. It ran in an Altair with a Cromemco ZPU board using an Intertec Superbrain terminal with a couple Wangco 8 inch floppys and 48 K of Thinker Toys memory. This 1 Toy bar far had more effect on the world than anything else I remember. Ward was in Chicago and We had a guy named Kieth Peterson with us

You would have to use a program Ward made called Xmodem with a modem and dial up the store.

Now get off my lawn!

Superbrain (1)

tekrat (242117) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985644)

Ah man. I loved the Intertec... One of the most useful machines of that era... Except that when it locked up, you had to remember to remove the floppies from the drive before you rebooted, or else you destroyed the boot block. For it's time, it was a very fast system, and the screen was better than most.

Re:Good Old Day? (3, Insightful)

abigor (540274) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987016)

Why the heck don't people like you post more often? I love hearing this stuff.

Re:Good Old Day? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987430)

Most of them are dead or living in Scottish castles or on private islands. /. is for people who use keyboards.

Re:Good Old Day? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33988070)

The state of the Scottish broadband.. shivers go down my spine as I think about moors and fibres.

Chvyzl1 (1)

chvyzl1 (813550) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985466)

Anyone ever look in "bbs the documentary" Not exactly PC programming, but very informative. Atari, Apple II, Commodore 64 and others; great DVD.

Microsoft press had some good books (4, Interesting)

fermion (181285) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985650)

From the books that the MS people published, it is clear that they theoretically knew how to write code. That they could get functional operating systems and applications programs out the door indicated that they could manage large projects.

I remember reading books like Solid Code and understanding how to put together a program, not just write functions that would compile. MS Press filled the time between the old time books like Composite Structured Design and the Mythical Man Month and more contemporary books like the Pragmatic Programmer. What I saw, however, was that MS was not moving forward with modern techniques and design patterns. At least from the outside, it appeared that they were stuck in the 80's.

Nevertheless, one cold do worse than reading these books as a basis in programming, not just coding.

My grandfather... (2, Interesting)

rAiNsT0rm (877553) | more than 3 years ago | (#33985652)

Pretty cool story: My grandfather worked in tool and die for PPG (back then it still stood for, Pittsburgh Plate Glass) and they had a super rudimentary "CNC machine" that used punch cards for coordinates in straight lines only. He had zero knowledge of computers but he did figure out how, within the limitations, he could plot enough points to create arcs and essentially circles. It was a huge improvement that teams of "programmers" had been working on unsuccessfully. He never even mentioned it to anyone until I was in college going for a CS degree and I was floored, he figured no one would understand or care since it seemed trivial.

Re:My grandfather... (-1, Troll)

The employee can cho (857896) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986286)

I don't care about this. It seems rather trivial.

layers of abstraction (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33985666)

Back in my day, which was still much later than the true pioneers, we worked real close to the machine... Want to put a character on the screen? Hell, it was simple.. Tell the character drawing routine the row and column and the 7-bit character code and easy as JSR, that character would appear on the screen. Want to do some animation? Heck, super easy. Shim the address of the character ROM tables with a RAM address then reload the characters bit by ragged bit... Color was simple and just a matter of setting the appropriate RGB values across three pages of memory. You could even do some awesome animations with XOR routines and clever masking. Want to draw a circle? We did it the manly way with Bressenham routines written directly in assembler....

All these layers now.. Heck, a modern OS has a dozen layers of abstraction before a character gets drawn on screen...

I'm not complaining though... Imagine trying to write a word processor or a browser if you still had to worry about how to display a PNG image or write directly to display memory...

But I miss those days when one could grok a machine and its OS.

Much later in my career I got my hands on an Atari ST. You want to know how those layers hid the true speed of the machine? Well, TOS/GEM was notoriously sub-optimal in certain routines. Character drawing was one of them. It gave the opportunity for third parties to re-write some character drawing routines and sell them. Scrolling a 2000 line document in the un-optimized version may take minutes. With the optimized code it dropped to seconds...

So sitting in front of a 2.6+ GhZ machine with 4 cores, 8G of RAM, I feel that man.. imagine what I could DO if my little brain could wrap itself around the complexity of this massive OS...

Re:layers of abstraction (2, Insightful)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987482)

imagine what I could DO if my little brain could wrap itself around the complexity of this massive OS...

Yeh. And then add in the several hundred parallel cores in your video card...

I'm pretty good at wonky stuff and I just sort of stare at the computer sometimes wondering how to fill it up.

Re:layers of abstraction (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#33988396)

Tell the character drawing routine the row and column and the 7-bit character code and easy as JSR, that character would appear on the screen.

The Apple II was even simpler than that. You just wrote a byte in a memory address in the screen range (0x400-0x7ff was the default IIRC) and a character would appear on the screen.

Want to do graphics? Similar thing, but you read or write to certain memory addresses to change the graphics mode, then you store bytes create blocks or pixels.

It's because of Woz - most stuff was done in software to save on hardware. Sound, I/O (disk, tape, joystick/paddle).

Excuse me? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33989752)

"The Apple II was even simpler than that. You just wrote a byte in a memory address in the screen range (0x400-0x7ff was the default IIRC) and a character would appear on the screen."

Gee, just like writing bytes (characters and attributes) to segment 0xb000 (monochrome adapter), 0xb800 (color adapter) or 0xa000 (VGA) on a PC.

Damn kids these days...

Re:layers of abstraction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33989810)

Tell the character drawing routine the row and column and the 7-bit character code and easy as JSR, that character would appear on the screen.

The Apple II was even simpler than that. You just wrote a byte in a memory address in the screen range (0x400-0x7ff was the default IIRC) and a character would appear on the screen.

Want to do graphics? Similar thing, but you read or write to certain memory addresses to change the graphics mode, then you store bytes create blocks or pixels.

It's because of Woz - most stuff was done in software to save on hardware. Sound, I/O (disk, tape, joystick/paddle).

He also "Didn't know what he was doing" compared to the accepted methods at the time. He had to come up with some pretty clever solutions to some of the problems.

Re:layers of abstraction (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 3 years ago | (#33988872)

Wow, that makes programming Ataris in BASIC seem like writing Python in comparison 8(

Peter Norton? (5, Insightful)

BetaRelease (110550) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986368)

Where is Peter Norton? His Norton Utilities was the greatest set of utilities then -- especially Unerase!

Re:Peter Norton? (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986622)

Oh yes. I had those in my Windows 95B years, and even bought his book on Windows architecture. Those were the days.

How about Eugene Jarvis? (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986582)

Sure, he wasn't a PC programmer, but his work at Williams from the pinball to videogame eras were an inspiration!

Re:How about Eugene Jarvis? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33988866)

Indeed.

I still can't believe how many shapes they (him and Demar) pushed around using a 6809 on Robotron.

Dude could optimize a NOP.

Re:How about Eugene Jarvis? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33989516)

there were 2 custom bitblitter chips on the rom board that did most of the moving of stuff

Finally! (2, Insightful)

Call Me Black Cloud (616282) | more than 3 years ago | (#33986656)

I always wondered what happened to Bill Gates!

Wait, the article doesn't say anything about him but "duh". Nice bit of journalism, guys.

Re:Finally! (2, Interesting)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987550)

He dropped out of college and now he goes around volunteering at food banks [twitter.com] and health clinics [twitter.com] .

Re:Finally! (1)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 3 years ago | (#33989738)

and promoting eugenics, by which he says we should get the population down to 1 million people. not to include his own relatives or offspring, of course.

Computing journalists (1)

abigor (540274) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987102)

I wonder what happened to some of the guys who wrote articles in the magazines I devoured in my youth - David Ahl, founder of Creative Computing, or Jim Butterworth of The Transactor fame. I think JB is dead, actually.

I was digging around at my parents' place and I found several years' worth of Transactors, most of them in good shape. I also have a copy of the Complete C64 Inner Space Anthology somewhere - I wonder what the eBay-ability of these things are.

Re:Computing journalists (2, Informative)

Gramie2 (411713) | more than 3 years ago | (#33988406)

Yes, I'm pretty sure Jim Butterworth died a few years ago. I know someone in the C64 scene (it still exists!) and he spent a fair amount of time with Jim attending C64 conferences.

Yes, I prized my Transactor magazines and ISA. So much great information, presented cleanly and with a desire to share.

Well ... (1)

arthurpaliden (939626) | more than 3 years ago | (#33987192)

I'm sitting on a nice warm beach watching the young ladies play beach volley ball.

Sidebar: The plastic molds (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | more than 3 years ago | (#33989350)

I know the guy who designed the molds for the original IBM PC. He tells the tail of IBM suits coming to him to get the molds made. He asked them how many parts they planned to make off the mold. Their answer: 150,000. Ten copies of the mold later, IBM had farmed out the production work to ten different parts of the country to keep up with the demand.

Fred Fish (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33989392)

I'm not sure Fred counts as one of the pioneers, but he was hugely influential in the 1980's personal computing scene.

Unfortunately, Fred died in 2007. By all accounts of those who knew him personally, an awesome guy.

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