Predictions Are Hard

This is just a casual observation. Once upon a time people wrote computer programs by wire wrapping backplanes. And for years people wrote computer programs by putting punches into cards.

Now for about 45 years most computer programs have been written by people typing at keyboards while staring at screens. The screens have changed but they’re still staring at them.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if within ten years that process were considered as obsolete as wire wrap or punched cards.

Additionally, I think we’ll always need to have people studying science and technology. But not to write computer programs.

3 comments… add one
  • mike shupp

    Oh boy, do I disagree! Look, I eat cornflakes before breakfast, or maybe an English muffin, or maybe left over steak. Decisions, decisions …. that’s the important part of eating, right?

    Except that’s just the level at which I see things. What actually goes on after that chewed up stuff slides down my esophagus and starts getting mashed up in my stomach isn’t visible, or even much felt. What happens in my small intestines and my large … it won’t be a concern for another day or two, and even then, it’ll be a problem I can settle while remaining seated.

    And I could have said all this, just as confidently and truthfully, back in the days of the Roman Empire. But nowadays we now its a whole lot more complicated. There’s enzymes to deal with, and proteins, and bile, and carbohydrates, and cholesterol, and vitamin deficiencies and celiac disease and …. There’s a ton of small stuff visible only at microscopic — or even molecular — scale, and it matters terribly even if most of us are ignorant of the details.

    I see programming as analogous. Yeah, soon enough you’ll be able to “solve” your pressing computer-oriented tasks by sitting in a driver’s seat and saying “Alexa, get me to 12th and Main in San Clemente before eleven thirty but avoid Interstate 85.” But someone has to write a program to decipher such utterances and make them commands your auto can handle. And several layers down, some engineer (or some engineering committee) had to decide whether a particular proposed CPU should contain this or that instruction for adding numbers and dealing with overflows, and how stacks should be implemented, and so on. And someone had to develop routines to transform instructions in C++ and other high level computer languages into very low level commands that will be performed by that processor.

    Or maybe some other machine does this, it doesn’t much matter. The point is, this low level computer activity isn’t going to go away, any more than our gall bladders are going to stop producing bile. So I think we’ll have people paying attention to what computers do just about as long as we’ll have people paying attention to what our digestive systems do.

    Granted, in another decade or so we’ll probably not be so mesmerized by the thought of thousands of geeks in their cubicles leaning towards their monitors, and quite so eager to send little Stevie to Coding Camp in summer time, and prominent people with law and management degrees might yammer a bit less about encouraging all America’s young people into expensive universities and STEM careers. This’d probably be a reasonably good thing.

  • Look, I eat cornflakes before breakfast, or maybe an English muffin, or maybe left over steak.

    Yeah but you don’t grow the corn or mill it or use an extruder to make it into flakes.

    Or maybe some other machine does this, it doesn’t much matter. The point is, this low level computer activity isn’t going to go away, any more than our gall bladders are going to stop producing bile.

    Oh, I agree with that. Most programmers today are incapable of doing low level programming. They couldn’t create a program by wire wrapping a back plane or keying the binary in through the front panel switches if their lives depended on it. What they think of as “low level” is incredibly high. The process of abstracting from the hardware will continue.

    What percentage of programmers are employed doing truly low level programming today? Fewer than 1% certainly.  .1%? .01%?

  • mike shupp

    Chuckle! Perspective changes with time. Yeah, the kids building up websites with Ruby-on-Rails or whatever aren’t Real Programmers whatever they think. That’s an honor reserved for those of us who battled in the trenches with Cobol and Fortran and C.

    But I do recall, 50 years back, when I was still struggling with Fortran II and 1401 Assembler, of an older fellow who sneered at newcomers such as you and me. Real programmers didn’t futz around with assembly language and symbolic addresses and numbers expressed in octal, he would say. They made machines work with ones and zeroes!

    As John von Neumann intended, no doubt.

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