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The Good Old Days Weren’t All That Good October 6, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software development, Software platforms.

As we grow older, we have the tendency to wax romantic on the technologies of our youth, and how things were so much simpler and better back in the days where we didn’t have hundreds of frameworks, dozens of programming languages, and more RAM than we know what to do with.

Don’t let age fool you – it wasn’t all that great.  Today, right now, is probably the best it’s been, and it can only get better in the future.  I refer to just such a retrospective in Computerworld, which attempts to point out five old-school ideas that perhaps shouldn’t have died.  They are: easier programming and debugging, Cobol, less connectivity, more at-work socialization, and a dress code.

Let’s take these one at a time.  Easier programming and debugging.  A generation ago, you wrote in C, Pascal, or Cobol, and it was unlikely that you knew more than one language.  That was simpler, but it was also limiting because you had only one tool.  As for debugging, I don’t see how printf statements represent any sort of value.

Cobol.  Enough said.

Less connectivity.  The implication here is that when we left the office, we left the job there too.  Being too accessible has its downside, but that’s far from being an IT-specific problem.  Besides, if you were on call 25 years ago, you still got called in the middle of the night when something went wrong.

More at-work socialization.  Apparently the mainframe and the computer room was the geek social hub of its day.  Who would have thought it?  While IT workers and software developers are much more dispersed today, that’s a function of serving the business, not because they’re antisocial.  And I daresay they serve the business much more effectively than the days where IT huddled around the mainframe in the locked computer room.

A dress code.  A quote in the story notes that if IT dressed more like business users, they might think more like business users.  Um, no – that’s silly and fallacious reasoning.  Besides, I know few business users who wear jackets and ties these days.  Because I typically work at home, I actually like getting a little dressed up when I go out on business, but I certainly don’t in general, and don’t condemn those who don’t.

Yes, we have more complexity today, because computing is more pervasive in our work and personal lives.  Tools, frameworks, and platforms abstract much of that complexity (which can cause other problems), but the work is generally more challenging.  But because we do that level of work, we and society in general gets the benefits of new and different types of software and systems.

You might claim that the technology immersion of today is not an unalloyed good, and I wouldn’t argue.  But technology has solved a lot of problems over the last two decades, and made life easier in many ways.  I might reasonably argue that technology has saved us so much time and effort that we’ve intentionally made our lives more complex in response.

So the next time you think of how much better things were in the past, remember that your memory is probably being very selective.



1. immolator - October 7, 2010

There is also another aspect. We were so hecking geeky! You knew how to assemble a computer, how to repair it and how to program it 🙂 The fact that you could program your printer was pure fun. Nowadays, I am to lazy to learn how to program these fancy mobile devices… Yeah. Memory IS selective. And that’s good thing.

2. Tweets that mention The Good Old Days Weren’t All That Good « Cutting Edge Computing -- Topsy.com - October 9, 2010

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steve Robbins, Peter Varhol. Peter Varhol said: The good old days of computer technology weren't all that good after all. http://wp.me/pJhAL-69 […]

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