Similarities and differences - for senior (age/experience) devs

Hello Fellow developers,

I have been trying to wrap my head around How difficult would it have been to be a dev 20-30 years ago?

I have a few questions aimed for people two generations (30ish years) above me , say in their 50s and still coding (hobby or profession).

  1. What were pain points to becoming a dev when you were 20? Most painful two.

  2. What are disadvantages that present generation (kids in 20s ) faces compared to 20 years ago?

Any anecdotes or examples are preferred for better understanding as it allows “me in your shoes” :stuck_out_tongue:

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Hmmm, it’s actually hard for me to think about… I started programming in an assembly add-in cartridge on a Commodore Vic20, the reference manual was a goldmine of info (that’s something that is sorely lacking in many languages nowadays), eventually went to an IBM 8088 (still have both these machines in my closet) with basic and so forth (the old ones, literally ‘basic’ and advanced basic, this was long before things even like quickbasic) but quickly got various borland tools like turbo pascel and turbo C, I mostly did C until I got a borland C++ compiler, then eventually some ancient visual studio for C++ and was just C++ for a long long time, eventually dabbled in other languages when the Internet came to exist for the public (this was about 2003-2004) and figured out I could learn interesting things from them that helped in my C++ work, so I tried to consume and learn as many as I could, eventually going to my current tactic of trying to “Get Good” with at least 3 languages a year that I still do to this day.

So back then the major disadvantages would probably have been a lack of examples (no internet, and the local BBS’s weren’t exactly flush with code) although the examples I did have were absolutely top notch in quality. Another thing would be a lack of community to discuss it in.

Too much information of way too low quality is the biggest thing, I am really not a fan of sites like Stack Overflow, all that work should have gone into writing better documentation, not in making a really questionable site of often really poor quality code that people tend to copy and paste without gaining understanding.

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I have been a victim of this too often.

Surprisingly, I have started reading documentation first (rather than googling) when it came to Elm and Elixir.

Like Underjord put it succinctly!

Also, I felt a depth of understanding after reading Programming Phoneix LiveView Book. Those kind of books are not encouraged enough in JS ecosystems.

Thank you for reply!

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Pre-Amazon (circa 1990), it was almost IMPOSSIBLE to find programming books about subjects that were “too niche” for Borders and Barnes & Noble unless you ALREADY knew they existed, or you were lucky enough to live somewhere like Boston or Silicon Valley (where there presumably WAS a bookstore or two that made a point of automatically carrying at least one copy of nearly every programming-related book from a respected publisher). And if you rolled the dice and special-ordered a book “sight unseen” based entirely on its title that you managed to stumble upon, you had a good chance of spending a lot of money, waiting weeks or months, and ultimately ending up disappointed.

By 1990, I was lucky enough to have internet (specifically, Usenet) access (courtesy of my university), but it didn’t really help much. My own university only kept Usenet traffic around for 2-4 weeks, and its mainframe-based client didn’t have any way (at least, that I was aware of) to bring replies to your own posts to your attention, so they were as likely to roll off and be forgotten as you were to ever see any that existed. Thanks to the hard archival work by DejaNews (ultimately scooped up by Google), I actually stumbled over a reply to a long-forgotten post I made on comp.sys.amiga.programming in 1989… approximately 20 years later(!!!). From what I recall, I made the post the week before final exams in December, went home for a month, and by the time I got back in mid-January, it was gone. That was life back in the dark ages.

Pre-Google (and pre-www in general), everything was extraordinarily ephemeral. Aside from Usenet, we had Fidonet and BBSes, but with no real ability to search past posts (or even keep them around much longer than a few months at most, knowledge evaporated almost as quickly as it was shared.


As far as the challenges faced by new programmers today, I’d say it’s the sheer volume of knowledge you have to accumulate just to make it to “Hello, world!” in a language like C# or Java.

Back in the mid-80s, a computer like the Commodore 64 came with a ~150-page book that had enough real information in it to write meaningful programs (as opposed to a useless booklet containing nothing besides legal disclaimers, regulatory notices, and a page of diagrams for people who are too stupid to know how a keyboard and mouse are supposed to be connected), and for another $25 or so, you could buy the Programmer’s Reference Manual which wasn’t particularly nice to read, but contained almost everything ELSE you REALLY needed to know to write programs (at least, in BASIC).

If you went completely nuts, you could buy a half-dozen additional books on topics like assembly language and advanced graphics… but the point is, even a HUGE personal library of programming books consisted of MAYBE 6-12 books, with 2,000-3,000 pages total between them.

Compare that to a single book about C++ programming with Visual Studio for Windows, which could easily exceed 2,000 pages and barely scratch the surface.

Contemplate for a moment how many pages it would take to print the complete official javadocs for the Android API… using 1/4" margins, 2 pages per side, double-sided printing, and 8-point type.

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be a teenager today who has to master object-oriented design, functional programming, and MVVM architecture just to write an Android app that doesn’t completely suck. Or a J2EE web application. Or a Windows app. The bar to entry is staggeringly higher today than it used to be.

The fact is, StackOverflow and Google are the only things that keep Android and IOS development from collapsing into themselves like black holes from their own sheer volatile mass.

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Went right through the heart!!

20 years ago : hard to find a gem (gem like manuals - crisp and short were available)

Today : easy to find the garbage docs.

Another question :

  1. What advice would you give to a young programmer (me in 20s) to keep sane?

  2. How to find good resources like in your days? (Crisp, and well explained)

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I got into programming around 40 years ago, via electronic hardware development. This was a time when using microprocessors to replace hardware was becoming common. I didn’t have any degrees in electronics or software, but I did have a background that included electronic repair. And I had a degree in English, which taught me a lot about expressing myself logically and clearly.

What were pain points to becoming a dev when you were 20? Most painful two.

The biggest pain point was lack of tools. The ones that were available (such as logic analyzers that could display code mnemonics, and emulators that could let you set breakpoints and examine registers) were scarce and expensive. I ended up creating some of my own tools. Based on a suggestion by a co-worker, I wrote a monitor program that basically let me pretend I had an emulator, though I was using the same processor to execute the code. (see https://idiacomputing.com/pub/An_8031_In-Circuit_Emulator.pdf)

What are disadvantages that present generation (kids in 20s ) faces compared to 20 years ago?

Much of the work today depends on understanding frameworks and APIs written by someone else. Many of these are designed rather haphazardly and often are documented poorly from the consumer’s point of view. The irregularities make it much harder for someone to get a good mental model.

  • George
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