I Was Never A Real Programmer* But…

What I miss is the experience I enjoyed when programming close to the metal. Whether it was learning from Peter Norton or Tom Swan how to write assembly code, reading Ray Duncan’s treatise on MS-DOS, working with the intricacies of UNIX, or delving into the guts of an Apple II, I was never that far from the core of the machine. [Okay, maybe a bit more isolated from the hardware with UNIX.]

Today, we deal with operating systems and shells that try to protect us from ourselves: Windows 7, Snow Leopard, KDE, Gnome.

Today, we deal with frameworks that sit on top of the operating system and further abstract us from the underlying hardware: Microsoft’s .NET Framework to Apple’s Cocoa.

Today, we deal with frameworks that sit on top of the web browser, from jQuery to Dojo to Flash to Silverlight just to name a few, to insulate us from the network underpinnings.

Today, we no longer have to create custom file formats to store records because we have databases to perform that work for us: Oracle 11g, Microsoft SQL Server 2008, MySQL. Or we can save our data as XML.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of these things make development so much easier.

I’m glad I no longer have to create the framework to implement the functionality of a user-interface. Does the computer have CGA, EGA, or VGA? What interrupt trips when the mouse is moved? How do I respond to it? Doing it once or twice was enough to give me the experience and understanding I needed.

I no longer have to develop code to write out and read custom file formats, translate data from big-endian to little-endian, or ensure my binary file is the right size. Better still, now I can more easily share my data with others and vice -versa.

Instead, I get to concentrate on the logic and relationships to actually solve the problem at hand. I don’t even have to know what operating system my application is running on; the application is “happy” as long it has connectivity to the database.

But I still miss those opportunities when I had to drill down and really learn what was going on behind those plastic keys I press. I may have crashed and burned occasionally, spectacularly even, but I always came away educated further and having fun with it all. And the experiences are something I’ll never forget.

[While writing this, I’m reminded of an illustration on the growth of GIS from niche to enterprise within an organization contained within Focus on GIS Component Software Featuring ESRI’s MapObjects written by Robert Hartman. Perhaps another related article?]

* A tip of the hat to those Real Programmers out there.

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~ by bwsd on March 28, 2010.

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