I started programming in High School after I received my first computer. And today my watch has more RAM than that machine. But it was a fun time nevertheless. Back then programming was vastly different than what it is today. And I was both lucky and unlucky enough to experience that time. Nowadays, people think that if you know jQuery you are set boy. You can toggle this, and grab that and make everything responsive with a single function call. But back then, if you needed to toggle this, then you'd better have a solid for loop function running in the background. If you needed to do something and had no idea how to begin, you would stay up late and play around with your code and with your algorithms until you saw the desired result.
I attended college in the early 2000's, way before Stack Overflow was a thing, and before jQuery reared its head, and the most advanced tool I used for years was a command line compiler. So I was forced to learn pure code, with no fancy bells and whistles. And it was difficult, and it was fun, and for sure it was different. So the rest of this post is dedicated to those days and just what exactly it was like to program just 10 years go.
Probably the biggest change that has happened to programming in the past decade is the exponential growth of Stack Overflow. Because back in the day, nothing like it existed. Back then you had to rely on random blog posts and educational materials found in old college web pages. Or you always had the good old fashioned text book you could run through. If you were desperate enough, you had to pay a website to provide the answer for you. Or just view source and get the answer that way. It wasn't frustrating however, because it was the only way to go about doing things. Presently, it would definitely be frustrating to work in this manner. But that's because I've gotten so used to Googling an error message and then being presented with any of a dozen possible solutions.
I'm still not too sure whether I miss the frustration of those days enough to justify bringing them back. On the one hand, it taught me to find the answers myself usually. But it required me to read dozens of pages of documentation in order to do so. Which isn't a bad thing, for sure. But nowadays that seems more of a nuisance than anything.
No Documentation, Period
My first professional programming job was about 9 years ago, and it involved working with the Dynamics AX ERP software. I had zero experience, as this isn't something that is taught in schools, and even worse, there was almost no documentation available online for it. It was a fairly new product in the states since Microsoft had just acquired it and as such the MSDN pages were filled with "Coming soon" labels. Nowadays, you'd be hard pressed to find a new product without substantial documentation, but back then it was part of the territory. If your company licensed some new tech, normally you had to pay that same company to send over someone to teach the developers the ins and outs of it. I sat through plenty of college like lectures during my work years, and that's one of the things that I am glad are in the past.
Software Was Tiny
I carried around a 64MB flashdrive in my pocket when I was in college, and I was the coolest kid in town. It was more than enough for my college projects, as most projects were just text files for the most part. A few .cpp files here and there, a couple of .h files and you had your program. This is something that I miss nowadays. Just recently I needed to transfer over a project to a new machine, and sat there in awe as the 600MB project transferred over. Sure the internet is faster and I have way more storage than I need, but essentially, it's taking me the same amount of time that it did 10 years ago. And my code for the most hasn't really changed much in a decade. It's mainly text-based with as few plugins, extensions and frameworks as possible.
Maybe it was because we didn't have much to work with, or maybe it was because programs had less features. But a decade ago software ran pretty darn fast. You fired up an IDE and it was instant. But again, this might also have to do with the fact that back then you didn't really use 3rd party libraries for anything. So you weren't loading excess code. But back then, Visual Studio was maybe a 100MB download, where as today it's roughly in the 5-10GB range. Which explains why starting up a project requires a hefty amount of power.
It's Only Been 10 Years
And it's only been 10 years I might add. College students right now have no idea what it's like to spend hours on an algorithm just to find that you had the +1 too soon. Because they simply copy/paste and move on. And while I do think that StackOverflow is an amazing resource and that we're much better off with it than without it, a part of me can't help but think about the next generation of programmers.
Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.
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