By Cory Doctorow at 3:26 am Mon, Nov 8, 2010
Learn at home!
My dad made me practise programming on graph paper for two weeks before he let me use his then-brand-new Commodore PET! It was actually a great foundation for understanding how programming works.
In the 1960’s, I took a class in Fortran IV. We submitted our programs in pencil every day on a paper form. Overnight they were entered by a keypunch operator, and the next day we were handed the source code as a paper tape and the output as produced by a teletype. We would submit another form to correct or revise our program.
It’s pretty much the same now, except “hit F5″ has replaced “wait overnight.”
I started off university in Comp Sci, and all my major tests were done on paper. In fact, only in the labs did I actually sit in front of a computer. Sorry, did I say computer? I meant amber dumb terminal. And this was 1994.
Exams are still typically done on paper, I think – it’s easier to secure against cheating. I’ve certainly handed in handwritten java code a few years ago, and I don’t think they’ve changed the system since. (Java is annoying to write by hand, not as much for the verbosity as for the number of curly braces.)
I was born in ’84 but due to the price of computers even during my early teens I think I’d put in several hundred hours of programming before I got a real one (mostly thanks to the dusty BASIC book I was allowed to keep from the dentist’s waiting room).
Some years later, and our school had great machines, pentium no less, but we still spent hours being taught to finger trace psuedo-assembly, I’m not sure it was such a bad idea some 15,000 hours of keyboard-based coding later on, certainly makes you more concious of every line. I’m not sure I’d have the patience now.
Yeah pretty much everything back then was write it out and hand to a key punch operator. My mother was a key punch operator until 1974 when she left to have me. I still have this strange ruler that I’m pretty sure has something to do with punch cards.
Could “experienced women” earn from $4666.62 to $8,000 a year?
So, assuming that matchbook is from the mid 60’s, the equivalent salary range for today is $47k – 80k.
What’s a typewriter?
Back then, there were “coding forms” that you could write out your program on. A coding form was a big tablet of paper with a little grey box for each character space, eighty per line. The coding form for FORTRAN had column indicators since column 1 is comments and 2-6 are line number and 72-80 are more comments.
Many people indicated the SPACE character with a little triangle in the bottom of the character box.
I was lucky enough to never have to use them, reaching programming age just as microcomputers became available.
I took my first programming course in 1977, a group of twelve students with access to one Radio Shack TRS-80. Everyone learned by pencil – flowcharts, peeudo code, then the lines of code themselves – before being allowed a set amount of time on the computer to enter their program and save it to cassette tape.
If you didn’t finish in time, you had to give up the keyboard and wait until your next turn. If you did finish, you could run your program and see what happened. Get an error? Time is up, go back to your desk and write out the solution.
I’m sure a lot of the coders today would find this horrid, but it forced you to write clean, well-crafted code the first time around.
Ah, to live in an age when high school grads were eligible for anything…
I’ve made a living programming professionally for decades and though personal computers were *just* getting affordable when I started out there was no way we could afford one so I learned by writing programs with paper and pencil.
If you really want to learn something nothing can stop you.
Ha ha! At first I thought the second ad read “More programmers nerded by 1975″!
Indeed when I first got into programming, you were expected to have your program completely debugged on paper before you even went to the keypunch area. There were not many keypunches, and you had to get your work done fast so as not to incur the wrath of the other programmers in your class.
I took a programming class in high school in ’72. We learned to write all sorts of programs in BASIC. Here’s how many computers we had for the class: none! It was all, “this is what the computer would do, if we had one.”
I learned my first programming language way after everyone had computers in their homes, but still I just took my “Learn in 21 Days” book out to the hammock in the back yard and learned that way, because it was kind of a hassle to get the actual computer set up correctly.
It was surprisingly effective. After my 21 days was up (it took a month actually) I found my way to a computer I could program on and off I went.
Coding forms! Holy Grace Hopper! I had forgotten those.
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