The first personal computers launched in the 70s were very primitive and required constant programming, in the sense that programs were not stored in the computer, but had to be introduced manually with switches every time they were started. Every person that used an Altair 8800 could be considered a computer programmer.
The Altair 8800 was introduced in 1975 and it was based on Intel’s 8080 CPU. It could handle 8bit and 16bit instructions, while being able to address 64kilobytes of memory and run at an impressive 2MHz speed.
In contrast, today’s computers can be configured with 64GB of memory and their CPUs run at frequencies beyond 6 x 3GHz (Phenom II X6 3.2GHz). In just 33 years memory size has increased a million times (from 64KB to 64GB), while CPU speed only 10,000 times (from 2MHz to 20GHz).
With MS DOS and later MS Windows came the need for larger computer programmer teams, because some important limits were removed. Memory size and processing speed were increased, so much more complex programs could be created.
MS DOS was released with a so-called GW-BASIC interpreter, a programmer friendly platform for creating programs with commands, functions and procedures (words and numbers instead of just flipping switches). These programs could also be saved to and loaded from floppy disks, and later much more evolved internal hard disks.
Starting with MS Windows 95 (almost) the whole programming community began to make these new user friendly programs that can be run by a simple mouse click and everything is done in a graphical user interface (GUI), no more typing commands. The biggest advantage of using GUI was that programmers had an easier job too, because programming platforms were also programmer friendly. The programmer could see a list of command / function / procedure options in any part of the software in development.
Today computer programmers have much more tools at their disposals for writing and optimizing their programs, but it doesn’t mean that their job is easier. For example game developers have to combine much more elements in perfect timing to make a game with 3D realistic graphics and captivating game play, while in the old days of BASIC and DOS there was no 3D, not even realistic 2D that would require very fine tuning to look acceptable.
As you can see there’s a HUGE difference between a game made 30 years ago and one made recently.
The future of computer programmers may be uncertain, because computers are handling more and more complex jobs. Sometime soon computers will be able to create, program and repair themselves (or each other) if we let them, and then the maximum complexity of a programmer’s job will be to command the computer to do something by pushing a button.11
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