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Author Topic: Lost Programming Skills  (Read 3760 times)

zridling

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Lost Programming Skills
« on: August 07, 2011, 10:59:27 AM »
Daniel Dern makes some good points on What today's coders don't know and why it matters
http://www.itworld.c...t-programming-skills

Today's coders may know how to whip up a PHP script or a Drupal extension, create a mobile app for both the iPhone and Android, and run DOOM on their car's GPS (which has been done, it turns out). But there's a lot that their predecessors knew that today's programmers don't.

Some of these skills aren't likely to be needed again, any more than most of us need to know how to ride a horse or (sigh) drive a manual-transmission vehicle. But other skills and "lessons learned" may still or again prove relevant, whether developers are banging their heads against legacy systems, coding for new mobile and embedded devices... or other devices and applications we haven't yet thought of.

Here's what some industry veterans and seasoned coders think the younger generation doesn't know ... but should.

mwb1100

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2011, 08:43:19 PM »
There are some good points in the article, but a fair bit of it has the ring of old timers telling stories about walking uphill both to and from school (and I'm an old timer, so I'm entitled to call them on it).

But the one that really got me: "machining cast iron" is a lost programming skill?  I guess there was a day when you might have to forge your own heat sink, but I think something just went over my head...

MilesAhead

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2011, 09:03:32 PM »
I didn't see the bit about cast iron. Only thing I can think of is that must've been the old method of creating firmware.  Instead of punching a rectangular hole in a card they used a punch press on an iron sheet.  Guess it made it more difficult for disgruntled employees to erase system code.



40hz

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2011, 10:45:42 PM »
Long on 'what,' but way too short on 'why.' As a result, it's a little too much like preaching to the choir. Which is a shame. Because there are some very good points being made.

As mwb1100 noted:

Quote
There are some good points in the article, but a fair bit of it has the ring of old timers telling stories about walking uphill both to and from school (and I'm an old timer, so I'm entitled to call them on it).

 :)

cranioscopical

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #4 on: August 08, 2011, 07:48:12 AM »
old timers telling stories about walking uphill both to and from school (and I'm an old timer, so I'm entitled to call them on it).

We couldn't afford a school. I had to walk both ways (uphill, in the snow, no shoes) just to tend the loom.  :(

40hz

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #5 on: August 08, 2011, 08:48:57 AM »
old timers telling stories about walking uphill both to and from school (and I'm an old timer, so I'm entitled to call them on it).

We couldn't afford a school. I had to walk both ways (uphill, in the snow, no shoes) just to tend the loom.  :(

 ;D Yeah. To say nothing of us having to do homework on our laptops by candlelight! And our internet was two tin cans attached by 3 miles of 20# fishing line... And we were bloody glad to have it too! :-\




Renegade

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #6 on: August 08, 2011, 09:01:16 AM »
old timers telling stories about walking uphill both to and from school (and I'm an old timer, so I'm entitled to call them on it).

We couldn't afford a school. I had to walk both ways (uphill, in the snow, no shoes) just to tend the loom.  :(

 ;D Yeah. To say nothing of us having to do homework on our laptops by candlelight! And our internet was two tin cans attached by 3 miles of 20# fishing line... And we were bloody glad to have it too! :-\



Not to '1-up' anyone, but...


Four Yorkshiremen



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You were lucky. We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six in the morning, clean the paper bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down t' mill, fourteen hours a day, week-in week-out, for sixpence a week, and when we got home our Dad would thrash us to sleep wi' his belt.

:P


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40hz

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #7 on: August 08, 2011, 10:27:23 AM »
I personally don't think the "good old days" were all that great.

There's been huge improvements in the way we write and use code and build our systems. And I would definitely not want to go back to the way it used to be done. Not for for love or money.

But the article does raise some good points about the inherent danger of losing basic skills in the process of acquiring more sophisticated tools to work with.

I don't know if it's the case with coders, but in my world of network technology, I'm already starting to see a problem. Many of the next-gen engineers I see coming out are great at dealing with all the latest and greatest tech. They can make the newest Cisco boxes sing like a diva. And they definitely know a lot more about them than I do.

But if you put them in a mixed environment with a lot of legacy equipment (i.e about 85% of the environments out there) they have problems. I suspect it's because the bulk of their training was on specific devices and products rather than core technologies. As a result, their knowledge is miles deep - but only a few yards wide. Show them something they've never worked with that's being balky, and their most common response is to suggest getting something "more up to date with the current state of the technology." Forget that a simple tweak to the setup - or replacing a suspect CAT-5 cable-  would fix the problem in a jiffy.

The other problem I'm seeing more of is what's referred to as "menu thinking." The way it works is to look up the problem and apply the recommended fixes in sequence until the problem is resolved. And if the recommended fixes do not cure the problem, quit and wait for an updated fix from the manufacturer.

In short, if it ain't on the menu, there's nothing to be done.

Understanding the <*groan*> OSI model (or how TCP/IP and the various protocols actually work) isn't just a boring academic exercise. Well...I'll admit it can be pretty boring. But it's hardly academic. Because if your shiny new server or data switch starts acting up, knowing how that device works on a fundamental and generic level allows you to troubleshot and fix it. Even in the absence of relevant guidance from the manufacturer.

That's the mark of a true professional: the ability to remain effective in the absence of specific knowledge or expertise. Plus the ability to extrapolate from what knowledge and expertise you do posses.

And it has real world benefits. I've gained a reputation with my clients over the years of being "the guy" who can fix anything. It's an exaggeration, although it's not too big a one. My record of "big wins" is pretty solid.

But it's not because I'm super-brilliant or incredibly well trained. My secret weapon (if I have one) is very low-level and basic understanding of how computers and networks actually do what they do. With that framework in place, everything else is a matter of filling in details as and where needed. And extrapolating from that to identify solutions for new situations. Because on a certain level, all technical problems are the same.

Albert Einstein had a cute way of looking at that: "You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

That's the real difference between being "trained" and being "educated." Walking away from the basics with the argument it's no longer "relevant" may get you 'trained up' and 'tested out' quicker. But it also leaves critical holes in your understanding of the technology you work with.

The real trick is to be aware of those holes and fill them in as quickly as possible.

That, and not getting so put off by all those old guys sitting around the cracker barrel, jawin' about how tough they had it, that you decide you'd rather not do it.

einstein.jpg :)

app103

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #8 on: August 08, 2011, 11:03:59 AM »
I don't know if it's the case with coders, but in my world of network technology, I'm already starting to see a problem. Many of the next-gen engineers I see coming out are great at dealing with all the latest and greatest tech. They can make the newest Cisco boxes sing like a diva. And they definitely know a lot more about them than I do.

But if you put them in a mixed environment with a lot of legacy equipment (i.e about 85% of the environments out there) they have problems. I suspect it's because the bulk of their training was on specific devices and products rather than core technologies. As a result, their knowledge is miles deep - but only a few yards wide. Show them something they've never worked with that's being balky, and their most common response is to suggest getting something "more up to date with the current state of the technology." Forget that a simple tweak to the setup - or replacing a suspect CAT-5 cable-  would fix the problem in a jiffy.

Well, there has to be some way the old timers to have job security. It's like all those COBOL coders from the 70's that wrote so much code that works fairly well, on old hardware that will likely out live anything built today, that they guaranteed they would be able to find some sort of COBOL related job if they want one, far longer than their minds will last. If they ever come up short on retirement cash and need some work to supplement things, they will have no problem getting it.

But of course there are some of those old COBOL coders (like my dad) that would rather sell their house and rent a room than ever touch that stuff again.  :D

superboyac

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #9 on: August 08, 2011, 11:22:17 AM »
It's interesting to hear you talk, 40.  I'm entering that age where I'm not a rookie anymore, but I'm also not considered an expert, yet I feel like an expert.  And it's not like when you're a teenager and you think you know everything.  It's different than that.  It's like I know I don't know anything or very much at all, yet I'm very confident I can get through a problem when I need to.  Before, I'd have this urge to know more and more about everything JUST IN CASE I needed it.  Now, I'm just here and I'll activate the mind when it's necessary.  The rest of the time (non-work related time), my mind is churning about things that are useless in work: art, music, some philosophy.  So I've been slowly drifting out of that eagerly acquiring any and all knowledge into this phase where I can feel myself becoming less in tune with current happenings, but oddly more confident and patient about it.  I'm seeing the patterns between the present and the past more clearly.  I don't feel that things have gotten better or anything, I just think they have changed.  You can say things have gotten more complicated, but I wouldn't necessarily say better (as a whole, not in parts).  Technology obviously has gotten "better" but that's the job of technology.  Technology doesn't get worse...or else it wouldn't be called "technology".  It would be called retro or something.

What's my point?  I don't know.  Simplify, i guess.
Quote
But it's not because I'm super-brilliant or incredibly well trained. My secret weapon (if I have one) is very low-level and basic understanding of how computers and networks actually do what they do. With that framework in place, everything else is a matter of filling in details as and where needed. And extrapolating from that to identify solutions for new situations. Because on a certain level, all technical problems are the same.
That's how I think also.  That is my preferred weapon.  There are those that I admire that are the other way: that is, they have lots of detailed knowledge about a lot of things.  I used to strive for that, but it leads to stress inevitably.

ecaradec

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Re: Lost Programming Skills
« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2011, 11:50:16 AM »
I'm sure that electronic engineer are disapointed seeing all thoses programmers who don't understand of the basic physical behavior of transistors, electrons and quantic mecanic. Some people are bright enough that they can the big scheme, for other, well we know as much as we can ;). Most electronic engineer don't know how to design websites anyway.
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