Computer Folks Ignore History
We pride ourselves on working in an ever-changing environment. No other can match, as nowhere else is the progress so rapid. New ideas happen all the time, and this is primarily cool.
But this has a considerable downside. Many of us look into the future, afraid of being left behind. New JS framework? Better learn it! ML is groovy all of a sudden? You better jump in. This is problematic not only on a human level. Companies we work in are also forced to push forward. We work on SASS products, which, while having its place in b2b, are a nightmare for individual clients. Our services need a mobile app, even if it doesn’t make much sense. They need them because everyone already has one.
And let’s not forget about blockchain. It’s The Technology changing the world, and all developers not on the chain will be left behind! Well, it is not. We mostly forgot about existence. We’re already on a new trend.
Speaking of current trend, nowhere before was the fear of missing out more visible than with the current ChatGPT trend. Everyone wants to build something with it. Each company wants to integrate with it. Let’s use ML to automate communication! It makes sense, so why not? Someone will have a killer usage at one point, and all other companies will suffer for not having it. Who cares if we have little understanding of it and there are unanswered questions all around?
So we push our screaming old laptops of the past and the spiderweb-riddled servers in the future. Let’s forget yesterday. The future will be bright.
But what are we really leaving behind?
The first computer was made back in the XIX century. But if we focus on modern, transistor-based technology, we are left with only a few decades of legacy.
Primagen, in a recent stream, mentioned that he sees a lot of developers learning frameworks instead of languages. Therefore the college has its place because that’s where one can learn the basics. I have no formal IT education, so I see what he points out. My day-to-day work forces me to learn Ruby on Rails, sometimes Ruby. But I have never used C or had any need to use the terminal. I could easily focus on this one thing I am paid to work with and ignore everything else. Since different companies started moving more and more stuff into the cloud, the need to know the classic tools began to disappear. You can be a very effective developer knowing only how to open VSCode, how to write some React components, and how to open a browser.
Therefore our future obsession seems very logical. But other fields pay attention to their past.
Most people working with trains know why the breaks are on by default. There was an accident where a carriage was separated from the rest of the train, and the breaks never worked because to enable then, pressure from the locomotive needed to be applied to all carriages. Since the carriage had no connection to the locomotive, it just ran down a hill, killing people. The law was changed.
On the other hand, how many developers are aware of the Therac-25 incident? People were killed because of a bug in programming.
Those are extreme examples that should be common knowledge in any self-respecting field. But we should also have knowledge about technologies of the past just for the fun of it.
How many developers do not know that early computers didn’t have screens? This knowldege explain a lot about some editors.
How many do not know about mainframes? Timesharing is very close to what apps-in-a-browser do.
How many assume that server-side rendering is something new? Yet, it’s what the first dynamic content on the web was.
You can get a distinct pleasure from understanding not only how things work but also how. From knowing the context of progress. And we are completely ignoring it because we are economically forced to focus solely on the next shiny thing. This is not sustainable.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. – George Santayana
sponsored by a coworker who had never heard of Emacs before