How We Learned Programming

The first time I touched a computer was in college. As we were graduating high school, the prevailing wisdom said don’t bother learning anything about computers. Pretty soon, they will all be programming themselves. I guess pretty soon covered a longer time span than the expected normal time span for that phrase.

My first experience was on an IBM connected teletype directly connected from the Chemistry Department in Parsons Lab at UNH to the IBM 360 computer in the Math Department in Kingsbury Hall. It was awful. You had to type perfectly, or count the number of characters as you erased backwards. A few years from that day, I used punch cards for a Fortran IV course at Northeastern University, and to me they were considerably better than a teletype. Despite enduring all this, I was spared those punched programs on paper tape.

Finally, I realized I had to have a common day higher level programming language, discrete [data] structures, and a course in someone’s assembly language — I chose IBM 370 assembler — under my belt. That allowed me a passage into software technical writing about languages and operating systems.

Those courses lead to Harvard University Extension School for something called a CAS — they have a masters program now — which included the data structures, Pascal, discrete mathematics, and computability theory, along with fleshing out operating system theory and a wonderful course called the anatomy and physiology of a computer. Before I graduated, I had already been programming for two years using PL/I.

Now, the big push is functional programming, along with a group of computer programming languages that are not so relatively new, and some, like Scala and Clojure, that are relatively new. Given Computer Science degrees were not around when I went to college it is hard to say what the curriculum changes are, but looking at typical curriculum makes me think obvious things have changed, like no longer requiring assembly language, and the math requirements have migrated to include support for functional programming.

I never heard of Lambda calculus, but having looked at the structure of more modern computer programming languages, my guess is Lambda calculus is taught a lot, if not as a separate course, then embedded in other courses. I believe I have to learn it, and I’ve started by ordering an introduction to functional programming .


2 Comments on “How We Learned Programming”

  1. gcbenison says:

    My first experience with programming was at home, with Logo on an Apple II. In a way, that time was a sort of sweet spot for being exposed to computers. It was late enough that I never had to worry about counting backwards while deleting characters, yet early enough that the internet and all its distractions were not there.

    • Octopusgrabbus says:

      My wife had an Apple II GS, and it was a wonderful computer. Promptly after purchasing it, Apple pulled a “Red Hat 9”, and dropped support, which is why I’m not all cuddly with Apple.

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