Monday, October 23, 2017

Where do old programmers go?

As far as I can tell, I’m the oldest old programmer to answer this question so far. I’m so old that the title “programmer” didn’t even exist when I started.

I celebrate my 84th birthday this week, and as far as I know, most of the programmers who were around under various titles when I started (in 1956, maybe 20 of us in the USA) are now dead. I hope they’ve gone to heaven (the cloud?).

Myself, I gradually ceased writing code for money and transitioned to training younger people to be outstanding professional programmers. I still write lots of code for my own use and amusement and learning, but it’s been at least 40 years since I could tolerate writing code for a boss who didn’t understand what programming was all about.

I’ve earned multiple livings as consultant, teacher, and writer. Always about programming, but more about design rather than coding details as the years went by. If you’re good, you can do any of these things even at advanced age, but you can’t just sit around waiting for someone to find you.

If you’re not good, than either get good (it’s never too late) or retire. We don’t need mediocre programmers, and we never did.


Kurt Fredriksson said...

Hello Gerry,

When I started programming twelve years later than you (1968), we all called us programmers despite we did all the work, from initial specificaion to installation.
As I got promoted to manager after one year, I only had a couple of years as an active programmer of production software.
I became more interested in programming methods, and that is why I met you. First in Linköping, Sweden and then visiting your home.
The seventies was an interesting period with "new" methods presented all the time. Summing up my experience I came to the conclusion that what made a method successful could be boiled down to: Work orderly.
Unfortunately did managers higher in the hierarchy attend conferences about working methods and thus we ended up with a lot of different methods, all promising to solve everything at a lower cost.
When I told a project leader that my preferred method should be more expensive up front, they rejected the method. They wanted their project to be as cheap as possible, and then leave the remaining, about 50%, to the maintenance.
I am retired since long (86 next time) but I still do some programming for myself. Normally I am now a computer user.

Val said...

Happy birthday Gerald! Thank you for your books! I’m reading and can’t stop ��. Just finished An Introduction to General system thinking. My specialty is system engineer but I’m working as programmer and only now after your book I’m really understand what it was about �� It was thrilled to read it. Thank you! Best regards, Vadimir Alexeev

Lynn S said...

So glad you were born 84 years ago and are still going strong. I'm a 74 year old programmer who doesn't create code anymore .. got stuck in the management / entrepreneurial side of our small business, but it's been great fun, especially the interesting people I've met along the way. I still think fondly of you and Dani and my visit to your Swiss village. It really bugs me when techies today think it all began with IOS programming for the iPhone !!

Aloha nui from Hawaii where I'm currently enjoying the rains of Hilo and weaving lauhala.

Lynn Samuels

Unknown said...

Happy Birthday, Jerry. I've been privileged to have spent time with you, and to have read so many of your wise words. I wish you continued joy and peace. -- Ron Jeffries

AZDave said...

I just turned 59, and I hope to follow your path into my 80's. I first read your work in 1984, and have long appreciated your distilled pragmatism, experience and insight. I was also lucky enough to work with one of your protege's, Steve Smith, for a few years. When I do workshops now I ask participants what the last book they read. About 5% have read anything in the last year. So much wisdom we could leverage. Wishing for your comfort and contentment.

Himself said...

Happiest of birthdays to perhaps the only actual genius I know! At 77, I could only code in BASIC (enough to write manuals for Sinclair and Timex), and a little CP/M. Yet I survive on a mountaintop in Maine. Keep on keepin' on!

Dot Graham said...

Happy Birthday Jerry!
It was a real privilege to meet you at one of the two AYE conferences I attended. I think everyone I know quotes from your work (including me of course). I vividly remember your session about transforming rules into guidelines, and I often tell people about the Yes/No medallion.

I did start as a programmer (in 1970) and mysteriously became a "software engineer" on my payslip one day in the mid-70s. I asked my boss about it, and he just said effectively "that's the fashionable term now, no, not any more money!"

I am amazed and grateful to still be conference-hopping and talking about testing and test automation. Your influence is pervasive and lives on!

Dot Graham

Scott Duncan said...

It’s been a long time since I talked my boss into having you come and speak at Bellcore to the senior management. They didn’t get it and you knew after just a few minutes talking to them. I wasn’t at all senior enough to be in the meeting, but my boss (who sat in the room, but not at the table) told me about it. I ran into you again at an ASQ Software Division Conference years later and finally got to enjoy time with you after reading so many of your books. Thanks so much...

BobB said...

Happy Birthday Jerry,
A neighbor, when I was young, coded on a Univac at Gentile Air Depot in Dayton, O. They had an open house in 1957 where I got to play tic-tac-toe on the computer. I beat it. I felt cheated. I swore I would never have let that happen. But, it was my first inspiration. In the Marine Corps there were no coders or programmers yet. I did get to debug a ballistics computer using Boolean charts. I was off and running. Then it was on to RCA and the birth of Spectra 70s. I went from hardware to software and passed over business apps for Sytem programming. I did a class at Ethnotech in Lincoln once too. And then I got it.

I’ve been trying to be mindful technologist and leader ever since.

Thanks for being a mentor and opening my mind.

Bob Becksted

Jone said...

A belated happy birthday! Being part of one of your Technical Leadership seminars was life-changing for me. Thank you for all you've taught and shared!