When I went on my trip to Seattle last month, while waiting for the airplane to arrive at the gate, a particularly large man sat down beside me. Seeing me with my old-fashioned hardcover book, dusty pages and without the dust cover (since it will tear apart with me anyway) he started to talk with me. And I usually don’t like to be bothered once I am doing my own thing. But we ended up quite quickly in a conversation about the glory days in IT. He knew more about it than I thought he would know, and I knew more about those old days than he expected. There we were, he 65, I 37, sharing a nice conversation about Cobol, mainframes, binary editing and dot-matrix.
True, I never programmed in Cobol myself, my entry point was GW-basic, although I remember building a Snake game in Cobol one blue Monday. But with my father being progressive in the IT world over in Europe at the time, we were introduced at home with IT technology about 15 years before it slowly became mainstream.
Of course, I mentioned it being ‘the glory days of IT’, but we all know that it is more like the prehistoric age. It is like calling hymns to be the glory days of pop-music. But you know how men are, even from the moment I realized I am not the ‘young crowd’ anymore (a thing my daughter loves to remind me of), talking about past times make it always seem so much more epic than it really was at the time.
Because, well, let’s face the fact. I had no clue what I was doing back then. Not even in GW-basic. The only thing was that I knew there were games, and that the quite prehistoric games on the PC attracted my attention more than the games on our old Atari 2600 or the arcade games. Even the hugely pixellated Artworx Strip Poker was something that was quite exciting at the time.
So, there we were, counting down the minutes until we would board the plane. He mentioned how he, at one moment, just quit the business simply to avoid the moment that his work was not needed anymore, and that in his idea, Cobol programmers were still needed. I actually assured them that, although modern programmers who got their programming degree from a school or course instead out of passion for creation and computers might only know the language from history lessons of programming, Cobol programmers are still working. And also still working on Cobol programs. And that there are enough enterprise businesses who still did not dare to shut down their old systems, their mainframes running the ancient applications, simply because of caution, or even because they are still being used.
And with the limited amount of programmers in the ancient languages out there, the demand of work is still a perfect match for the availability of these developers.
My passion has never been a language. I like to create things. Any language will do. I have never been exceptionally good at one language, but know a lot about different ones, and move easily from one to another. Not always in time, I like to hang on to languages I am familiar with. Just like any other guy out there, I like change, just not in my scope of the world. Right now I am finally making the move to C#. Wow, just in time to start working in this shiny new language that is just 13 years old by now. Hey! Dinosaurs move slowly.
But I can understand why people like this nameless short-time friend at the airport of mine, just wanted to get out of the business. It has changed a lot. IT became a thing that was in the hand of geeks into big businesses. From the moment of time that you earned heaps of money when you could work a computer to another regular job. As it should be, but still, the landscape changed. We were joking about the perfect IBM keyboards that made the metallic ‘clank’ when you typed (still the best keyboards to work on). And the wonderful 320×200 screens, if you were lucky, that produced 4 wonderful colors, if you counted black or white, or the bright real Red, Green, Blue and Yellow.
The XBOX One was revealed the day before yesterday, and everywhere I heard a bit of disappointment because of the lack of information Microsoft was able to deliver based on all the questions surrounding the device about media, games, sharing and internet connection. The excitement was gone. For me, that had been gone already. Because it always gets better, nicer, faster and more amazing; but it is never new anymore.
I still have to hand it to Nintendo, that while their Wii U is not much of a success, Nintendo at least tries to innovate. And with innovation comes success, but also failures. But they introduce new things.
For me, excitement about computers was at its apex when sound-cards were introduced, and VGA became the standard for gaming in 1991. And that has nothing to do that I was a teenage boy and now was able to look at illegally acquired images of sparsely clothed women in an jaw-dropping 256 colors! Or the first games that went into high-resolution; ehm, I mean 640×480.
It does not really make me feel old. Not yet. But I know that in my own opinion, computers were something exciting. Now they became the default thing that everyone has. Devices are nice, but, never special. And finally I understand why grease-monkeys can love their cars and working on them, while I only get bothered if something doesn’t work as it should in mine. It is all about passion.
Still, all of this, just makes me happy doing my work. I am 37 right now, and still have my grasp on new inventions and the history that makes what I see exciting, because I still know where the roots of it all are. I am not yet feeling old because of this.
No, I’ll be honest. The reason why I do feel old, and I have been for the last three days now – is simply finding out that Blake Shelton is actually younger than I am. THAT! makes me feel old.