Developer divide: 19 generations of computer programmers

From punch cards to JavaScript, computing history owes everything to those who've programmed the machines

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Space Shuttle programmers
This crew just retired with the Space Shuttle. During their years, they worked with 8086 chips and kept the shuttles running by searching eBay for replacement hardware. The Space Shuttle computers may not have had much memory, but they traveled farther and faster than all of the biggest mainframes or fanciest racks.

Language of choice: Assembly code
Special skill: Remembering which register is already swapped to RAM
Social media strategy: Logged into Facebook once last year; has friended spouse and two neighbors
Other career choice: Disco lighting designer
Clothing: Leisure suits
Rhetorical tic: "If we don't do it, the Russians will win."
Car: Cadillac Eldorado
Song: Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon"
Favorite artifact: 8086 chip

Cray programmers
There was a time when the fastest computers were built by a relatively small company run by an enigmatic genius who spent his off-hours digging tunnels in his basement. That's a true fact about Seymour Cray, the genius who built the first generation of machines designed for big data sets and complicated mathematical analysis.

Language of choice: Cray's automatically vectorizing Fortran
Special skill: Knowing how to set up loops so that the Fortran compiler could vectorize them
Social media strategy: Going to the boss's July 4 BBQ and the company holiday party this year
Other career choice: NASA rocket scientist
Clothing: Short-sleeve white shirt with pocket protector
Rhetorical tic: "It's a classified project supported by the DoD."
Car: Nondescript sedan that blends into the NSA parking lot
Song: Wendy Carlos and Benjamin Folkman's "Switched-On Bach"
Favorite artifact: Cray sitting in the National Cryptographic Museum outside Fort Meade

Cobol programmers
The first big adopters of computers never would have succeeded without a simple mechanism for writing software that supported the core business. Cobol was the first great tool for writing what the enterprise programmers call "business logic."

Other language of choice: Fortran
Special skill: Trying to keep on using self-modifying code like ALTER X TO PROCEED TO Y
Social media strategy: Sends out Christmas cards printed on paper
Other career choice: Stereo designer
Clothing: Tracksuit left over from an early morning mall walk
Rhetorical tic: "It's cool."
Car: Honda Civic
Song: Gillian Hills, "Zou Bisou Bisou"
Favorite artifact: Something signed by Grace Hopper

Basic programmers
It was first invented to help Dartmouth students learn how to write endless loops, but it became the dominant language of the early personal computer generation when Bill Gates released Microsoft Basic. All of the early games and software for the PCs were written in Basic. Today it lives on as Visual Basic, a popular language for anyone using the .Net platform.

Other language of choice: Assembly code
Special skill: Using GOTO without creating spaghetti code
Social media strategy: Going to Studio 54
Other career choice: Fast-food restaurant developer
Clothing: Bell bottoms
Rhetorical tic: "It's easy."
Car: Last convertible
Song: Blondie, "Heart of Glass"
Favorite artifact: Cassette version of Microsoft Basic

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