Program the world: 12 technologies you need to know

Stuffing bits in databases is boring. Why not program everything around you?

Program the world: 12 technologies you need to know
Jin via Flickr

Every startup talks about changing the world, but most aren’t talking about the world itself or physical things in it. Most simply want to swap data packets and place entries in databases -- potentially important bags of bits, but bags of bits nonetheless. The world, though, is made up of atoms.

The barrier between bits and atoms is disappearing, with programmers no longer confined to the virtual realm, in part thanks to the Internet of things becoming more real. Now we can do more than write ones and zeros to a disk: We can actually write code that tells a machine how to extrude, cut, bend, or morph atoms. Now our software can turn on lights, change the look of a room, steer a car, move a wall, or more.

Today, many of the new markets and opportunities for developers live in the real world. Rapidly developing domains such as autonomous cars, smart homes, intelligent office spaces, and mass customization require programmers to be savvy about how changes in data structures can lead to changes in objects. If the term “object-oriented programming” weren’t already taken, it would be perfect.

These jobs require new languages or, if they’re not officially new languages, new protocols that work with older languages. Changing the world means learning how these languages and protocols work and how to deploy them. If you’re looking to really change the world, here is a partial list of languages and protocols to master. Once you start flipping bits that change the world, it’s hard to go back to mere databases.


One of the classic languages that drove the early microcomputer revolution lives on in the minds of some simple hardware controllers. The folks who make the ESP8266 controller board use the language because, as they say, it is “a simple but powerful language that lets you do amazing things without needing a degree in computer science.”

All the classic structure is there, including that old bugaboo: goto. But there’s also newer commands for fetching Web pages or sending email. Most of your time will be spent polling pins on the interface, though, to gather data to be passed on to the Internet.

For more information, see the ESP8266 community or the website devoted to the language.

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