Lost programming skills

What today's coders don't know and why it matters

By , ITworld |  IT Management, programming

"Activities like hearing a noisy voice or copying Morse Code are not in the realm of most RF engineers," says Carl Mikkelsen, whose 45 years of experience covers high voltage vacuum FETs, TTL, broadcast engineering, programming language design, compiler writing, laying the framework for EMACS, image processing, graphics, font rendering, six patents, and real time mechanotronics. "We have such good digital modulation and error corrections that we expect all communications to be clear and error free. Unfortunately, you can't make a digital transmitter with a spark gap and a bit of crystal. Ham radio operators keep this barely alive."

Parting words

"Assembly language, interrupt handlers, race conditions, cache coherence," says Jude Miller, long-time system consultant and industry curmudgeon.

Other low-level skills that today's engineers aren't getting, according to Carl Mikkelsen: "programming tight loops, computational graphic approximations like a circle algorithm, machining cast iron, designing CPU instruction sets, meeting real-time constraints, programming in the inefficient zone - recovering some of the last 30% of potential, and analog design, such as audio amps."

Pete Kaiser, an independent consultant and 50-year veteran of the industry, doesn't so much see lost individual skills as "overall shrinkage -- many of the 'experts' I hear and see in the trade press seem to have much narrower, shallower perspectives compared to the people I worked with in my days as an active developer of software and hardware in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. I read about people who know everything about the APIs to Microsoft Windows VSS -- but who have no idea what a log-based file system is. Or who can tell you to buy more RAM for your servers, but have no idea of the design principles behind why a 4GB Linux system may outperform a 16GB Windows system for some purposes. They're ecstatic about Microsoft's Aero interface for Windows, but have no concept of how little GUIs have changed since the 1980s. So they have nothing to contribute to thinking about where to go from here, or whose feet to hold to the fire.

What do you think? Are the coding skills of yesteryear a lost art that should be revived? Or are they actually not very good coding practices in a modern environment?

This article, "Lost programming skills," was originally published at ITworld. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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