Captcha THAT.

childhood complex trauma_When I first started programming, I did a lot of walking. A few months ago I checked the distance I walked every day just back and forth to school and it was about 3.5 km, not counting being sent to the store, or running errands. At the same time, we had this IBM System 36 and a PC Network at school where space was limited, time was limited, and you didn’t have much time to be productive on the computer so you better have it locked down.

At that point, the language was BASIC. The popularity of object oriented programming had not blessed (and cursed) us yet, so we had line numbers on each line, handy for debugging because the most basic errors would tell you where you had a typo. There was an hour every few days to type assignments in so that you could get a grade, or maybe even do something of worth and understand what you were doing.

During that period, can you guess where I did most of my programming? When I was walking around seemingly aimlessly in parking lots, or staring at trees, or anything but staring at a computer monitor. Computers were not plentiful, the time on them was limited, you didn’t have time to screw around on a keyboard.

I have survived decades of programming since then. I still fiddle now and then, but after being beaten to market by Google on getting stuff out (“Set your sights high!”, they tell you…) I’m a bit tired of chasing those particular red dots. My absence from my desk was almost never found tolerable by at least someone who thought what they thought mattered more than results, but I got results. If you saw me typing frantically away at a keyboard, it wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. There was thought that went into crafting that code, there was planning and bullet proofing, to the point where as I became more senior I spent less time at the keyboard than many people in departments I worked in.

I mention all of this because software engineering has changed over the years. In my days, when we were learning we were not given answers from websites like Stack Overflow, we didn’t even have websites. If we were lucky we had the manual for the language, we had plausible typing skills and we had limited time on the machines.

This isn’t ‘walk uphill both ways’, this is, “We did this without all these cool toys you have now”. It’s not an issue of we had it harder, it’s a matter of we did it differently. We didn’t have editors that were forgiving, much less helpful. Within such a short window technology for programming has come a very long way, and it’s kind of cool – except all the silly Python editors and tools apparently written by the children of people who thought that “The Lord of the Rings” book trilogy was evil.

From the 1980s to now, it’s been a real whirlwind with way too much hype on way too many things that nobody recalls immediately. Then the captcha came along, to make sure ‘bots’ weren’t trying to do things, to check if a real human being was involved.

So humanity doubled down on that with large language models like ChatGPT. I guess kids stopped walking to school, they got more computers, and now they don’t even have to do their own homework.

I’m not sure where this is heading, but I’ll be making popcorn.


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