yoy.be "Why-o-Why"

How to recreate 70's 'programming conditions'

2012-04-16 11:17  i3017  coding  [permalink]

When getting my batchelor CS, we were the last batch to get COBOL. (They replaced it with Java the next year. And Pascal with C++ as well, by the way.) It feels like I was the only one that understood the code width was limited to 72 characters and had to start at position 8, just to be sure it would fit on Hollerith cards. We had all the modern editors and compilers of the age, so I never worked with cards and tape.

I searched around a bit back then, and remember reading about how hard programming was back in the 70's (pre-dating my existance). COBOL was there just to make the process somewhat easier, and serve as a stepping-stone to a working result so you wouldn't have to do it all in raw processor-code. You still had to 'write' the program, prepare it as a stack of cards, get over the the card-reading office in time for when you're on the schedule (don't drop the cards!), wait for mainframe time to get around to having the compiler run on your code, and just hope and pray you finally would get something else back than a print-out of syntax errors. If the mail-boy didn't misfile it.

I remember even earlier on errors would arise because cards would get out of order (like I said, don't drop the stack, which regretfully unfortunately did happen), or even worse no compiler-errors arise and it only later gets apparent when the program behaved unexpectedly. (Did they even do debugging back then?) This was easily (...) solved by introducing code-line-numbers and have the (pre-)compiler order the lines from the input-file by number.

So I was wondering, in this day and age of virtual reality, advanced computing and online gamified educational experiences, would it be interesting to have something so us youngsters could appreciate how it was back then, by trying to recreate how it was to code. I'm not so much thinking about an emulated PDP-11 with a hall of tape stations. I'm more thinking of cubicles, internal mails, stacks of cards, print-outs, fighting for a few minutes of terminal access...

It's just an idea though. I'm afraid I don't have the time and skill to create a game like this.

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