Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Change That Isn't Change

Computers have changed significantly over the years. When I was a kid, we had a computer at home, but most of my friends didn’t. These days, people carry more computing power around in their pockets than we had available to us on our computer. Back then, people were convinced that they would lose their jobs to a computer. Today, most people wouldn’t know how to do their job if they didn’t have a computer.

But there are also many ways that computers have stayed the same. For all the improvements we’ve seen in computers, the job for the man behind the curtain hasn’t changed all that much. When I was a kid, I was using BASIC to program the TRS-80. The Commodore 64s also used a form of BASIC. Later, when I went to college, I began to learn other languages. We started out with Modula-2, then it was C, a slew of other languages and before I graduated I had learned C++ and Java. There are even more languages today, but one thing I’ve learned is that computer languages are very similar to each other. I’ve also learned that while user interfaces have improved over the years, we manipulate the underlying structure in much the same way as we always have. At a very basic level, programming a computer is about moving data from one location in memory to another. The hardware interprets the data we pass it and causes other actions to take place.

Today, we do a lot with websites. Conceptually, we may think of this as a cloud. We don’t really think about the hardware because we get the same results whether we’re using a personal computer or a phone. But somewhere, there is hardware involved. Sometimes it is a server that runs code that will give you the results you request. Other times, it is your own computing device that runs the code. Though this seems different from running a program on your computer, the job for the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz is still the same. He writes some code that runs on a machine.

Many times, people fear change because things look significantly different. If you look hard enough, you can often find things that won’t change, no matter how things look on the surface.