Observation: How Coding Has Changed Since A Million Years Ago

Eric C Smith
2 min readOct 15, 2020


The last time I wrote code was as an undergrad back in the early 90s. Yes, they actually had computers back then, and they didn’t have to be programmed with punch cards.

(And if you got that “punch card” reference, then you are old even to an old fossil like ME.)

The super-advanced, state-of-the-art language we used was “ANSI-C”, or just “C” for short. Object-oriented programming was so exotic as to be practically unused, and there was only “C++” in which to do it. Most modern languages like Ruby, Python, Java and the like are based mostly on C, and for the most part you could (if you were a masochist) still put C -compliant code into a Ruby compiler and it will work.

Being a fledgling programmer that has basically spent the last 25 years doing other things is a lot like a man who has been stranded on a desert island suddenly coming back to civilization and seeing how much the world has changed. The biggest thing that strikes me is how much better and more robust compilers have gotten. For example, in circa-90s C you had to declare *all* your variables before you could use them, including giving them a data type. That’s a lot of extra lines of code! You had to end every statement with a semi-colon, so the compiler would know when you were finished. There were no “enumerators”, everything had to be in an “if-then” statement or a “for” loop, which — you guessed it — needed its own loop variables. Everything had to be so explicit; it made thorough documentation an absolute requirement, because otherwise no one would be able to tell what was going on in your code.

Of course today compilers are so robust, and languages so complex that they almost look like human English. A non-programmer could look at it and know exactly what it does. Its great!…but for us old timers it takes some getting used to. When I submitted my first assignment at Flatiron — a sublime gestalt of early 90s algorithmic legerdemain if ever there was one — my coach, easily 20 years my junior, actually laughed a little. He was like “dude, what is all this? I can’t even”, which he seemed to think constituted a full sentence. He then proceeded to re-write my 20 lines of code in 3. 3 lines that looked like they came out of an instruction manual for an electric shaver.

They should call how I felt when I saw that “Captain America Syndrome”.

But I’m getting used to it. After a month of prework and 1.5 weeks of classes, I’m writing Ruby. PROPER Ruby. Lots more to learn, but my “CAS” is waning. The future is 🆒.