Why do we insist on seeing the computer as a magic box for controlling other people?
Why do we want so much to control others when we won't control ourselves?
Computer memory is just fancy paper, CPUs are just fancy pens with fancy erasers, and the network is just a fancy backyard fence.
Friday, May 2, 2014
Who was the first programmer?
My son was making quite a bit of fuss about the hassle of moving desks and chairs and other things this way and then that way and then back again, just to get the carpet in place, so I mentioned that computer programming often has similar problems to solve -- updating or changing software underneath live data in a limited space without damaging things, with minimum interruption to access.
My wife heard that and asked a very interesting question:
Who was the first programmer?
Well, that question has many answers.
Ada Lovelace, who wrote a program for Charles Babbage's analytical engine, is generally considered to be the first (modern) programmer, but she was never able to see her program run on actual hardware.
Konrad Zuse is the first person generally known to have programmed a modern computer. (His work was in wartime Germany was overshadowed by the more publicly known work on the ENIAC in the US.)
The members of the ENIAC programming team are often considered to be the first group to work regularly as computer programmers.
The job of a programmer would be most accurately described (in my opinion) as implementing abstract descriptions of processes as (or in) functioning (real) systems. Since the goal is to obtain a functioning system, debugging (fixing errors in the implementation) is part of the job.
Refining or optimizing the implementation would be an optional part of the job.
The computer industry has a habit of trying to limit the definition of a computer system to the whatever can be currently manufactured and sold, but they also have a habit of trying to be the first to expand that definition into new areas. (Call the other guys' work irrelevant until you have duplicated it, then claim you are first, faster, or some other way more deserving of customers' money.)
Anyway, I see no particular reason to limit the definition of a system to whatever the computer industry is currently manufacturing and selling.
Expanding the definition of a system a bit, it becomes clear that teaching is part of the programming process. I don't want to call it an example of programming, because teachers cannot directly do the implementation part. The students themselves have to do that. (Or, rather, if the teachers don't allow the students to do the actual work of implementation, they impede, rather than assist, the processes of learning.)
Learning, on the other hand, is a programming process. So is invention. Practically every thing we do involves programming.
And now we see why my wife asked the question.
So, who were the first programmers? Can I suggest it goes back as far as human history?
Maybe even before human history, back to God? (Or, back to the parameters of the big bang, if you think that invoking gods is an anthropomorphic activity?)