During last year’s Spring semester, I studied a ton of tech history. I delved through old lectures of Steve Jobs, watched computing documentaries, and learned about the Amiga and other systems. Sadly, I was too young and pre-alive to be around when computing was truly new and wild, but looking back through the history gave me valuable insight about the computing technology and methods I work with today.
If you want to be a better programmer, learn the history of programming. Names like Turing, Babbage, and Von Neumann are all part of the history and part of our curriculum. Understanding their past contributions and how the technology has changed since then helps you understand the tools we use today.
Steve Jobs was technical despite what people say. He was a technician for Atari. He knew what made computing systems work and why people used them. He predicted that flash would die when HTML 5 came out. He saw the potential of GUI systems when Xerox couldn’t. He could predict the potential of new technologies because he understood their historical context.
This practice can be taken beyond programming. It’s also helpful to understand historical contexts when studying new physics and math concepts. Why was Emil Lenz playing with magnets? What were Newton and Leibniz seeking when they each formulated calculus? Why was Einstein’s formula as important as it was? Knowing the significance of discoveries and inventions is helpful for students of any subject focus.
The historical context you look for doesn’t have to be pre-21st century either. Understanding the way the web has evolved and how web standards and technologies have changed would help expand career options. Understanding how graphics evolved and how the ID engine became the Unreal Engine would help a game developer better understand where their industry has come from and where it’s going. Whatever your future (or current) industry, understanding the timeline and development of that industry will give you an edge when looking for employment.
Two great videos that explore specific computing history subjects are “The Birth of BASIC” and “A Brief History of Graphics”. The birth of basic is a great history of operating systems and early programming. Ahoy is a YouTube channel that does videos on gaming and graphics history that’s well worth a watch for any game development student.
The Birth of BASIC
A Brief History of Graphics
There are so many ideas in computer science that are lost to time or easier to understand with a bit of history. Lambda calculus is a need-to-know concept with extensive history behind it. How computers used to work is very important to understanding how they work today.
Learn who has made what, who Uncle Bob is, and who made Git and Linux. These are things that, working in the industry, you will have to learn one day, and it might as well be today.
Author's Note: I feel bad that I have not posted a byte by byte in a while. I have more stuff in the works. My work might get a bit reflective as I graduate soon.