Programmers who defined the tech industry: Where are they now?

Revisiting the software architects of the 1970s and 1980s for their perspective where the industry has been and is going.

Some early programmer names are familiar to even the most novice of software developers. You may never have seen a line of code written by Bill Gates, or written any application in BASIC (much less for the Altair). But you know Gates’ name, and the names of a few others.

That’s a darned shame, because the early microcomputer era (we didn’t uniformly call them “personal computers” yet) had many brilliant software developers. Some of them went on to greater fame and fortune; others disappeared into the mists of history.

[ The New Type of Programmer: DevOp ]

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Bob Frankston, Dan Bricklin (Computerworld photo)

In 1986, Susan Lammers did a series of interviews with 19 prominent programmers in a Microsoft Press book, Programmers at Work . These interviews — many of which the author transcribed on her own website a few years ago — give a unique view into the shared perceptions of accomplished programmers... the people who invented the tools you use today.

Lammers’ book is still enjoyable on its own merits, simply because it’s a bunch of very smart developers talking about their craft at a time when there were relative few wide shoulders to stand upon. In re-reading my copy, I was reminded by how raw the technology industry was, how many competing standards we had to weed through (it had been years since I saw a list of the late-1980s databases: R:Base, Paradox, Javelin, ANZA) — and yet how soon we expected to achieve Artificial Intelligence.

I chose five of the book’s programmers for this time machine, leaving the remainder’s fate primarily an exercise for the intrepid reader.

[ See also: Priceless! The 25 Funniest Vintage Tech Ads ]

Here you’ll learn the then-current opinions from Dan Bricklin (VisiCalc), Jonathan Sachs (Lotus 1-2-3), Robert Carr (Ashton-Tate Framework), Bill Gates (BASIC on microcomputers), and Charles Simonyi (Multiplan).

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