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The Quest To Find the Longest-Serving Programmer ( 115

In 2014, the National Museum of Computing published a blog post in which it tried to find the person who has been programming the longest. At the time, it declared Bill Williams, a 70-year old to be one of the world's most durable programmers, who claimed to have started coding for a living in 1969 and was still doing so at the time of publication. The post has been updated several times over the years, and over the weekend, the TNMC updated it once again. The newest contender is Terry Froggatt of Hampshire, who writes: I can beat claim of your 71-year-old by a couple of years, (although I can't compete with the likes of David Hartley). I wrote my first program for the Elliott 903 in September 1966. Now at the age of 73 I am still writing programs for the Elliott 903! I've just written a 903 program to calculate the Fibonacci numbers. And I've written quite a lot of programs in the years in between, some for the 903 but also a good many in Ada.
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The Quest To Find the Longest-Serving Programmer

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  • by lars5 ( 69333 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:03PM (#56110257)

    Did anyone else read that as "Longest-SURVIVING"?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DickBreath ( 207180 )
      How about longest serving programmer who has kept their skillz up to date and works in something resembling a modern system and language? Something that is transistorized or even better uses integrated circuits.
      • I would say Ada counts as close enough to "modern".

  • My first coding was for a North American Aviation RECOMP III back in 1973. I was, of course, a Junior High school student at the time.

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:37PM (#56110531)

      Donald Knuth [] is still an active coder at age 80, and started programming in the late 1950s.

    • Well you have me beat by about 5 years if you consider programming "for fun" -- started in 1978 myself. I didn't actually start getting paid for programming until 1981 or so, however, and I was in Junior High school at the time as well.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      It all comes down to how you count where you started. For me it was in high school around 1980 on a ZX80, but things have progressed since then. I suspect that when you come to the people that were kids in the early 80's you get the batch that's most likely going to be the longest serving programmers since they started their experience on C64, TI-99/4A and similar home computers.

    • My first coding was (I think) in 1969 (possibly 1970). It was a programming class at the University of Illinois (Chambana), and the programming languages were WATFOR (a dialect of FORTRAN IV) and PL/1. Punch cards, of course. I didn't do any programming for a living until 1982 (used Pascal to write a small database extraction program), then more or less continually since 1987 (Prolog, Lisp, C, and more recently Python, plus dabbling in things like Perl and TeX, and a few other more obscure languages). O

  • A contest? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jasnw ( 1913892 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:08PM (#56110299)
    Didn't know this was a contest. Wrote my first professional code in the summer of 1968 at Kitt Peak National Observatory on a CDC 3200, and wrote my last program yesterday on a Mac (both in Fortran). My first "program" of sorts was on an analog computer kit that I helped put together in my 6th grade class in 1962.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 12, 2018 @05:31PM (#56111017)

      and wrote my last program yesterday

      What made you decide to stop after all this time?

    • Gosh, I'd be somewhere on the leader list. First program for a PDP-8s my family bought me as a kid - i didn't write it down, but 68 or 69 IIRC. Still programming. I like it better now than I did then, but that might be because I'm my own customer...
      Maybe it's the nicer tools.
      Seems the main advantage is you have more perspective and resist the BS better. Of course that means everyone doing the latest fads thinks you're just an old fart stick in the mud who hates change, when really what's going on is you
    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      Same kind of contest as "the person with the most stuff when he dies wins".

  • by rnturn ( 11092 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:09PM (#56110309)

    These folks were perfectly happy coding and you just alerted HR departments across the country to be on the lookout for old guys to get rid of.

    • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:16PM (#56110377)
      Please, these Cobol graybeards are mission-critical. Nobody else knows how the code works, or able to read it, and if something goes wrong the entire thing goes down.
      • You should also consider the possibility that in programming, one of the most complex and difficult activities known, experience might actually be valuable.

        Just because you can learn to sling some Javascript and use a few libraries in 18 months, don't think you know it all.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Please, if it isn't written in Rust, it is irrelevant and a waste of digital storage space. Cobol belongs in a museum, next to stone tools and neanderthal wax sculpture.
          • Please, if it isn't written in Rust, it is irrelevant and a waste of digital storage space. Cobol belongs in a museum, next to stone tools and neanderthal wax sculpture.

            In some cases language is irrelevant. The programs have been endlessly modified and tested to work around system or environment shortcomings, implement weird company policies, handle undocumented business conditions, deal with obscure tribal knowledge, and align with bizarre industry or government regulations. All that shit is in the code. It ain't written down in some handy reference guide for Joe Rust. Sorry about that.

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by jellomizer ( 103300 )

        As someone with only a measly 20 years of experience can attest. The code from these indispensable people, are really not that impossible to take over, especially after these trouble makers leave and they don't actively work to stymie your investigation and mapping of the code.

        Bad programmers make code that you think you need to keep them hired.
        Good programmers make code that you want to keep them hired.

      • by LesFerg ( 452838 )

        Cobol was used in the training course I did before launching my development career. Sadly it was not being used in any of the areas I worked after that. Sometimes I am tempted to install it on my Linux box and see how much of my first training I can still remember, other times wisdom hits me and I don't do that.

  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:11PM (#56110333)
    The Quest To Find the oldest properly commented code is still on-going. None were found so far.
    • by OzPeter ( 195038 )

      The Quest To Find the oldest properly commented code is still on-going. None were found so far.

      And hot on the heels of that is the Quest To Find a Grammatically Correct Slashdot Comment. Unfortunately while the former is possible, the later is considered to be a myth.

    • So it is, in a way, a Quest for Glory []?

    • The Quest To Find the oldest properly commented code is still on-going. None were found so far.

      The best code has no comments, because it doesn't need them and would be less readable if it had them. The function and variable names are so well-chosen and the code so logically-organized that comments would only get in the way.

    • Ignore comments. Comments lie. Code never lies.
  • I refuse (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:14PM (#56110353)

    "I refuse to join any club that will have me as a member." - Groucho Marx

  • ... Wally, from the Dilbert Cartoon strip?
  • I started coding as a high school student in 1972 and still code today. A former co-worker in his 80s is still coding I believe - I know he started in the 1960s.
  • It was used as an ATE(Automatic Test Equipment). Language Fortran II(with inline assembly capability). 16K 24-bit words. Paper Tape and punched cards. TTY. No disk or mag tape.

  • How about 1962? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Burdell ( 228580 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:32PM (#56110513)

    My father's been working for NASA since 1962 - I think his job then was on analog computers. His group did the flight certification of the Saturn V LVDC, and digital computers of the day couldn't keep up with hardware-in-the-loop simulation. They also simulated TLI after they reached orbit to make sure they would go to the Moon.

    He's still there, working on the SLS guidance simulation these days.

    • Hmm, that's weird. Wasn't AGC tested using hardware-in-the-loop simulation?
      • by Burdell ( 228580 )

        I don't know if the AGC was tested that way or not (or if so, if the simulation ran on digital or analog computers). I'm not sure; it might have been simpler to simulate the inputs and outputs for the AGC than the LVDC. I think the AGC itself was a less powerful computer than the LVDC.

  • by eastjesus ( 3182503 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:40PM (#56110555)
    I remember getting a Geniac "computer" for my birthday back around 1960 and figuring out the logic for different ideas and implementing them by putting these little brass contacts into the 3 pegboard wheels which you could turn by hand to set the states and make little light bulbs light up for output. I would have been around 8 years old then and it was just for fun and learning. At that time programming often consisted of jumpers on patch boards - around 1980 I was surprised when a medical equipment company I worked for doing R&D tossed out boxes of those patchboards with their programming jumpers still in place; when I asked they said that they were finally updating their computer and the new computer couldn't read the old patchboards! My dad worked at Western Electric and took me down a couple of times around 1960 and I remember playing tac-tac-toe on a computer they had there. Later, around 1968, a friend of mine had graduated from high school and went to college and we both spent time writing and punching decks of cards for Fortran programs which ran on the schools IBM 1130. I remember having to pre-process the decks because the machine only had something like 4K of memory and everything had to stripped and compressed to run. In college, around 1970, I remember submitting card decks with programs I had written at a window and coming back the next day to pick up a printout of my syntax errors. I didn't write anything professionally until later in the 1970 when the 8008 came out and I started doing assembly language work (actually doing the assembly work by hand and writing out and entering the hex opcodes, sometimes in binary on switches, usually for hardware drivers). I get some nostalgic feelings for those times but I wouldn't want to do it again!
    • Cool, Punch cards and Fortran, In 73 when I was a jr at a small rural high school in northern Wisconsin. Our new physics teacher got an 029 punch card machine, paper back books (one red, one blue) and supplies from his alma mater the U of Wisconsin, River Falls.

      He taught 5 of us, Fortran programming after school, We wrote our code on paper forms then typed up the card decks. Then we shipped them to River Falls to get run. Took almost 10 days - 2 weeks for each turn around, lol and yes the syntax errors ;)
  • If any of them are still alive. They worked at Bletchley Park during WWII [], programming Colossus to decode Nazi Enigma messages. I'm assuming we're talking about programming electronic computers, since anyone who used a slide rule in their youth would've programmed a mechanical computer.
  • He was the one who showed me Quake 3 on a raspberry PI.

    Larry B from Oak Ridge TN, works at Siemens now.

    He's still writing good code, last I heard. :)

  • by jimbrooking ( 1909170 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @04:50PM (#56110633)

    First program: SOAP II assembly language, IBM 650 as a graduate assistant at Syracuse University. Latest (yesterday) PHP/MySQL database manipulation with HTML/Javascript/CSS handling the interactivity using AJAX.

    In between - IBM 7070, 1401, 7040, System/360. CDC 6400/6600/7600/Cyber 205, Cray X=MP, Y-MP, and all manor of killer micros.

    What a ride!!

  • I might as well chime in here since I seem to be part of this group.
    I started programming in university in 1966 (IBM 7090 mainframes and DEC Linc-8) and have been coding fairly continuously since including starting several software based companies. I'm retired now but still coding (health data collection and analysis).
    Some early computers I have programmed (as far as I can remember):
    IBM 7090, 360, 1620
    DEC Linc-8
    Systron-Donner (analog)
    Intel 8008
    Cosmacelf 1605
    Commodore PET
    Apple II, III, Mac
    Radio Shack

  • My first computer was more-or-less a toy for learning logic circuits and I'm pretty sure I got it in the late 60's or very early 70's?

    I can't remember what it was called and I can't find it on google either (probably because I can't remember what it was called). You could make programs of a sort by drawing on a piece of paper and then cutting the paper out to put into a sort of a hood that was on top of this little machine and plugging some wires into holes in the casing, then somehow (I can't remember exa

    • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Monday February 12, 2018 @05:14PM (#56110871) Homepage

      I think this is what you're talking about: []

      I had one myself around the same time. The "red switches" were actually a slider that moved a number of contacts up and down. Depending on how you wired the contacts, they would act is AND, OR, XOR gates and you could put together simple logic functions like decoders, half adders, etc. The output was a number of light bulbs.

      Is was as finicky as all hell and not all that well documented. I suspect the poor documentation was due to the fact there wasn't a lot of education depth in the tool - once you figured out how to wire the different gates, that was really all there was to it.

      • Thanks! Now that I know what to look for I found the exact one that I had:

        Science Fair SF-5000 [] which is a slightly earlier version of the one that you posted. The one that I had came out in 1971, apparently, so that's right around when I remember having it.

  • Outside of a museum, are there any Elliot 903s actually in service that Mr.Froggatt is writing code for??

    I understand why there might be some old IBM 370 machines still kicking around, but not an Elliot 903.

  • My Dad is a retired Civil Engineer. He hasn't programmed in decades, he has some great stories about programming engineering hydrology simulations in Fortran in the early 60s.

    My favorite story is he did the first simulation of Sao Paulo's waste-water treatment and runoff system. They called him in a panic 10 minutes after they ran it because it was "stuck"... he told them to wait for 30 minutes (since it took that long to churn through the initial matrix iteration). It worked and they were happy. He did it

  • He started working with computers in 1965. Still doing OS development with the XBOX team. I'll hopefully have his longevity but I know I won't have the impact his career has had.

  • Started in 1969 at age 16, using SEL-840MP (FORTRAN and assembly), PDP-5 (machine code and BASIC), and Tymshare (CAL). Still employed as a developer today, using Scala, Python, and JavaScript. Just finished my Deep Learning specialization on Coursera with Andrew Ng.

    Not on any prescription medications yet. I think I can take this in a few years.

  • I wrote my first program for a Olivetti calculator in 1968. Then taught myself FORTRAN using a teletype with a punch tape storage in 1971. By 1972 I was taking upper level classes at University of Omaha (now University of Nebraska at Omaha). Today I am programming machine learning and using WebAssembly. And still have no money.
  • The first was a Fortean program to calculate the sine of an angle using a series expansion. I never could get it to work. The latest was an iPhone app to convert a 2D video into a 3D video viewable with google glasses (not submitted yet).
  • But I might be one of the older programmers still active. I learned my first programming language in the Army in 1961, for a Sylvania Mobidic computer, which I never got a chance to write. But I did write code and wired plug boards for the Univac File Computer while stationed at Governor's Island in New York City. Won't bore you with all the computers I wrote for, but here are some highlights: I have worked in a wide number of software genres, ranging from compilers/interpreters, multi-user operating system

  • My grandfther, had he not died abouty 5 years ago, might well have come close to these. His first pieces of software where in the late 1960s whilst he was working as a research chemist at the CSIRO. He continued writing software throught his career, particularly writing it for the mainframes used at the BP refinery he worked at , for IBM and VAX mainframes. By the time he passed away 5 years ago, he was still coding bits and pieces on his trusty old PC

  • After reading these comments, I suddenly feel young again, having been programming for "only" 33 years professionally.

  • I started in 1977.
  • I've been programming since 1966 (grade 9 student). PNPOLY, a little program that I wrote in 1970, is still used. I get a couple of emails a year about it. It tests whether a point is in a polygon. Translated from Fortran II to C, it's 8 lines of executable code. The documentation is about 10x longer, but people still get it wrong. []
    Now I'm inventing very fast parallel geometry algorithms, teaching computer engineering, and just graduated my 18th PhD student. My
  • Wrote autocoder for the IBM 7070 at Brown University in September 1965. Wrote a little PHP today. In between: IBM/360 Assembler, FORTRAN, PL/I, PL/S, BASIC, Bruin, Pascal, Modula-2, COBOL, Forth, Snobol, Jovial, CMS-2, HAL/S, Javascript, AN/UYK-20 assembler, and the best by far of all of them: Ada.
  • Looks like I am joint leading with Bob Munck here.

    As part of the engineering course at Cambridge, we each had to write a small excercise program in Autocode for the Titan [] computer there. I can't remember what it was for, something like find the largest in a list of numbers. We never saw the computer, and only wrote on coding sheets and got the answer back (or a failure message) three days later on LP paper. Since then I have programmed a lot, including for an analog computer and a Cray, but for engineering

    • Thinking about it, it must have been October or November 1965 that I first programmed, not September. So Bob Munck seems to be the leader after all.

  • Started programming in 1969 in Fortran, progressed through a number of assembly languages (including MetaSymbol on XDS machines, what a joy!), basic, enough cobol to know I'd never touch it again, snobol, Pascal (as many strengths as weaknesses in the language, probably a mistake to protect the programmer from himself), Revelation, a bit of perl, a bit of forth (yuck, a solution in search of a problem), icon, a bit of java, awk, cubic metric tons of shell scripting, C, probably some others along the way.
  • I am only 63 years old, I started programming in 1969 while in high school, but did not do it professionally until 1977 after working as a computer operator for 4 years. I learned and wrote Basic and Fortran on a TTY device connected to a DEC PDP-10 located at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Also, at my high school we had an Olivetti Underwood Programma 101 desktop computer that we used in geometry and calculus classes to solve problems and calculate limits. I maintain a heterogeneous LAN at home cons

Never worry about theory as long as the machinery does what it's supposed to do. -- R. A. Heinlein