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Another Favorite Thing: Programming Languages

June 11, 2018

This is the second post about what I would characterizes as “a few of my favorite things,” like the lyrics in the movie—you know the one. Last week, I wrote about “the machine.”  Let me continue this week with programming languages. The importance of computer languages is now well-understood and appreciated as applications happen because programmers write code to create them. More than 18.2 million programmers are writing code today. 
 
Languages Created to Meet Changing Needs
There was a time when machines were the focus. They were all about engineering, and software, especially programming languages, was yet to take off. This makes sense to anyone who has worked on complex projects and knows that it’s necessary to establish a base and then build the layers upon the base like the OS and languages. With computers, high-level languages needed more computing power to handle the complex compiling necessary to make computers simpler to program. 
 
In the early days, assembly language was the language used, and is still used today, but something better suited for science and business was needed. Fortran was created as a general-purpose, high-level language for numeric and scientific computing and became available in 1957. It’s the oldest programming language still used today. COBOL is also a high-level language and was available in 1959. Primarily used for business computing, COBOL was the first programming language to be mandated by the U.S. Department of Defense. Fortran and COBOL predated the announcement of S/360 in April 1964.
 
COBOL was so useful that you could take someone without computer experience and put them to good use as a beginning programmer after three months of training. This was true in 1979 (my start with COBOL) and is still true today as some companies (a regional bank) are still using this tactic to find and train new COBOL programmers to maintain current systems of record. 
 
Then and Now
If you look at just the categories of today’s computing languages (such as data-oriented languages and procedural languages), there are at least 49 different categories. The chronological view starts at pre-1950 and contains innovations right up to the present time although the development of new programming languages has slowed. 
 
The ability to use so many languages has encouraged the polyglot approach, although this idea can make it difficult to support a system where programmers are encouraged to use the best language for the specific task or application. Perhaps the “best language” is not well known and currently supported by the programmer’s organization.  
 
No matter how you choose to look at programming languages, you have to appreciate the huge impact they have on our lives. We use so many applications every day that make our lives simpler while supporting the livelihood of programmers around the world. 
 
What’s Next?
Next week, I have another “favorite thing” that I hope you will enjoy: middleware, the great amplifier of programmer productivity and application usefulness.   
 

Posted June 11, 2018 | Permalink

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