Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: Am I the longest-serving programmer – 57 years and counting?
2634 points by genedangelo on May 31, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 531 comments
In May of 1963, I started my first full-time job as a computer programmer for Mitchell Engineering Company, a supplier of steel buildings. At Mitchell, I developed programs in Fortran II on an IBM 1620 mostly to improve the efficiency of order processing and fulfillment. Since then, all my jobs for the past 57 years have involved computer programming. I am now a data scientist developing cloud-based big data fraud detection algorithms using machine learning and other advanced analytical technologies. Along the way, I earned a Master’s in Operations Research and a Master’s in Management Science, studied artificial intelligence for 3 years in a Ph.D. program for engineering, and just two years ago I received Graduate Certificates in Big Data Analytics from the schools of business and computer science at a local university (FAU). In addition, I currently hold the designation of Certified Analytics Professional (CAP). At 74, I still have no plans to retire or to stop programming.

I am 80 years old and still working full time in IT. Although I evolved from pure programming to project management and business analysis the past few years. Originally started out working at Cape Canaveral as a radar and telemetry engineer and moved into programming after I left there. Whenever I interview, I completely ignore the age issue. If the interviewer is to dumb to recognize the value of my knowledge and experience, that is on them. Finally completed my PhD in Computer science when I was in my 60's.

How did you go about getting your phd? Did you take a break from paid work to go to school? Did you work on your thesis nights/ weekends?

Do you feel like you learned from your advisors, some if whom I'd imagine were younger than you?

Did you study an area related to your work at the time? Or did you use it to learn a new area?

I took two years off to complete my PhD when one contract ended and could not immediately find another. I thought at the time if not now, I'll never find the time. Actually my primary advisor and sponsor was a professor at the University and head of the department. We kept in contact over the years and he kept bugging me to get my act together and finish what I started.

I would also be fascinated to learn this. Liked the idea for several years of gaining a PhD, but I just couldn't imagine taking three or more years out of my career at this point. The only vaguely-related anecdata I have is from my mother, in a completely different field, who was a nursery school teacher (kindergarten to our friends across the pond) with a strong emphasis on creative development, but only after retirement at 65 did she actually go to university and get herself a fine arts degree. Now she potters away in her little studio every day and will probably not be in any danger of losing her marbles.

+1 I'm deeply interested. Been thinking a lot about doing a Masters in AI/ML but I'd rather not stop working. Been considering part time masters programs but finding them is tricky.

I did my Master’s part-time at DePaul University with almost all of the program online while I was working. They have an AI track but I am not sure how good it is.

I did a part-time PhD there. Took ten years but I had a very supportive advisor and managed to finish it working a day a week on it. You get out of it what you put in. They have good teachers but if you do it remotely it's on you to do a lot of self directed learning, for the PhD anyways. I now work as a researcher for a large e-commerce company. As part of the program we take Masters courses in ML and AI and they were good, I learned a lot.

How did you find your advisor? Are/were you in the Chicago area while doing your PhD? Did the fact you were doing it part-time require you to pay a tuition?

Do you think it was worth it? Did you like the program?

I did enjoy the program and for me it was 100% worth it. I had a non-CS undergrad degree and by taking classes I was able to get my first developer job and the things I learned in the program allowed me to end up getting a more advanced position at a company than the position they had open. They had a UI position but ended up getting a backend position working on their trading platform due to some of the work I had done in the graduate program. One downside for me, though, was my math background was lacking (took discrete math, business calculus, a relatively light stats class and econometrics in undergrad) so I wasn't able to do a lot of the more interesting looking classes. Also, I was excited about the multiple compiler classes that were on the course catalog but none were offered in the 5 years I was in the program.

It is hard for me to say if the program would be worth it for somebody with an undergrad degree in CS. The cost of the program is incredibly high and I walked away from the program with ~$80k in loans (could have been a bit less but had to take more in the beginning to be able to support my wife as well). I'm also not sure how rigorous the program is compared to others.

Have you considered https://omscs.gatech.edu/?

Disclosure: I am taking my 6th course of 10 as a current student in that program

What do you like and dislike about the program? It’s been on my wish list for several years now, but I’m hesitant to commit.

I'm also a student in OMSCS, on my fifth class of ten.


- It's very affordable. My company's education reimbursement is able to cover the whole program.

- The courses are rigorous and I don't feel like I'm retreading very much from my undergrad.

- I'm going to end up with a degree from a top program that is exactly the same as is granted to students who attended on campus.


- The course selection is a bit limited. Some of the classes that I want the most are only available on campus.

- Slack and Reddit are active, but I feel like I'm missing the social aspect of being a student.

- Some people are skeptical of the online format, which is frustrating sometimes.

It's 7k for the whole program. That alone makes it worth it.

You should definitely consider it, I am a graduate from the same program :)

GA Tech OMSCS is tailor made for you...

> Do you feel like you learned from your advisors, some if whom I'd imagine were younger than you?

Why do you think it'd be unusual to learn from someone younger than yourself?

Really good point!

I think as an internet generation we are the first ones to experience decreasing importance of the age.

I am sure he also had plenty to teach them! Experience hones your problem solving and troubleshooting skills.

I am also interested in any responses to these questions. Even if not from the OP.

Someone below mentioned remote. When I first started there was no such thing as remote learning. These days even the most prestigious universities offer BSc programs where you never have to set foot on campus and can do it all over the internet. The nearest I came to that was when the University finally offered somewhat remote courses but it involved ordering books and course materials and taking exams where you had to get a proctor to monitor your exam taking. I did a course or two that way and used my local church pastor as the exam proctor. That method was really difficult. Completing a single course was a major accomplishment.

Actually taking Internat based courses now takes a lot of self discipline. Far too easy to slack off and do something else.

The Open University (remote) was founded in 1969, so it isn't exactly new.

How’s the cost compared to a brick-and-mortar place?

From what I have seen, the cost of Internet-based courses is generally pretty high. Seems like you would be paying a high per credit cost minus the on-campus costs like room and board. There are going to be exceptions but that seems to be about the norm. There are a few places where State Universities give free tuition to in-state residents.

I remember paying about $12 a credit a long time ago and that was difficult. These days, I don't know how normal people can afford to go to school. You get yourself deep in debt for student loans you can never pay off. I don't know how that can be workable.

I'd be very curious too. My son's university is proposing to do the next year (mostly) remote, which sounds like a perfect way for me to go back for a couple of classes too. I always wanted more letters after my name.

> I always wanted more letters after my name.

This is a really bad reason to do a degree, if you want my unsolicited opinion.

That depends a lot on where you live. In Austria, for example, where I lived for several years, academic titles carry a strong social cachet and are used absolutely everywhere - on your credit card, bills from the city council for cleaning out your bins etc. People with more than one PhD will be addressed as Dr Dr Firstname Surname, someone with a regular engineering degree is allowed to refer to themselves as Ing. Surname instead of Herr/Frau. It's a really big deal.

> Dr Dr Firstname

Never seen that one before!

Who knew that Thompson Twins song was really about a highly educated Austrian.

You get a "Dr." for each PhD.

Walter H. Schottky's grave in Pretzfeld says "Prof. Dr. Dr. e.h. Dr. e.c. Dr. e.h. Walter Schottky"

My mother did a maths degree in her 50s, remotely, over several years. She grew up in a time and place where she didn't have the opportunity to get that eduction. She just wanted it for the sake of it, I suppose to prove to herself that she could. But mainly to "get the qualification", not do anything with it. It was a perfectly fine reason to do a degree. Plus I think the person you're responding to was being at least a little tongue-in-cheek anyway so no big deal either way.

If you're going to become a post hole digger, it can only help you if you don't take things too seriously. :)

I'm almost positive that was tongue-in-cheek.

How do you find your brain works and how productive you are compared to say 20 years ago? My father is in his late 70s and gets quite tired during his day - I wonder if you keep working it keeps the brain more active.

Also it must be weird going to a retirement party for someone who is 15 years younger than you :D

My brain works fine. My body - not so much. I tire more easily than I did 20 years ago but so what. I get up at 4:30 AM every day and work at something until about 8 PM and then am in bed by 8:30.

The absolute worst thing you can do is retire. That is the beginning of the end. I will work until they plant me.

> I get up at 4:30 AM every day and work at something until about 8 PM and then am in bed by 8:30

I do me too (since I was about 30). Not exactly 04:30 though — sometimes I get up at 02:00, sometimes 06:00 ... working 4 - 10 hours, then siesta for about 1 hour.

I find that with a 30 min or 1.5 hours? power-nap/siesta, my brain "resets" and I can stay concentrated 10 - 12 hours a day.

Edit: Now I see that you're in bed 8:30 PM. I first read 8 AM and assumed that that meant a power nap. — Seems I get tired a lot sooner than you.

That's for sure. I just went to my granddaughter's 18th birthday party. She knew I was still working full time and she couldn't figure out how old I was so she asked me. When I told her I was born before the 2nd World War she wouldn't believe me. My daughter corrected her.

Actually, now this is hard to take - but when I was a kid in my home town, there were still a couple of civil war vets alive in the local hospital. How is that for something crazy.

AAARRHHH! A friend has been telling me about her dad, he was full of life and when he came up to my cabin he was a whirlwind of activity.

But after they sold the house (he loved gardening) and moved into a condo where there is little to do she can see him going downhill month by month. Before he had a purpose in his life (gardening and house maintenance), now he just has the sit around or go on bike trips. It is a shame.

It sounds as though your friend urgently needs to investigate service opportunities for her dad. Sometimes when people discover how unexpectedly useful they are to others, it's like a psychological vitamin that was missing.


Many retired people need help with what others consider everyday (monthly, yearly) tasks: changing filters, fixing a door, light bulbs, or minor electrical fixture/switch/appliance repair, stopping ants entering the building, a leak in the ceiling, etc. Fixing PC problems counts too.

Anyone who has owned and maintained a home is capable of doing these things provided they're in good health. I'm always happy to help my retired neighbors with their little problems, perhaps b/c I don't have enough of them and they are an interesting distraction, as well as making me feel helpful.

And helping people from abroad, new in the country, learn the language.

There're lots of older / retired? people at a library here where I live, two evenings a week, meeting younger people (say 15 to 35 years old) who recently moved to here, with learning the local language and school work.

There're younger volunteers too, helping out with the language, maths, chemistry etc — but I was surprised to see that many older & retired people, maybe 70% of the volunteers. (This was before the virus, now I think libs are closed.)

My aunt went to a great retirement community outside Boston. In her 80's she was Chair of the Computer club, and helped lots of newcomers find their feet. She also edited the newsletter etc. She wasn't alone in that community in being active. She lasted til 94 and was pretty healthy til last few months - and had no regrets and didn't particularly want to live on. Great example...

Bike trips are more exercise than gardening, though..

I regularly kayak long distances in rough conditions, backpack, jump rope, practice yoga, play hockey aggressively with people half my age, and engage in calisthenics, and have been for ~20 years. Currently in my mid-40s, I am never more sore than after a few hours of pulling weeds in my garden.

And if you any taller than average, your back and bottom will hurt from short tool handles and constant crouching down and back up!

I wouldn't be so sure. I did a load of gardening over the weekend, and it involved heavy things. I'm sure I got more exercise to more muscles in my body than I would if I had gone on a bike ride.

I'm guessing you mean motorbike and the person you're replying too thought you meant bicycle...

I am guessing they didn't: gardening can be serious work. It also depends on the type of gardening, the size of the garden, available equipment, etc.

Just like you can do a 3km/2mi leisure bike ride, or bike ride for strength (eg sprinting uphill) or endurance you can do the same with gardening.

I am also guessing you've never covered any serious area with a garden hoe. :)

you're right, i haven't!

Not OP and not in their age group but I would say it comes down to either genetics, lifestyle choices or combination of both.

I made a bunch of lifestyle choices (lost weight, keto diet, being more active, less screen time at night, etc). As a result I've noticed a significant increase in energy levels and mental clarity.

Not to be rude but:

> Not OP and not in their age group

Then why are you answering?

He wanted to share similar experience with the caveats up front. Concept of free country, free world, free internet :)

I had similar reconnaissance but now I hesitate to share. But challenge accepted, worst case is downvotes :) 4 years back, maybe 5 I used to think this is how old age was (would not mention my age but it is younger than the main OP), body slowly unable to do what is used to be able to do. Then after 2 stents and change in lifestyle, I find I can do same or more than what I could do 5 years back, maybe a decade back. Will it continue like this for next decade, or the decade after that? Who knows? But there are many things within the that are in the range of probability and it is on us to push towards the higher end of the range. For those who start disciplined, it may not make much of a difference, but think of an average person ... I think programming at 70 should be feasible for most as long as they fixed their lifestyle by 50. [Most but not all because this is a game of odds]

> Then after 2 stents and change in lifestyle, I find I can do same or more than what I could do 5 years back, maybe a decade back.

What kind of change in lifestyle made such a positive difference for you?

It varies from person to person, but for me: cut down/eliminate sugar (my soda consumption is now 1-2/year whereas earlier it would be every day, multiple sometimes), cut down/eliminate lattes, eat only as per hunger, diet is more of a whole foods plant based but I take eggs regularly and meat once a week while shunning all packaged/frozen food. Still lot more veggies than carbs. And exercise, it is not an option, you do not need to binge on it but you can not lose a month just being a sloth. You need to move. I could always walk but after stents it took me a month to go from initial 0.8 miles attempt to 1.0 miles but keep working on it slowly and steadily never adding on a massive risk. Last year I did my first (and so far only) 10K which I could not have dreamed of a decade back, and touch wood, the recovery times after these are fantastic : not so when I did the first 5K.

The bad side effects: focus. There are times when you are in the zone and you want to finish some piece of work, and the watch tells you to get up because it is 50 minutes after the hour. 2 very conflicting needs: moving for health vs sit and focus. If I was not overthinking of health, I would rather focus and get the job done in one sitting.

That's great info, thanks. I probably need to internalise it, fast!

Lockdown has given me a couple of months of sitting in one place. I've really enjoyed the focus and productivity, and online conferences I couldn't have attended otherwise.

But my usual exercise is to walk around town extensively, and to pace a lot while thinking. Not much of that happening while confined to a small space.

Hmm in fact lockdown has increased my activity levels. Depends on where you live though. Started working from home and I set up a desk in garage because that seemed the best option and climate should be ok 9/12 months, I usually dress up like going to office by 9, so at max I need shoes but otherwise by lunch I am anyways wearing shoes, so easy to get in and out for a small stroll and there are hardly any people on our residential streets so little chance of running into someone within 6 feet or you step on to the street and let them pass. The main advantage is being able to go from workspace to walk in 15-30 seconds. Couch to walk is much more difficult.

Like in politics, there are different camps in terms of nutrition and DIY well being. You follow what works for you, but the best in terms of "pitch" I liked was Dean Ornish and he wants you to focus on a) diet, b) exercise, c) meditation, and d) social connections. All of that is needed, and all of that helps.

> Still lot more veggies than carbs.

Uh, vegies are mostly carbs?

Even the veggies with a very high carb content (potatoes, corn) are low (~15-20%). Bread has about 50%, maccaroni about 35%, while other veggies (broccoli, carrots) usually have less than 10% carbs.

Sorry I am not a doctor and at a superficial level I was thinking of veggies vs bad carbs. Would not go further because what I know, I know, but I am sure it can be challenged and people will do better to read on these.

Yes, and was a woman involved?*-))

I do not understand the asterisk reference, but nope.

Even if not in their age group, it is still applicable. Someone in their 80's that has eaten right and excercises and gotten good sleep for 80 years probably has significantly more energy than someone who did the wrong things.

Took an interesting course on aging and the brain. Everyone suffers some degree of cognitive decline but it can vary wildly based on a number of circumstances to an almost negligible extent for lucky people. A lot of it is out of your control but high performing people who keep engaging their mind can compensate better for decline.

It’s also why leaving your job or moving to a place with less activity can accelerate decline. Unfortunately, brains are also very sensitive to depression at an advanced age (less blood flow among other things), so grief/loneliness etc can quite literally cause deterioration. Another reason IMO to make sure seniors can work if they want to.

interesting, did they talk about the topics of nootropics and atherosclerosis in this class?

Yes to atherosclerosis, not too much about nootropics. It's a fantastic course, available from the Stanford school of continuing studies. It was a two full days weekend seminar taught by a neuropsychologist who works at the Stanford Hospital. I'm not an alumni and anyone can register for these course so I really, really recommend it!

I'm a young guy (31) but the class was so cool. People from ages 25 to 90 year old Stanford alum.

The brain is like any other part of your body, if you let it atrophy it'll loose it's edge over time. This is not to say you can't sharpen that edge with practice. Gotta hit the "gym" to get your shape back :)

I'm 43 now and working like 23 years in IT in various roles. Started a few companies and did that all on a high school diploma. One of my dreams is when I retire to finally go to university and get a proper degree.This more for emotional sentiment.

My grandfather was a (fighter)pilot and later he worked senior management at a bank. His biggest regret was not going to uni himself(poor parents and the army paid for it), later that my mum didn't go uni (she became a teacher) and after that even his grandson didn't get a degree.

Hopefully I can follow it online and I can speed up the lectures to 1,75x :d

> One of my dreams is when I retire to finally go to university and get a proper degree.This more for emotional sentiment

I'm around same age and experience, though I'm actually getting a degree now. My advice is - don't. It's an unbelievable waste of money and time. My initial goal was to leverage the degree into a better job but my plans changed and now I'll just be left with a useless piece of paper. In any case, getting a degree once you retire would be even worse. Work on some real world project that you enjoy, rather than settling for doing menial tasks, doled out by people who may know less about the subject than you do, while being rewarded with virtual points/grades.

I finished an associates degree at 38 from a community college, one of the credits I used was 20 years old. I would agree some of the classes were box checking and pointless.

The degree itself isn't useful but it did make me take a few classes I wouldn't have otherwise. I took physics 101 in person and absolutely loved it, I took art history online and didn't expect to like it but it turned out interesting.

Assuming you can go somewhere where the credits don't expire I suggest taking one class a time when you have time available. Read the rate my professor reviews and look for the good teachers. Most of the time online is fine but don't be afraid to take a class in person, lots of older students at night classes.

"I've forgotten more than you'll ever learn, but I still remember most of it" seems like an appropriate response if the question is ever raised.

Kudos to you for not losing your passion for the job!

Why are you not yet retired? I can think of few strong reasons, but I would love to hear from you. (I started programming at 8, I’m 41 and I have no plans of stopping )

Not quite as old, and but started at tech around the same age. At its core, I still love doing it, even though employers start seriously frowning on hand-on work when you're in your 50s/60s.

Not everything is great: the procession of silly methodologies, the endless train of obviously doomed technologies, and the recent obsession with social justice appearances. But the core of tech is still ripping good fun.

I'm also getting on (started programming as a kid early 80's on Atari 600) and agree with what you said - it really resonated with me and what I've seen over the years.

Sometimes too, I see comments from people frustrated with having to "work so hard". I'm sorry they have that burden, but for me, programming is not a negative in my life -- even though often times I do it many hours more than is actually asked of me. Sure it's got it's boring/frustrating times, alternatively it can be very difficult, rigorous, and taxing, but I doubt I'll ever completely put it down.

Not retired because I don't want to live on social security alone. That would be a bummer.

What about retirement savings? If you had funded your 401(k) and IRAs with an engineer's salary for this many years you should have many millions to live off of.

> What about retirement savings? If you had funded your 401(k) and IRAs with an engineer's salary for this many years you should have many millions to live off of.

Retiring to millions may be true in theory for certain programmers, but certainly not true for all programmers.

Reality is often different for everyone. As the African proverb says: “all fingers are not equal” meaning the outcome of a specific situation can differ across people. For instance, what if s/he had a financially draining medical emergency, forcing them to rejoin the workforce?

>If you had funded your 401(k) and IRAs with an engineer's salary for this many years you should have many millions to live off of.

And then what? Believe it or not, some people consider programming a blessing and fun. If it keeps you engaged, why not continue to get paid for it?

Many people suffer various setbacks in life ... take medical bankruptcy for example. You never know how it will turn out.

Yes. imagine if you retired you could turn to programming full time just for fun!

Thats my goal. All of the programming I enjoy doing has no clear way to monetize.

I'd love to spend months reverse engineering proprietary electronics and writing open source code / datasheets for them.

End of the day, passion & some objective in life - is more valuable than few dollars we earn. This is more useful in old age than ever.

It’s like in Shawshank. First you can’t stand the bars, then you get used to them, then you can’t live without them.

After 50+ years of structured work people forget how to be in charge of themselves.

Or, more optimistically, if you love what you do you'll never work a day in your life. I love programming too and have no plans on stopping either.

And there's nothing wrong with that.

Continuing programming != continuing being an employee, working for others.

Some types of work are only feasible to do when working for others.

For example, of you love rocket science and working on rockets, you're probably better off working for NASA or SpaceX.

What's wrong with working for others? Similarly, what's the point of programming (or of any work, I suppose) if it isn't helping someone?

Not all jobs are the same or similarly enjoyable. E.g. instead of working on CRUD apps for the rest of the life, one might prefer working on a Rust interpreter in Haskell or a Gameboy emulator in Prolog - would be hard to find such 9-to-5 jobs - and after all, one might not want 9-to-5 schedule at all.

In other words - one might want freedom, basically.

As for not helping someone - programming can be recreational, just for the sake of enjoyment.

> What's wrong with working for others?

Nothing really.

I guess what the parent was getting at was that if you are an employee at a point of your life when society expects you to be retired, then you will not be able to allocate your free time as you see fit. In other words, working for others past retirement means you never really retire enough to indulge in things you never had time for in your prime, like spending quality time with one’s spouse for instance [0].

[0] Google’s former highly-paid CFO decides to retire after working for nearly 30 years consecutively https://mashable.com/2015/03/10/googles-cfo-retires-memo/

Depends on personality too, I guess.

I finish projects when they're for work. Or at least, I stay focused.

My own hobby projects are more fulfilling to me, but I often put them aside for long periods - sometimes years - because I don't need to finish them to get pleasure out of doing them, and it's much harder to stay motivated to finish the often very boring parts when I don't have to.

But it feels good to finish things up too. I can push myself to do that for side projects, but the time and energy it takes to get me motivated to do that when I don't have the external pressure to motivate me is much harder.

If I "retire" I'll probably have to do a startup again to have some of that pressure...

Programming is the thing you love the most and if it was 100% up to you what to do with your time you’d still do it?

I mean I don’t hate my job but damn I’d just sit in front of the TV and go for walks if that was an option.

Personally I love programming, among other things that people might regard as similar to programming.

The prospect of just sitting in front of TV and going for walks is horrifying. For short breaks, sure, that's really nice. For years? Horrifying.

Solving technical problems is vastly more satisfying than that.

It's like maths to a mathematician, physics to a physicist. Why would they ever stop, given freedom to carry on?

I would love to be able to retire for the freedom, but with that freedom I would want to build technology, much as I do now except I'd choose the things (and they would be much better things!)

(It might be that the kind of programming you do in your job is a very different thing though. I'm not excited by writing more business forms either. Programming is an extremely broad term these days.)

Yep, the lockdown means I am at home all the time, so I started pulling out hardware to make things, programming the programs that always I was working on in the back of my head and finish writing the fan-fics I have going.

The idea that you only do things because it is your job suggests a limited life, I remember when I was working telling the others about all the trips and cruises I did on my time off. When I asked they what they did on vacation they always went to the same places year after year. I guess that is what they wanted.

Why is it wrong for me (or anyone) to get fulfillment out of their job? Thanks to my partner I do the traveling thing; I visit other countries, sample other cultures, and routinely try new things. I'm not averse to any of it, but I don't understand the appeal, much less (what I read as) the condescending attitude against people who don't do it. Why can't we just "live and let live", without judgement, even if others choose to live differently than ourselves?

> The prospect of just sitting in front of TV and going for walks is horrifying. For short breaks, sure, that's really nice. For years? Horrifying.

Can you acknowledge that solving technical problems for decades is just as horrifying to me? And that watching TV and doing nothing is extremely satisfying to me?

> Can you acknowledge that solving technical problems for decades is just as horrifying to me? And that watching TV and doing nothing is extremely satisfying to me?

Of course, I'm completely happy to acknowledge that!

I know some programmers who were pretty hot, but one day they had enough and never wanted to go back into it. Good for them, hopefully they found something else they enjoyed.

What I was addressing before was:

You seemed to express skepticism that someone else finds programming something they would actually prefer to do, over retiring from the field, unless they are institutionalised or imprisoned, like some kind of sick creature.

So I added myself to the data, along with mathematicians, physicists etc. to support an argument some may relate to, to say it's not that unusual for people to actually love programming or other intellectual activities like that.

I should have included artists and writers. The motivation is a lot like it is for them: It feels innate, like an instinct, it just makes you miserable if you don't pursue it.

I assure you, if you could see the messy diversity in my life, you would not think of me as institutionalised, or particularly structured :-)

I don't think that acknowledgement is necessary. Nobody's distrusting you; it's just… people are different. What applies to you doesn't necessarily apply to other people. If someone's still working years after they got the option to retire, chances are they enjoy it.

I want to start by acknowledging that's a totally legitimate perspective.

I'm curious though - do you think you'd be fine with only doing walks and TV for 40+ hours a week? Personally I got interested in computers and programming very early, and at first it was 100% a leisure activity. It stayed at roughly that level of exciting for me until probably 6 months to a year into being employed as a developer, but it's no longer the #1 thing I like to do when I'm not at work. My current situation is work with a side of typical relaxation (watch tv, browse the internet, etc.), but I expect when I eventually retire I'll start spending a bunch of leisure time on programming and general messing-with-computers stuff again.

I know I’d be fine with it.

I took 3 years off from working (lived frugally off savings) and that is basically all I did. Purposely avoided anything that would be considered “productive work.” I mean I read some books and rode my bicycle, too. But my time was pretty much just watching TV/movies and laying around.

Best time of my life by far.

I cringe when I tell someone about it and they are like, “oh but didn’t that get boring?”

Are you saving up to do it again? I want to do something similar but I find it hard to justify the cost. I also feel like my family would constantly hassle me about it, which seems like it would offset any sort of relaxation or enjoyment I might get from the experience.

Unfortunately I now have a chronic disease that makes constant health insurance a necessity.

Do you mean family like parents/relatives harping from a distance? If so, they’re just jealous and aren’t worth listening to. As long as you’re smart about your money and make a plan to get a job before you’re tapped out, go for it.

This sounds like absolute hell to me

I had ultimate and total freedom to do exactly what I wanted. If that’s not heaven I don’t know what is.

"I had ultimate and total freedom to do exactly what I wanted"

That does sound like heaven. Watching TV all day does not.

Fwiw, I agree with you.

Freedom to choose is what it's about.

I'm really glad you got to enjoy those 3 years.

I have no problem understanding your preferences and I don't question your choices, except for one: why would you spend time on news.ycombinator? I assume you find it ... fun?

I build up the karma of my accounts and then sell them.

I seem to recall you saying this before, and I assumed it was a joke, since someone who was doing that probably wouldn't say they were doing it, and it would devalue the sold account to leave a comment like that up.

But now users are asking me if this is ok. Obviously it's extremely far from ok, if true, so I need to ask: is it true?

I spend most of my free time programming for fun. It is not unheard of.

I'm 78. I do the same. I select problems from Codeforces or Codewars and work on those. I did enter contests for awhile but needed more experience to successfully compete.

I learned python a few years ago and have experience with several other languages as well. Python is perfect for someone like myself. To me it is a thing of beauty.

I read a lot - history and biography mainly. Favorites: The Fatal Shore and Empire of the Autumn Moon. Travel 2-3 times a year. Been to Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America as well as all over North America. Favorite place? Singapore.

Walk 2 miles+ a day.

Am a top backgammon player on ZooEscape.

Been married 51 years today and been blessed with 3 great kids.

Not rich but comfortable. Always been a saver or what my sister calls a cheapskate.

Am definitely slowing down. Am more cranky. And think the world is going crazy. Other than that life is better than I expected it would be at this age.

Without a doubt I'd continue programming even if I wasn't working. It's a craft. And like any other craft there are those who enjoy it as a creative outlet.

>I’d just sit in front of the TV and go for walks if that was an option.

Thats fun for the first week. The second week its depressing but you still do it. On the third week you will be picking up hobby projects and working on them just for fun.

Yes, absolutely! Obviously there's other things I enjoy doing as well, but programming by far has the greatest impact on the world around me, and I love seeing the things I help create making other people's lives easier.

Weird take. I've been programming for 40 some years. I don't do it full time, trading time for $ anymore, but I still do it to write tools for my business pretty much every day. Cuz it's fun.

The word is "institutionalized" as Morgan Freeman put it in the movie.

I'm sure he would be retired if he wanted to

>I am 80 years old and still working full time in IT.

Serious question. Why? I love coding; I'll probably code as long as I live, but I can't imagine tying myself down to a full time job beyond the point where I need the money.

Some people just enjoy their job. I know several engineers who retired, only to return after a hiatus because they missed working with a team on something they were good at and passionate about. Work isn't always about money.

Right, I can understand why someone might wish to work part time even if they didn't really need the money, but I don't see myself working full time beyond the point where I am fully financially independent from needing to.

Good for you! At 14 I was hooked, and knew that this - programming, IT, technology - was for me. I can see myself in your shoes some day. The "outside world" just doesn't get the allure sometimes ;).

As a twenty-something, I'd love to work along side an "old timer". Many of the abstractions and technologies change in our field, but just as many foundational concepts stay constant. I'm sure I would learn so much.

Best of luck to you.

At what age did you begin your first full-time programming job?

I just found this thread and it's so great. You are an inspiration dear sir/madam. Do you still exercise?

As someone that will work well past retirement age, what lessons or wisdom could you impart on us youngins'?


Is it true that everyone in the media during your childhood spoke in a nasally accent?

Welcome to HN and for making this place more magical by your presence. Have seen other very senior programmers here over the years. Paul Lutus comes to mind now[1].

One question: Do you go through a mid life crisis in programming in your 40s/50s?

My story (just felt like sharing): I am in my 40s and have been programming for 30 years (I first wrote in Fortran in my Engineering College, 1st semester). Later professionally coded in C++ for around 10 years (and still keep coming back to it, as needed). Java for 10 years. Golang for 7 years. And Python for last 2-3 years. And there were other languages like Visual basic (late 90s). A lot of Unix shell scripting. I still think, I am at my best. But do have occasional self doubts. The main difference from younger days, which is perceptible to me, is the need for eye glasses, and needing slightly bigger fonts on occasions (HN is perfect that way).

I teach/guide my elder son, in programming, who just turned 20, and doing well as a programmer - did half of K&R C chapters and decent in algorithmic programming. Spent few months at Codeforces website and reached specialist level (Next level is Expert, which is generally considered respectable by any standard). And he also likely lurks on HN. :)

So now, when I see your message, it only makes me happy, that HN has likely at least 3 generation of programmers if not more.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=lutusp

Edit: typo

> Paul Lutus comes to mind now

I used GraFORTH and TransFORTH so much...

I'm in my 50's now, started my career during college, writing educational software for Apple II clones (not in FORTH, sadly). Now mostly Python, since the early 2000's, with little bits of other languages here and there.

I find HN delightful for the diversity we see here.

@aws_ls I wanted to surface this answer to a question about burnout answered by genedangelo. I is on page 2 here but I think it is relevant to what you are asking.

> genedangelo 1 day ago

> The one thing that comes to mind is to avoid the "hammer looking for a nail" syndrome. I see this all the time, especially in academia. Rather than worry about learning all the latest stuff, concentrate on solving the problem at hand in the simplest and most effective manner. If that requires you to learn new things, then that's a great time to expand your repertoire - working on a specific problem. Of course you have to strike a balance, but mainly concentrate on solving problems rather than being up-to-date on all the latest stuff and trying to find the proverbial nail for your new hammer.

Additionally, I am in a coder in my 50s and I have to say I am not going through any kind of mid life crisis in programming!

Like genedangelo, I just focus on problems that need to get solved and I really don't care how I solved it as long as I use a great tool that is meant for that job.

Super happy to learn a new tech if it makes sense for the problem.

There was a phase a few years ago where folks were using node.js to build all kinds of websites, including content heavy text based sites that would be better served as static html or dynmaic Ruby, PHP etc.

I think that's the classic mistake of a hammer looking for a nail and I can imagine it was really unsatisfying to build those kinds of sites with that kind of tech and might even contribute to burnout (just speculating).

Thanks a lot @jv22222 for sharing your own perspective apart from highlighting @genedangelo 's reply.

Just to clarify, I am also not going through a crisis as such, thankfully. Just a doubt on future continued ability lingers on occasions.

What you say, makes sense to me. After a few decades, we just see some patterns repeating with different names - RPC -> CORBA -> RMI -> Web servcies (based on SOAP) -> REST (based on JSON) -> Google RPC (going again to binary style) ... and so on. Not being cynical. Things progress in a way, but also have echos of the past.

Just keep up the good work, glasses or no glasses

Being 63, I don't get to say this very often: I am one of the youngest people in this conversation.

Delighted to read these stories about even-older-than-me old-timers. Even though I am a relative spring chicken, I'll list my old-timey computing experiences:

- Started programming on programmable Wang and Monroe calculators.

- PDP-8m in high school. 12k 12-bit words for four terminals running Basic. By special arrangement, I could take over the whole thing and use FORTRAN.

- IBM-370 in college, and I spent lots of hours on an IBM 029 keypunch. (That's where I developed my love of loud, clicky keyboards.)

- First job with Datasaab (yes, a computer division of Saab), and I programmed in their weird DIL-16 language.

- PDP-11 in grad school.

- Various VAXen in my early working life. Picked up Emacs in 1985 and now it's in my fingertips.

- A buddy and I wrote a book intended to support people who needed to work with a large variety of computing environments, (a real problem my buddy encountered). It was instantly obsolete, as it was published as minis were dying and PCs were becoming dominant. (https://www.amazon.ae/Computer-Professionals-Quick-Reference...)

- Many years in startups, mostly in Unix/Linux environments.

Retired now, but still enjoying programming. Having a blast with my current project: https://github.com/geophile/marcel.

> Picked up Emacs in 1985 and now it's in my fingertips.

I don't think this means the dreaded 'emacs pinky'...

My left pinky is like Arnold Schwarzenegger's bicep, thanks to emacs.

man, I didn't know emacs pinky was a thing until now.

Knuth was being paid by Burroughs to implement an Algol-58 compiler in 1960. He’s still programming, and seems to have advice for others on the subject. But I don’t expect to see him here.

Congratulations on being in that company, and may it long continue.

Partly cribbed from my comment downthread: I think I'd classify Knuth as the slightly different "longest working computer scientist". He's known for his quote "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it."

Or perhaps I'd classify him as the somewhat more sycophantic "longest working genius" or "longest working cool guy". Heck, Knuth was uniquely awarded a master's degree for his bachelor's because his work was considered so outstanding, he's an organist and composer, and he's hilarious. I love this quote about him: "If you had an optimization function that was in some way a combination of warmth and depth, Don would be it."

A quote from him in an interview I found: "Indeed, as mentioned above, my life's work was to be a teacher."

That's the way he likes to paint himself. From a lecture he gave at my university I remember that he said something along the lines of, that he usually came up with the idea and others wrote the code. From the experience out of the same lecture, however, I can tell you first hand that he knows his way around code and that he can code. The lecture was indeed more of a hands on workshop with Knuth spending most of the time in Emacs coding MMIXAL assembly - pretty low level stuff actually.

Oh I have absolutely no doubt that Knuth can code better than I (or most people in this thread) ever hope to.

But being a programmer and a computer scientist -are- two very different things. Simply in his daily activities over the last sixty years, Knuth has been writing tens of thousands of pages, doing a lot of math, diving deep into computer science topics. (That is not what I do in my employment as a programmer.) This guy has been sitting behind a keyboard and writing code. (That is what I do.)

Just because he can code doesn't mean he does on a daily basis for a day job, which is what this ask hn post is about no?

Knuth still does code basically on a daily basis. At least that's what he said in some interview (writing two complete programs per week on average, small and large, and that definitely qualifies him as software engineer among other things) and I have no reason to doubt it.


Arguably, TAoCP has been his day job since the 60's, and it's full of code.

Anil Nerode is almost surely the oldest working computer scientist today - https://math.cornell.edu/anil-nerode - He technically is in the math department at Cornell but he has been there since well before Cornell had a computer science department.

I just read his CV. He got his PhD under Gödel. He was at Princeton when Einstein was still there. Amazing!

To be honest, it's a bit weird to judge a man on the basis of a joke he made over 40 years ago.

Now, I certainly wouldn't judge someone based on an out of comment snippet from nearly a half century ago, but Knuth has been portraying himself in a less-programmery, more CS-and-teacher-y way for forever, including interviews from last year. And I think he's being honest - that is who he is.

But being a programmer and a computer scientist -are- two very different things. Simply in his daily activities over the last sixty years, Knuth has been writing tens of thousands of pages, doing a lot of math, diving deep into computer science topics. (That is not what I do in my employment as a programmer.) This guy has been sitting behind a keyboard and writing code. (That is what I do.)

Margaret Hamilton started her first job in 1959 and is still working: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Hamilton_(software_en...

Depending how and whether you count academia, Donald Knuth may have a slightly longer career: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Knuth

Feels like a decent chance you're third, then. Certainly you're one of the longest-working programmers. Best of luck. :)

Margaret Hamilton is an inspiration, but is she actually still working at age 83? I can't find anything that would indicate she is. For something like the "longest-working programmer" I'd expect them to have been actually "work"-working during that time.

And I think I'd classify Knuth as the slightly different "longest working computer scientist". He's known for his quote "Beware of bugs in the above code; I have only proved it correct, not tried it."

Or perhaps I'd classify him as the somewhat more sycophantic "longest working genius" or "longest working cool guy". Heck, Knuth was uniquely awarded a master's degree for his bachelor's because his work was considered so outstanding, he's an organist and composer, and he's hilarious. I love this quote about him: "If you had an optimization function that was in some way a combination of warmth and depth, Don would be it."

She's the CEO of Hamilton Technologies: http://www.htius.com/

OP asked longest-serving programmer. That doesn't involve people who switched to management or some other position like CEO.

You don't know that. I have served as CEO and still coded every day.

As did I. Common at smaller companies with tech CEOs.

But that wasn't your primary role or you would identify as programmer not a CEO.

Having said that no matter what role it's good to code everyday.

It was my primary role. I coded for many hours every day as CEO. It did make for a lot of long days. I can identify as both CEO and programmer. And musician and other things. No need for gatekeeping.

The CEO is the chief executive responsible for execution. Is programming not a form of execution? Why would the two be mutually exclusive?

It would be fun to have her coming to tell if she's still brainstorming or coding.

Once a coder, always a coder.

“The Universal Systems Language (USL) is based on a preventive, development-before-the-fact philosophy that does not allow errors in, in the first place.”

Funny that there’s an error in that sentence.

Which is? The 2 "in"'s seem correct to me.

Oh really? Seems wrong to me.

The Wikipedia page I linked to lists a 2018 IEEE paper; her company's website still has her name on it.

Don't forget Ivan Sutherland and Niklaus Wirth. Fred Brooks joined IBM in 1956 and he's still active in research as well; Cynthia Solomon, there's quite a few

Trygve Reenskaug is still working on programming.


Respect! I've only been programming since approx 1979. I still remember the first time that I saw internet technology used in 1982 - transferring a file from the US to the Uni of Leeds in the UK. I also have no plans to stop although I have retired from full-time employment. Now just a hobbyist, who programs every few days, at my own pace and on my own projects.

Here's my own thought. My last place of work did a lot of research into teaching and simulation tech, and was heavily pushing AR / VR solutions from a disruptor perspective. Some of the theoreticians were heavily into their generation X/Y/Z perspectives and made a lot the advantages that young people would have as 'digital natives'.

As someone who'd been using computers since before they were born, I was quietly amused as being characterised as someone who couldn't properly understand tech because I didn't program until I was age 17/18. It could be argued that many modern digital natives are really the locked-in inhabitants of digital cities and walled gardens. I now characterise myself as a sort of 'digital settler' who in retrospect could be viewed as a pioneer on the digital frontier (although this is not how I perceived it in the early 80s when I was learning Pascal and then C on DEC, Amdhal and Vaxen).

I think my message for people who want to stay involved with the tech is to decouple their enjoyment of it from their career aspirations. Of course, YMMV!

> It could be argued that many modern digital natives are really the locked-in inhabitants of digital cities and walled gardens.

So true. I am lucky that almost all my programming is for personal enjoyment/growth and have gotten a huge amount of pleasure from breaking out of the infinity of abstractions that make up modern operating systems and getting into electronics and microcontrollers (which can now be purchased for pennies). There’s something great about truly understanding a system (also true about larger scale and even non technical systems, but I have particularly felt the change you describe from pioneer/settler to controller citizens on modern computers).

> I think my message for people who want to stay involved with the tech is to decouple their enjoyment of it from their career aspirations.

Thank you for your words! I hope to retire soon from headless chicken corporate job and to bring back a joy of programming art.

What do you think about all of the advances that happened in your time, especially with what machine learning is capable of these days (fully artificial human faces, for one)?

Any advice (technical or life) for us younger people?

I think someday we will be able to duplicate the basic brain of an infant in a computer. Don't forget all the information is in our DNA and there's not that much innate knowledge - most of the infant's brain relates to the amazing capacity to learn. Someone will then take one home and train it like a human baby. It will become so close to a human that it will spark debates about whether it has self-awareness and whether it should have human rights. I regret I won't be around to see it, but who knows - maybe I'll be back :-)

> Don't forget all the information is in our DNA

I'm not so sure about that (but I'm pretty green on bioinformatics). I mean, for one: https://xkcd.com/1605/. For two, if that was the case we wouldn't need projects like folding@home and such to tell us what the structures described by DNA actually look like. And for three, there is a massive amount of influence on brain development from elsewhere (both from within the fetal body and from the womb). It's a bit like having a compiler's source code but nothing to bootstrap it with...

Reading a speculative prediction, given been watching progress from up close for 57 years, is interesting.

Any meaningful milestones along the way, that you think are worth noting. Tasks or roles that indicate progress?

Please don't say implementing JavaScript on punchcards.

No. Coding JS on keyboard is already bad enough.

It's a bit sad that people today still "fanboy" against a lang, like a lot of people still do for PHP (which has absolutely improved from the absurdity it was). JS followed the same path, ES2016 is an absolute dream to code on.

Maybe I'm biased? PHP paid my bills for a long time and currently I'm a front-end developer that works mostly with Angular (but sometimes I jump into the .NET Core backends). I love JS and TS, they evolved nicely along the years.

Nothing against being a fanboy for one specific lang, but thinking "X" language is bad/joke/nightmare isn't nice and makes people that work with them look like losers, which they aren't.

PHP and Javascript both improved significantly, but both still have horrible legacy baggage that can't be rid of, namely weak typing (not dynamic, where a variable can hold any type, but weak, where "1"+2=3). For me, that makes programming in either language like running in a minefield. And still, I write Javascript daily, because myeusers don't care about weak typing :-)

If you really care so much, why not simply embrace TypeScript?

Perhaps one day I will. When I last started a big JS project it wasn't mature enough to build a company around. This does seem to be changing.

TypeScript is awesome compared to JavaScript and even to other popular C-like languages. But it inherits all of the problems of the JS ecosystem without providing all of the benefits.

To make a JS package consumable by a reasonably strict TS project, someone has to basically rewrite the package. It's less effort than writing one from scratch, but it's not free.

> To make a JS package consumable by a reasonably strict TS project...

I’m not sure what you mean by “strict” here... Certainly one can use JavaScript from TypeScript, and even provide type information for the JS with declaration files. [1] Does a “strict” project require something beyond this?

[1] “Declaration Files”, TypeScript Handbook https://www.typescriptlang.org/docs/handbook/declaration-fil...

Type information is easy to half-ass: list all the exports, mark them as 'string', 'Object', 'Function', done.

Adding the actually correct and reliable types is the hard part. (But easier than writing the code in the first place.)

The typescript compiler can be a bit slow at times as well which dramatically lowers the developer experience when using typescript

Javascript is a lot saner than that. The result is "12". (I'm ok with automatic casting so long as it's an embedding. Every number has a reasonable string representation, but not vice versa. Wanting explicit casts like in Python is defensible, though.)

Huh, what do you know.

Still, this is unforgivable in my book:

  [] + {} == "[object Object]"
  {} + [] == 0

For the first, I frequently (for my own projects) change the Array prototype to have

   Array.prototype.toString = function () {
      return '[' + this.join(', ') + ']';
It would be convenient if Object.prototype.toString by default threw an exception, since the default breaks the embedding rule I described.

The second example is misleading, and it has nothing to do with the rules for addition: the {} at the beginning of the expression is parsed as a code block, played off the rules for what the value of a Javascript statement is. More realistically, we have

   ({}) + [] == "[object Object]"
but the original is, effectively,


I didn't realise about the second one. Thanks!

Thanks, I never realized that the second one was parsed as a code block rather than an object!

Strong/weak and dynamic/static. JS is dynamic, but variables will always have a type, which is memory safe - which makes types strong.

I’ve heard another definition of strong, which is that the compiler will make more guarantees, and in those cases the terminology was:

    * safe/unsafe
    * strong/weak
    * static/dynamic
Note that while safe/unsafe is basically all-or-nothing, strong/weak and static/dynamic are more of a spectrum, so JavaScript would be safe, weaker, and more dynamic than other languages. Typescript makes JS stronger when authoring code.

Also sound/unsound

I thought weak/strong typing is more about how explicit/implicit type conversion is. In PHP and JS it's almost always implicit and they don't warn you for mixing most types, whereas e.g. Python will complain. That's one thing I don't enjoy with PHP/JS. A lot of certainty goes out of the window with it.

Everyone likes different things.

'1'+1=2 prevents a lot of errors. The languages tries to help you along compared to an harsh error. Maybe you want a harsh error.. halting everything until you declare a new variable with the same type and have to go through a manual conversion. For me let the language handle that. If you are tdding anything unexpected will be caught anyhow if you are worried how things convert.

It's like rust in terms of memory management vs c. It handles it for you..

Implicit string to number conversion is more like C in terms of memory management, in the sense that it's a huge footgun that you will definitely shoot yourself with. I have never seen it prevent errors, only make them worse by hiding them from QA so they can reach production and ruin your weekend.

It's unfortunately in JS that + is used for both string concatenation and number addition. There are however defined rules that anything concatenated with a string becomes a string. And anything used with -/* > < becomes a number. As a beginner in JS I always used -- instead of plus when doing addition. But as I got more experienced I learned what was strings and what was numbers. And if I'm not sure I add an assertion - so that there will be an early error. I also parse all input (user input etc) not even a static strong type system will help you there, you always have to check/parse the input at runtime! JavaScript is strongly typed as in whatever the user inputs it will be converted to a type. JS don't have that many types and usually it becomes a string.

Would you agree that a language X can be objectively superior to language Y?

I worked with PHP professionally for some 10 years, with very competent colleagues from whom I've learned a lot. The PHP ecosystem with Composer and Symfony components is quite good. Still, PHP itself is a terrible language. I have less knowledge but a similar opinion of JavaScript. Doesn't mean people working with PHP or JavaScript are losers - I admire their tenacity and do feel a little bad for them.

The point is that a language can evolve so much they are not even the same language. I prefer ES2016 to Python for example.

Eh, the weak typing intrinsic in JS still makes Python win out between those two.

That really is use case dependent for me. In the context where I have made a thoughtful choice to use a dynamically typed language, I find strong typing seems to make things unnecessary clunky with not much gain, especially in webdev dealing with a lot of JSON and UI display. And if I’m in a situation where JS/dynamic language is not a good choice then I prefer a real statically typed language, not a middle-ground.

In what situations do you find weak typing useful? I've only ever had it introduce bugs and not make my life any easier. Meanwhile dynamic typing makes it a lot quicker to prototype things (vars that can be null or an int, for instance).

Python turns you into someone who cares how many invisible characters and of which type for each line you code. Weaking typing vs strong typing is the least of your concern

You (should) do that in other languages too. I'm not a fan of the way Python does it, but 1. it's not like you decide tabs vs spaces anew on each line, and 2. this is simply not a practical issue, unlike weak vs strong typing.

Numpy wouldn't work in JS because you can't overload operators afaik. Numpy/scipy are reasons why many people love Python.

It would work. All those overridden operators are just functions. It wouldn't be as concise or as intuitive though.

Yes, that was the point ;) Both languages are practically Turing complete so they are equivalent if you're just interested in what you can build with them.

Ah ok, by "numpy wouldn't work in JS" you meant something like it wouldn't be popular or as loved. Makes more sense now.

Terrible compared to what? What do you find a better language? What makes a language terrible for you?

Is COBOL terrible or C Or Go?

Good questions, not sure I can answer satisfactorily :)

> Terrible compared to what?

Terrible compared to other available programming languages.

> What do you find a better language?

Lisps, Haskell, Erlang, Rust, but even eg Python, Ruby, C, Java.

> What makes a language terrible for you?

Allowing me to do unreasonable things and resulting in unreasonable behaviour. Eg JavaScript:

[] + {} == [object Object]

{} + [] == 0

> Is COBOL terrible or C Or Go?

Programming languages are products of their time and context.

When COBOL was created, it might've been the best there was. By now, I think COBOL can be considered worse than many alternatives. If someone decided to write a non-toy greenfield project in COBOL today, I'd be surprised and might question their sanity.

C has two things going for it: it's a simple language and it's close to the hardware. I wouldn't call it terrible.

Go, now I really dislike Go, but I think there might be situations where it's the right tool for the job. Simple web services perhaps?

PHP was terrible already when it was created. I don't hold that against Rasmus, he just wanted to get simple things done, and didn't even intend to create a full-fledged programming language.

JavaScript... Brendan Eich wanted to put Scheme scripting in the browser, but because Java was popular, he was told by management to make it look more like Java and also to call it JavaScript. Oh also he had like a two week deadline or something.

Yea, I dunno... good hard questions :)

I don't really post anti-Javascript commentary, but I have an intense hatred for it because I disliked it and I had to use it for 10 years because it was the only client side language for the web. It is a bit irrational at this point, but I'm not a fan of imperative languages these days, and combining that with past experience makes me really not like it.

I don't particularly care about php because I have basically zero experience with it.

You're biased, they suck. Doesn't make you a loser for working with them, we all do it. But it's just pulling the wool to think that their obvious utility somehow counter-acts their (also obvious) lousy design. My personal advice is don't identify with your tools. Mark of a mature craftsman is knowing the nature of your tools and getting the job done anyway.

“PHP paid my bills” is the same argument as “NHS saved my life” in the UK

I second this request. Would love to hear any insight you have with all your life experiences in the field.

Respect! That's truly inspirational. At barely half the experience with 30 years I keep wondering about what next. I still do plenty of programming in C (which, along with Z80 and 8086 assembly, is what I started with), Python and JS with some dabbling in Go. I find the problem solving part as invigorating and exhilarating as ever. What I do struggle with is the 100x additional lines of code which will be needed to make that initial code usable by others. That is needed and all that, but is stuff I would have done dozens of times in the past in different contexts and sometimes approaches drudgery. I wonder if you have any advice on how to keep the interest from flagging in a project past that initial days/weeks of deep absorption. Thanks again for sharing this.

> I wonder if you have any advice on how to keep the interest from flagging in a project past that initial days/weeks of deep absorption.

I, too, have been programming for 32 years. I have thought about your question many times. My current solution is to 'play more'. Allow yourself to play, even when you are in the 100x additional part. Playing makes your passion flare up again. By play I mean to start interesting side projects, ideas, try something new.

Maybe aim to see things in a different perspective. You making that code usable by others means others will benefit from your work.

So 1) you benefit from the work by having fun 2) others benefit from your work by using it to solve their problems or building things they find fun

Usability is also a problem worth solving. It's just a different problem.

Wow! I appreciate all the interest and feedback - quite unexpected. I'm glad I found HN. I'll try to add more responses tomorrow.

(I'm a moderator here. Welcome to HN!) Because you're likely to get a flood of comments and questions overnight, I've switched an alpha feature on for your account that will highlight new comments that have appeared since you last viewed the page. They'll show up with a colored bar to the left of the comment. The feature doesn't work perfectly yet, but hopefully it'll help you keep track of what's been posted since you last looked. Note that the colored bars will disappear each time you refresh the page.

Good luck and thanks for a great post!

(Anyone else who'd like this alpha feature turned on for their account is welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and we'll be happy to.)

I haven't been able to find the colored bar, maybe because of refreshes, but let me suggest you use something that is searchable. That way you could use CTRL-F and then jump from one to the next. Right now, I'm searching for " min" (note the space) to find the most recent posts, and "1 hour", "2 hour" etc. to find older ones.

That's on the list to add.

how about a checkbox in the profile for people willing to test new features? i bet you'll find a number of volunteers.

i am definetly interested in this one. i often search for timestamps to find newer comments. color markers would make that a lot easier.

Have you considered implementing accessibility for this feature before it goes live for all? Screen reader users cannot see colored bars, and need a different indication of the fact a comment is new. I can give suggestions if needed.

Yes. If you'd be willing to email hn@ycombinator.com this would help me keep track.

Is there a feature request subsite for HN? I’ve seen this implemented really well on other sites[1] in ways that don’t detract from the main site focus or functionality.

[1] https://nolt.io

No affiliation, I just use a site which uses this to provide functionality suggestions. I don’t see why this kind of functionality can’t be bootstrapped from existing HN code.

As a rather young person in the field, I'd love to hear your thoughts on any question you feel the motivation to answer. Your learned wisdom is appreciated by all of us young bucks!

Congrats, you made it top 1 on HN! When we live in a world where experience is treated as baggage it is remarkable to find people in places like here to still appreciate it. I hope you will be able to enjoy your career until you decide yourself to retire! I think a lot of younger folks here, who are old by modern standards - I just turned 40 this year - are thirsty for some wisdom and lots of questions will be asked. And please don’t be offended if someone attacks you for some oppinion, this is the world we live in nowadays, someone’d find a fault in almost anything or anyone.

A bit of commentary on age discrimination in IT.

Of course, it exists. If you are over 40 and go on an interview where the interviewer is a 20 something kid you know what I mean.

My approach to age discrimination can be summed up this way.

Screw them. I have more experience and knowledge in the field than 99% of the people working in it, especially the managers. And I project that in an interview. I don't give a crap what they think of my age and I make sure they know that. I have what they need and they would be better off recognizing that.

Does that attitude work every time? Of course not. But I will be dammed if I will be submissive and put up with age discrimination. To hell with them. If they don't give me a job, some with better sense will.

The key is NEVER GIVE UP.

Thank you, this is a wonderful post! Please share more of your story. (Write a book, please).

I would love to hear answers to the following:

1. What ideas proved useful throughout your career, and what ideas did you change your mind about?

2. What are your hobbies? Do you still program in your spare time - if so, what? Or do you find other outlets?

3. What went into the decision to go back to school? Did you get the PhD? If not, did you get burned out, or what lured you away?

4. What were the Big Ideas in software over your career that didn't work out? Any that were better than expected?

5. General successes/regrets/advice for these readers!

That's a lot of questions, but let me take a couple. I got my Master's degrees in the early 1970's, when we used something called a "slide rule". In 1990 I went back to school to update my skills and expand my knowledge into artificial intelligence, which I had become enamored with. Unfortunately, I didn't finish my PhD (big mistake!) because in 1995 I jumped on an opportunity to join a company that had this amazing software that enabled very advanced analytics on big data (except it wasn't called "big data" back then). The software was called HOPS (for Heuristic Optimized Processing System) and I still use it today to develop custom machine learning applications among other things. I went back to school again in 2016 to fill in some gaps so would qualify as a real "data scientist" - the latest craze. I will say that HOPS was and is the biggest idea in software that hasn't worked out - at least not commercially. It's a system that is great for data scientists working on big data and enables them to do their own programming with minimal effort. I'm still hoping HOPS will take it's deserved place in the world of software development. It will be a great loss if it doesn't! It's one reason I'm holding on - to prove the exceptional things that it enables and prevent it from being tossed into the trash bin of history.

Looked up “HOPS (for Heuristic Optimized Processing System)” but didn’t find any good direct hits. Can you point me to some good starting points?

Is HOPS something that could be discussed publicly on HN? are there sources and examples that people could look at? If so, we could arrange some sort of thread about it.

This looks like hops.com moved to hops-international.com which is now gone.


Why do you regret not finishing your PhD? I’ve gotten mixed reviews on if the effort was worth it for those I know who did it.

Not the OP but I got my first programming job as a junior in high school in 1980 so I've been at it for 40 years. If that's good enough, here are my answers:

> What ideas proved useful throughout your career

Learning Lisp. I got an enormous amount of leverage out of that, and still do (I'm more or less retired, but I have a nice little Lisp consulting gig at the moment).

> what ideas did you change your mind about?

Before Lisp I thought BASIC was pretty cool (old-school BASIC, with line numbers). I was pretty down on Python when I first encountered it but now I'm a fan.

> What are your hobbies?

I like to hike, bike, ski, travel, fly airplanes, free dive and ride flowriders. I also write a blog.

> Do you still program in your spare time - if so, what?

Yes, but not very much. The last big project I did was writing the firmware for this product:


and the e-commerce system I use to sell it. That was quite a while ago.

> Did you get the PhD?

Yes, because I thought I wanted to be a college professor. Turns out that's not what I wanted, but I'm still glad I did it. But it's not for everyone. It really depends on what you want out of life. Do it because you love research. Don't do it as a means to some other end. It takes way too many of the best years of your life to do it for anything other than its own sake.

> What were the Big Ideas in software over your career that didn't work out? Any that were better than expected?

I've seen a zillion software fads come and go. UML. XML. ISO whatever the fuck it was back in 2000 or so. The vast majority of popular things in the software world are bullshit. The world keeps re-inventing s-expressions with different syntax. Very little has turned out better than expected, though Rust and webassembly look pretty cool. If I were going to do another deep dive into something today it would probably be one of those two things.

> General successes/regrets/advice for these readers!

The world today is awash with computational wealth beyond the wildest dreams of my youth. Take advantage of it. Get a Raspberry pi and noodle around with it. Bring up a web server, an email server, a DNS server. If you're really feeling ambitious, write your own, or write a game. Build a Linux kernel from source. Design your own programming language and write a compiler for it, even if it's just a minor riff on something that already exists. None of these things are particularly hard [1], and the things you will learn and the empowerment you will feel by doing them are priceless.

[1] The hard part of programming is not getting things to work, the hard part is getting things to work well enough for someone else to want to use use.

Not looking to compete for the crown, but I have been involved with software development on and off since 1970. I started college in 1969, and really loved my liberal arts and social science courses, but began having panic attacks in class (I found out many years later that I was bipolar). My hail Mary move was switching majors to 'Business Data Processing'. My thought being that programming would give me a salable skill the quickest. We were doing JCL and COBOL programming on the school mainframe using punch cards. The panic attacks continued, and I dropped out of school in 1971. In 1975, I enlisted in the US Air Force, and spent six years working in Signal Intelligence. I have been part of the defense contractor corps (aka Beltway Bandits) since 1981, and doing database development/admin continuously from 1988 to this day. I'm 69 now.

Thanks for sharing ... how did you manage the panic attacks in the end?

Thanks for asking!

The nature of the illness varies somewhat over time. The panic attacks only seemed to happen when I was in a room with a large group of people. So quitting school largely removed me from those situations.

I was diagnosed as Bipolar 2 in 1997 by a psychiatrist in Manhattan, where I was living with my girlfriend. I started having true bipolar symptoms in USAF Basic Training but made it through (talk about rough), then years later working as a developer, I got to a point where I could just not deal with people. One of the signature characteristics of bipolar (and other similar disorders) is some form of paranoia. People at work would make some mild critical comment and my head would be spinning for days full of anger and fear and pondering what I should have said. The NY psychiatrist asked me just a few questions: 'When was your first clinical depressive episode' (19), and 'are you second-guessing yourself a lot' (Yes. A manifestation of paranoia as noted above).

How did I ultimately deal with the disorder? Wonder drugs! Zyprexa since 1997, Wellbutrin for many years, and lamotrigine, a mood stabilizer. Being bipolar is not something that I notice much anymore.

One thing I would mention for anyone who is listening and suspects they are bipolar: Bipolar people are vulnerable to trauma and PTSD. What helped me was another miracle (IMO), EMDR. A single one hour EMDR session with a trained therapist can rid you of trauma that would take a year or more of talk therapy to accomplish.

Hope that was not too long-winded.

EMDR = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eye_movement_desensitization_a...

Thanks for that particular datapoint, and for the info.

thank you! checking out EMDR now ... I think I will ask my therapist about it.

Very impressive experience.

Applications are open for YC Winter 2024

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact