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Writing code today is easier because of better tools and more powerful hardware, but the requirements and scope of projects have gone up by an absurd factor.

A good programmer today is more knowledgeable and more versatile than ever before. Problems are more complicated, systems are much grander in scope and there's simply more technology to deal with and learn from. Google is a plus, not a minus. All this code sharing makes you learn new stuff all the time.

Seeing new approaches and methods makes me a better programmer than someone who's ultra focused on their niche, like back in the day.

And if you look outside the HN web-centric scope, at low level programming, consider this: a reference manual for a simple 8-bit microprocessor (lets say 8051 core, very popular) was 300-400 pages long. Many products were designed around it in the 80's and 90's, but as demands from products skyrocketed, this hardware was no longer enough. For comparison, the reference manual of a TI OMAP4460 processor, like the one in the Galaxy Nexus phone and Pandaboard dev kit, is around 5200 pages long with the most complicated parts (e.g. 3D) blanked out for confidentiality reasons.

Or look at it another way: a $3 microcontroller today has most of the capabilities of a Pentium PC from 15 years ago (it has audio codecs, USB, Flash storage and a lot of other stuff not found on the PC, and pretty close computational power too). Someone has to write software to use all that. This software is complicated. Your car has dozens of processors and there was an article around here estimating the new luxury car code at several million lines. Someone has to write that, too. This someone is very likely (or so I hope) more knowledgeable and adept at doing their work than his predecessor that only had to deal with one or two simple ECU chips.

Sure the barriers were higher back then, but someone who's truly good today is magnitudes better and more versatile than in the past - there's no contest really.

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