Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Tue, 22 Sep 2009

Programming languages I have known

During my long drive to work I was pondering on how many different programming language I have used. There have been many over the last thirty years.

My first experience of using a computer was at upper school. Our maths teacher, Mrs Jaworski started a lunchtime BASIC programming course before we started computing as a subject. She showed us flowcharts and how they related to the various commands. To actually try anything we had to take turns on a Teletype connected to the local college via an acoustic coupler. I immediately took to it. After some time there were just two of us using the terminal most lunchtimes playing around with trying to write simple text games and generating long strips of paper output. When we started on O Levels we would go to the college once a week so we could get a terminal each. They even had VDUs, i.e. screens instead of paper!

A couple of years after that first encounter I saved up enough to at least contribute to my first computer, a BBC Micro. The BASIC on that was pretty powerful with the ability to declare procedures and embed assembly language. I wrote lots of programs on that, many to generate graphics, including my first Mandelbrot set. That would become my standard test program to write with a new language. I played a little with the 6502 assembly too.

At Coventry Poly I did electrical engineering, but we had some programming lectures, first on BASIC and later on Pascal. We used their Harris mini computers for that, but I did my project on a Beeb when I built an interface to turn it into a simple oscilloscope. I think we also did a course of writing machine code with the hex pad on a 6809 board. I also had a look at Forth on the mini after reading books about it.

During my first few jobs I wrote applications in dBase, Turbo Pascal (including OOPS), Turbo Basic and C++. I'm not sure I ever wrote anything significant in C.

A later job was for a company, Intuitive Systems, that produced their own programming language called I/S2. I was doing IT support there, but got to play with and test the language. I think it was similar to Visual Basic, which I haven't actually used.

My second home computer came a long time after the Beeb when I bought a second-hand Amiga 500. I didn't do much programming on that, but did play a little with ARexx and E (not sure if it's that one).

Another job used Microsoft's Quick BASIC for a car rental system, which was later converted to Magic, a table-based programming system that is good for building applications with lots of screens accessing databases. The skills I learnt on that led to my current employer who were major Magic users. The huge application they produced for the TV industry has now been converted to C#/.net. Both versions run on Oracle, so I do lots of PL/SQL programming too, along with a little Java.

Despite programming for a living I haven't done much for fun since the Beeb. I've looked several times at Python as it seems an elegant and powerful language. I've written a few small programs with it, the most useful of which generates playlist files for my music collection. My choice of PyBlosxom as a blog platform was influenced by the possibility of coding for it, but I've not done more than play with that. Recently I have started looking at Python again after finding libraries that could form the basis of a couple of applications I wanted to implement, a Jabber/XMMP bot and a FOAF parser. The latter is by Luke Maurits who I have started corresponding with. He's a bit younger than me and so had many more options when he started programming. The tools have come a long way since I was entering BASIC line by line into a Teletype and hoping it would run. I need to do some serious reading to get into what something like Python can offer me. There are several on-line courses I will be looking at.

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