Coding is dead

My first experience of coding came courtesy of a ZX81. And later through the ZX Spectrum. On each computer, you didn’t need to type commands. Indeed you couldn’t. Each key represented a shortcut to a command: PEEK, POKE, PLOT, RUN, REM etc. If you were at the appropriate point in a line of programming, pressing a letter would yield a command instead of the letter itself. It was all rather convenient, if, in hindsight, a little limiting.

Then came the BBC Micro. The convenience of shortcut commands was no more. To RUN, users had to press three keys as opposed to one.

The world didn’t end. But at that point, I genuinely believed that programming would never take off.

You see, programming demands syntactic perfection. Commands must be spelt correctly. Semicolons must, where rules demand, feature at the end of commands. Quotation marks must surround certain types of text, and each function commands its own imposed structure.

And with such grammatical idiocy and general shoddiness surrounding us, I was of the belief that programming could never survive. I didn’t think that the general public could reliably be expected, with or without the aid of command shortcuts, to type faultless lines of code.

It was a brief thought during my early teens, perhaps earlier. And maybe it’s a sentiment that I carried forward in my career as a proofreader: no one can be trusted to write faultless English.

Thankfully I’ve been proved wrong. Code abounds, and compilers are technology’s proofreading equivalent.


5 Responses to “Coding is dead”

  1. Mum on June 5th, 2012 00:12

    taught not tought!

  2. Dan on June 5th, 2012 00:24

    Or even “thought”. 😉

  3. Stefan on June 5th, 2012 16:09

    If you really want your prose or your code to be bug free, it’s just a question of identifying the quality level you want and working at it –

  4. Steph Gray on June 5th, 2012 22:07

    Although, the general public don’t of course write those faultless lines of code. Few even use visual tools which help to script them, or the macro languages built into desktop applications.

    Some days, when I’m typing HTML or Javascript lines just like I did 15 years ago (only more carefully now, because I worry about validation and accessibility and that sort of thing), I’m surprised that the little detour in 2000-5 via visual website editors like Dreamweaver didn’t take off. And now we’re using tools like WordPress where the coding and the content management tasks have been retained but fairly neatly separated and specialised, and it feels like a slightly curious form of progress.

  5. Rob on June 9th, 2012 09:36

    I suppose that the natural requirement for flexibility in modern systems sounded the death knell for single key command entry. The spectrum only really had a single built in programming language, Sinclair Basic, with a very limited command lexicon and so it was possible to offer the convenience to developers.

    Of course even then a large number of programs were developed in machine code which meant abounding the crutch of the keyboard and wading into a minefield of barely legible assembler.

    These days, modern developers tend to use more than 2 languages in any given project. The laptop I’m typing this on has no fewer than 6 distinct languages on it and a raft of variants & frameworks each with their own syntax requirements.

    For example, a web application would require HTML, JavaScript, and some form of server side technology (although recent advances in projects like Node & HAML allow these different syntaxes to blurred) and your keyboard would have to be pretty huge to contain each and ever command.

    Instead we see the rise of smart (or not) compilers and enhancements to editors and other tools to allow for live syntax checking and preflight linting of code to ensure it is at least syntactically valid. Even the simplest of code editors has the facility to tap into these new tools to increase the quality of the code being developed.

    But it remains an interesting consideration, especially when you look at some of the higher level solutions to code quality with Test Driven Development and similar methodologies that have arisen to address the need for code quality that transcends mere syntax.

    In short, developers have spent a lot of time ensuring that the work they produce is as valid as it was back in the days of Sinclari’s rather helpful, albeit limiting, keyboard entry system.

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