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Developer divide: 19 generations of computer programmers

Peter Wayner | Jan. 8, 2013
If you're searching for a fountain of youth, the easiest way to get that feeling of continual rebirth is to hang around a few tech product launches. Every new rollout comes with the fresh, unabashed feeling that this has never been done before. Ever.

Other language of choice: Assembly code

Special skill: Using GOTO without creating spaghetti code

Social media strategy: Going to Studio 54

Other career choice: Fast-food restaurant developer

Clothing: Bell bottoms

Rhetorical tic: "It's easy."

Car: Last convertible

Song: Blondie, "Heart of Glass"

Favorite artifact: Cassette version of Microsoft Basic

C programmers

The language began as one step above assembler, but grew hand in hand with all of the variations of Unix. Today it's still used by those who love Unix and its latest dominant variant, Linux. It remains the tool of choice for those who want to program "close to the metal" and not rely on automatic mechanisms like garbage collectors.

Other language of choice: C++

Special skill: Remembering to free everything malloced

Social media strategy: Posts to Usenet three times a month

Other career choice: Bell telephone switch technician

Clothing: Red Hat T-shirt from the early days

Rhetorical tic: "Wouldn't you rather handle the memory yourself?"

Car: Original Toyota Land Cruiser

Song: Something by the Ramones

Favorite artifact: Bell Labs coffee cup

C++ programmers

When C programmers looked at the idea of object-oriented programming, they created C++, a baroque version that worked best when the programmer was able to keep track of all the complicated ways code could interact. It took all of the garage-grade DIY intensity and added another way for programmers to prove themselves worthy.

Other language of choice: C

Special skill: Multiple inheritance

Social media strategy: Friendster

Other career choice: Pinball wizard

Clothing: Jeans jacket with safety pins

Rhetorical tic: "Java pretty much broke object-oriented programming."

Car: Ford Explorer

Song: The Clash's "Clash City Rockers"

Favorite artifact: Borland C++ T-shirt

Objective-C programmers (first generation)

There are two groups of people who fell in love with Objective-C: the people who bought a NeXT machine and those who bought an iPhone. The first generation went on to rescue Apple in its darkest days and pull it back from the brink.

Other language of choice: Smalltalk

Special skill: Using InterfaceBuilder

Social media strategy: Subscribes to 42 mailing lists

Other career choice: Wall Street investment banker

Clothing: Hawaiian shirt

Rhetorical tic: "You mean C++ doesn't do that for you?"

Car: Mazda RX-7 or BMW 325

Song: Anything by Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Cat Stevens, or anyone else liked by Steve Jobs

Favorite artifact: NeXT machine

Perl programmers

The simple language for manipulating text files appeared around the same time as the Internet, so when people needed to fix Web servers, they turned first to Perl. If you have text in one format and need to change it -- "massage it," in Perl parlance -- it may only take 10 to 20 characters. Most of the Perl scripts may be short, but that never stopped some true believers. Slashdot, after all, was built with Perl.


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