They never heard the future calling

When I was a twenty-something, just entering the computer world of the early 1970’s, computer languages to watch were Fortran, PL/1, COBOL, Lisp, Algol, APL, Pascal — and a hundred types of assembly language.

Even back then, one language was especially reviled for its ugly syntax — or rather the fact that no one could program with it without using special pads of coding paper. This was a language developed by IBM in 1959 called Report Program Generator (RPG). RPG was really only good for one thing — generating boxes and boxes of “greenbar” — thirty pound stacks of computer printouts. Even in 1971 the preferred business language was COBOL.

Fast forward a mere thirty years to 2000. RPG programmers were already recognized as an endangered species — endangered by evolution. One article provocatively (“RPG — the Walking Dead?”) asked: “Is RPG dead?”

So there you had it — a generation ago, on the cusp of a Y2K apocalypse (that never happened) — a forward-looking author counseling fellow programmers to abandon relics like RPG, learn computer languages of the next millennium — and be prepared for the wave after that — Object Oriented Programming:

Unless you’re ready to retire, you should stop by your favorite bookstore, pick up a copy of UML Distilled: A Brief Guide to the Standard Object Modelling Language or a similar book, and start learning the ubiquitous language of OO designs. Also download the Whiteboard edition of Together/J (www.togethersoft. com) and start familiarizing yourself with an OO design and analysis tool. Besides helping you learn OO concepts, Together/J will help you learn Java by reviewing the source code it generates. With this knowledge, you should be in a better position to learn the next OOP language in vogue with minimal effort. The clock is ticking. Where will you be when it strikes midnight? Hopefully, not with the walking dead.

The clock certainly was ticking, as it always is. Coal miners received similar advice a century ago — as New Bedford sperm oil whalers did a century before that — after prospectors found petroleum in Pennsylvania.

But after millions of years of human existence, is anyone really surprised that change is practically the only constant?

Besides the president?

This is a guy who’s made political pets of coal miners. Instead of actually helping them by rolling out alternative energy infrastructure projects and training miners for jobs with a future, Trump and his Republican Congress will simply give them federal pensions and hope they go quietly into the night. But as Alana Semuels writes in the Atlantic — why stop there?

If it bails out the miners, why stop there? Why not bail out all of the other pension funds, private and public, that are on the brink of insolvency?

Why stop there, indeed. The Trump administration could also create special programs to save the nation’s remaining 283 RPG programmers.

Like the miners (and the coal owners) who were warned a century ago that petroleum was coming, the poor pioneering RPG programmers were so hard at work on their coding pads — keeping American business humming — that they never heard the future calling.

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Next week — how to make America GREAT for elevator operators and movie theater projectionists!

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