Friday, August 21, 2009

Redux: did we really have to switch "from" mainframe?


Why was it hard for a lot of mainframe people to make a “switch” to client-server and open systems programming ten or more years ago?

That was the question you always heard.

Actually, if you look at the mainframe jobs today, many of them have open systems components, including direct connect, SQL server, XML, various specific packages, replication. So the switch was never as melodramatic as programmers made it sound.

Nevertheless, one issue stands out: with “procedural programming” the thinking style was more sequential or linear in nature. Client server and OOP programming skills tended to emphasize layered styles of thinking.

People in the late teens and early twenties are still going through the last stages of brain development, called “pruning.” Thinking styles and agility develop then much more readily than late in life. So, for biological reasons, it’s easier to pick up the “hang” of OOP at 18 than it is at 50. (That’s why extreme musical talent must be nurtured early.) That may be one reason why a number of Internet entrepreneurs started out very young indeed, and made innovations out of proportion to their apparent resources. They were just solving “real” problems among their own contemporaries – like how to share music with or network with their friends – that occurred very naturally in their worlds but not those of older people. It’s interesting that one of the guys (Aaron Greenspan) involved with Facebook would found a company called “Think Computer.” By comparison, my own “do ask do tell” innovation was not so much a technical one but a sociological one, ultimately linked to my own personal psychological necessities, in my 50s.

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