Are you interested in computer coding or becoming one of the best engineers, programmers or software architects the world of technology has seen?

Technology has changed the way the world works. We need computers, apps and its related software for almost anything and everything we do. The digitisation of our world created plenty of new career opportunities for any person interested in computers, coding, IT, Software or even games. Not only is the study, science and application of these more accessible for students of all levels, it’s moving so fast that new careers are developed and discovered every year.

This article will give you an understanding of the history of computers, computer programming and coding. Discovering the world of technology through the history books of computer programming might just give you the competitive edge yin your studies.

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The Early Days of Programming (1840 - 1945)

What is coding or programming? Coding and programming are terms used across software development industries but are sometimes misunderstood.

Coding can be explained as the language used by programmers or coders, to give computers instructions to perform certain tasks. They will use a specific coding language like HTML, Python, Java, Javascript, CSS or PHP, that is understood by the programme they code in.

Programming on the other hand is the act of building of executable programs. Programmers use various pieces of code to build the program and this process is more extensive than coding as a they need to analyse and conceptualise how codes interact and put together a variety of steps and communication pieces to have the correct machine outputs.

In history, programming preceded computers and it is said that the first program was created in 1842 after Ada Lovelace’s ideas and concepts created a basic analytical machine. She translated the work of Luigi Menabrea’s around Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine to English and created a machine that uses perforated cards with information encoded on. The method this machine uses for calculating Bernoullli’s numbers on the said cards was considered as the first computer program in the world, using a machine language.

The following elements, which you can also observe in our definition of programming and coding, is what made the design of Ada Lovelace’s detailed calculating machine so valuable:

  • It was a device that enabled the encoding of digital information (using encoded cards and indented wheels)
  • A memory was included for the recording of numerical information
  • It included disks for completing the calculations
  • The was a control unit that allows the user to select the tasks the machine should execute
  • It was able to show the calculating results

In 1936 a German inventor called Konrad Zuse, built a series of computers, the first of its kind to make use of the binary system. He developed the first complete high-level programming language for them, a language that was not linked to the type of computer. Unfortunately, his programming language, Plankalkül, was not used in the development of programming.

How were old computers programmed?
The first entry machines read information from cards with holes punched on them! (Source: WikiImages)

Programmers still had the challenge where they had to write code by hand and feed it into the machine, a time-consuming process that also didn’t allow for long and complex coding challenges. A solution only came over an entire century later, when the first electronic computer made his appearance in 1940.

Read on if you are interested in becoming a programmer.

The First Computers (1940 – 1960)

Many mathematicians contributed and worked to create the theoretical and applicable computer and programming concepts. Jon Von Neumann is one of those who made a fundamental contribution when he develop the stored-program concept that we see in our computers today. The stored-program concept refer to the computer’s ability to retain instructions carried by the program so that they don’t have to be reinstalled each time.

Between 1943 and 1945, physicist John Mauchly used his concept of an all-electronic calculating machine to create a large-scale computer for the US Army called the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). This machine ran at computer fast speeds and enabled them to do complicated wartime ballistic calculations, doing all calculations that were known to man at the time with ease.

In 1949 the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) created the first commercial, general-purpose computer for Northrop Aircraft company called the BINAC, but it lacked the stored-program capabilities and was soon replaced by the UNIVAC which would be used to assist the American Government with their census in 1950.

One of the most noteworthy contributions to computers and programming was the Common Business Orientated Language (COBOL), developed in the 1950s by USA’s Grace Hopper. Many high-level programming languages would be built on her binary program from source code which is why she became known as the Queen of Code in engineering and computer science circles. Other languages during this time of early development included:

  • LISP for lists
  • ALGOL algorithmic orientated language that allows arrhythmic problem-solving
  • Fortran (Formula Translator) which was used by IBM for scientific calculations and is still in use today

COBOL has, however remained the most popular programming language for the 20 years that followed and in the 1960s computers entered an exciting new growth phase.

When did desktop computers become popular?
The research and knowledge of industry pioneers has led to the "personal" computer, security aspects, and network capabilities we use today.  (Source: andreas160578)

Computer and Programming Adolescence (1960 – 1980)

Research, funding and development around computing and programming exploded. This era included important discoveries like how multiple users can work on the same computer, made able by the demonstration of CTSS (Compatible Time-Sharing System).

In 1963 ASCII allowed manufacturers to share information and exchange data across computers, and Ivan Sutherland also set the stage for future graphic artists, animations and engineering drawings on computers when he developed the first drawing application on computers.

Computer coding and the development of computer programming software enjoyed a lot of funding and attention during this time and there were some key languages, above and beyond COBOL that continued to lay foundations for the programmers of today:

  • APL (A Programming Language) as developed by Kenneth Iverson for financial, scientific and actuarial usage
  • BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) was around 1964 a basic easy-to-understand programming language use to teach students. It was also the earliest programming language used for the early personal computers.
  • Simula was an object orientated language and grouped data and instructions into objects called blocks.
  • UNIX became one of the most loved multi-user, multi-tasking operating system and end up forming the basis of the majority of the world’s computing infrastructure. It also led to the creation of C, a popular programming language any student of computer programming will study.
  • PASCAL become the language of Macintoshes and Apollo computers in 1970
  • SQL (Structured Query Language) saw the light in 1974 and today a lot of students, marketers and data analysts still use it for data analytics.

Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Xerox all made advancements during this time around the personal computer, calculators and printing. This history around the hardware development will form the foundation of students who plan to study information technology, information system design or electronic engineering.

Do you think programming is the right course of study for you?

Computer Science
Research and learning about how the internet and technology systems were created will make you a better computer science student. - Image by Science in HD on Unsplash

The 80s, 90s and the 21st Century Computers, Networks and Programming

The 80s saw the development of key software languages. MS-DOS and Word came from the IBM and Microsoft partnership while Lotus 1-2-3 became a popular word, data and spreadsheet programme for businesses. From here programming snowballed and in the 90s we saw various Microsoft windows versions released while Linux became the open source used in a range of smartphones and supercomputers nowadays.

It was also the years of introduction for the internet, something that would’ve not been possible without the technology pioneers. Today the world wide web forms part of almost everything we do.

1995 Was the year of development and entry for Java and Javascript while windows 95 came at a time when computers became almost accessible to general households.

The 21st century will then bring about the development of applications, the way website design and network applications interact and how we as human beings saw social media, like Facebook, come into play.

When did HTML come about?
Don't forget that you can gain programming skills if you find a tutor who can support you in your learning. (Source: jamesmarkosborne)

Any student who plan to study software development or software engineering, Computer science or related fields will learn about all the programs currently used in the worlds of computers, information and engineering. Courses and degrees include modules that will help you explore how hardware and software interact, and how information technology led to the creation of cloud computing. If you are passionate about technology, you are probably already investigating how you can study to design and create systems or application software?

Need help with your programming or want to supplement your degree studies?

Students of Engineering Science, Computer Science or who plan to work on information systems and related programmes, sometimes want to learn and delve into programming. You can consult the help of our Superprof technology tutors who can help you with one of the following popular programming languages, regardless of the course you are studying:

  • Python (1991)
  • PHP, JavaScript, Java (1995)
  • Ruby (1993)
  • C# (2000)

Are you ready to gain more knowledge about the industry, learn programming skills or find out what's the most popular programming languages?

Find a Superprof tutor today, regardless of whether you are studying a degree, need help with specific modules or want to start your own programming project.  Their support are only a couple of clicks away.

Happy learning!

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Mauritz

Writer and qualified yoga instructor, who is passionate about health and well-being.