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My Grandpa claims he was a computer programmer, but he knows nothing about computers.

  1. Jan 3, 2006 #1
    Every since me and my sister and all of my cousins were little kids my granpa has told us that he was a computer programmer for American Airlines. He always told us of stories about how he looked in the newspaper in the sixties and saw an ad posted by AA saying that they were hiring computer programmers, and computers were so new that he knew nothing about them and most people didn't even know what a computer was. So my grandpa claims that he went to the interview and got the job. Now this is surely plausable, but it becomes quite obvious that this story is only a story when my granpa tells that he never even graduated high school, knows no math other that simple arithmatic, and it is obvious that he knows much less about computers than the average person now days. Sure he is a a senior and retired and most people that age don't know much about computers, but someone that "programmed" computers for 30 years would surely know a lot about computers, right?

    This has really been bugging me lateley. Because I talk to him all the time, and I am beginning to learn a lot about programming currently, but when I try to talk to him about the subject it is more like I am telling him about it because it is a one way conversation. I am pretty sure that he doesn't even know a single programming lanuage. Now how is someone supposed to program computers without knowing a language? Wouldn't this handicap require that one knows machine language?

    Now don't get me wrong, I love my granpa, and I love talking to him. But I don't understand why he would tell everyone this for all these years when it is so obvious that he was not a programmer. He does exagerate about most things that he talks about, but this seems like just a plain lie. When me and my cousins were growing up we knew that he was lying about his job, but we never confonted him about it. He still every once and a while tells stories about his days of programming. I have actually heard him say that when he was working with some computers that used punch cards way back in the day that an actuall insect got caught in one of these puch cards hindering the computer from working properly. Every since this incident it has been called a "bug" in the computer. I mean come on. Sure this happened, it is a famous story, but it didn't happen to him.

    I don't think that he is completely lieing. He did work at American Airlines for 30 years. And he did cllimb the latter from the very bottom. And I deffinetely think about him as being very successful and basically achieving the American dream, but I am pretty sure that he had a different position than he tells us. I think that he eventually managed a group of programmers. That would be the closest thing to being a programmer that I can think that he actually could have done. And maybee he worked along side programmers in his younger days, but I am pretty sure he has never written a program.

    This would not bother me as much as it does, but because he doesn't have any real education beyond some high school, he doen't understand the importance of the classes I am taking. He doen't appreciate math, and I don't think he even knows why people learn algebra. To tell you the truth I have a feeling that he frowns on people that go to school to learn all of these fancy things, because after all, he didn't go to school and he was successful.
    Sorry about the rant, but it is just that I am learning all of these neat things and I would love to discuss some of them with my granpa but I think that he hates hearing me talk about this stuff. Moreover I don't think he understands anything I am talking about. I guess that I should just be as nice to him as I can and tailor the stories I tel himl around simple arithmatic and very simple intuitive physics topics. I actually think that I should just not talk to him about the stuff I am learning at school at all, but what else do I talk about? School is my greatest interest and that is what I like talking about. Oh well, at least I have a grandpa, and one that is nice to me too.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
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  3. Jan 3, 2006 #2

    Ouabache

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    I can drive a car without know anything about what makes it work.
    Do you mean grandpa doesn't know anything what is going on inside a computer? Do you mean he doesn't know anything about modern computers?

    Perhaps he programmed one of the earlier computers, similar to the ENIAC, where programming was done by connecting jumper cables in a pattern on a panel of the computer.
     
  4. Jan 3, 2006 #3

    DaveC426913

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    Perhaps, but operating a computer is not the same as programming one.


    I'd be interested to hear more about his claim. You can ask him some programming questions that aren't computer-dependent.

    Let's see...

    What result do you get when you divide by zero?

    Hm. I'm having tough time coming up with questions. Any takers?
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
  5. Jan 3, 2006 #4

    Danger

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    My programming education was in 'Student Language', which seems related to PL1, and then Atari Basic. I wouldn't have a clue how to do anything in any language that came out after 1985 or so. I never even bothered learning Fortran or Cobol, since they required a mainframe and I had no reason to use them. (Student Language was also for mainframe, but that was in high-school and it was the only computer in the county.)
     
  6. Jan 3, 2006 #5

    DaveC426913

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    Maybe you're taking him too literally. Ask him, generally, about what he used to do. Let him talk freely. Maybe he just feels like sharing. Maybe what he means by programming isn't quite what we think of it. Let him tell it his way, rather than trying to extract specifics from him. Ask him what he liked rather than what he did. Simply enjoy his company and some idle conversation.
     
  7. Jan 3, 2006 #6

    Pengwuino

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    Computers back then, especially in say something like airliners.... were far different then what they are today. There wasn't any workstation you sat at and wrote code in VB or anything like that. It probably resembled something like hobby electrical engineering today.
     
  8. Jan 3, 2006 #7
    There is no way he would know this. He knows very little about math. I tried to explain some very simple things to him (along the lines of how to solve a very simple equation) and he doesn't get it. And like I said, I think that he thinks things like this are just learned for trivial reasons and have no real application.
     
  9. Jan 3, 2006 #8

    This is exactly what I have tried to do, but when I am talking about something I always accidently go too deep into it. I am deffinetely going to try harder to just do what you said harder, because he could be gone tommorow, you know. And then I would just regret not having fun talking to him. So I am deffinetly going to try to not go into depth about the things I talk about, and if I can't do that then I am really going to try to just not talk about things I am learning and am interested in.
    And yeah, I think when he says that he was a computer programmer, I think that he means that he worked with programmers and managed them like I said earlier. Managing them would deffinetly explain how he was so successful. He is not mega rich, but he is very well off.
    It is just that when he talks about these things I just don't question anything he says because I am afraid that I am going to point out that he is lieing to me, and I deffinetely don't want to do that. But some of the things he says I want to ask him specific questions, but I think that I should just keep everything nice and general.
     
  10. Jan 3, 2006 #9

    Danger

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    Since he specified punch cards in his background, it's also possible that he was a keypunch operator. That's essentially a stenographer who takes a programme that someone else has written on paper and types it into the machine that punches the cards. In that manner, he would in fact be programming the computer even though he didn't design the programme.
    As for the bug, the term came from an incident with either ENIAC or UNIVAC. A malfunction was traced to a moth that had gotten into the cabinet and shorted out a component. The troubleshooter wrote 'a bug in the system' where the report sheet asked for the cause of the problem.
     
  11. Jan 3, 2006 #10

    -Job-

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    There are many levels of programming. There are machine languages which are binary strings, like:
    001...0011
    There are assembly languages which compile into the machine language above:
    Code (Text):
    MOV DI, [BP+SI]
    PUSH SI
    MOV SI, CX
    MOV big[SI], DI
    POP SI
    ADD CX, 2
    Then there are the higher level languages like C, Java, Fortran ...etc
    Maybe you can ask him about the syntax. Maybe he programmed not with software, but with hardware building circuits, etc. It's possible that he knew how to program for a very specific hardware and very specific purposes, but that he never really understood how it all works and how everything fits together. Besides, things have evolved significantly, just because he knew something then, doesn't mean that knowledge is of any use today.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
  12. Jan 3, 2006 #11

    DaveC426913

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    Some of us don't need explanations, sonny. :rofl: :rofl: Some of us are old enough to have programmed in them when that was state-of-the-art.
     
  13. Jan 3, 2006 #12

    Danger

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    Sonny? :bugeye:

    I thought that only Integral and Ivan were old enough to call me that.
    Incidentally, my sister was a keypunch operator for Digitech in the 60's. That had something to do with getting me interested. My grade 10 course was with pencil cards. We were so happy when they let us use the keypunch in grade 11. :biggrin:
     
  14. Jan 3, 2006 #13

    DaveC426913

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    True, but *I* was born the day after your eighth birthday!
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2006
  15. Jan 3, 2006 #14

    LeonhardEuler

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    Keep in mind that the first computers were programed without programming languages. In fact the first computers were so weak that it was economically unfeasible to have a programming language because it would actually be more expensive to compile the program than to pay the programmers for the additional time it would take them to make code in binary.
     
  16. Jan 3, 2006 #15
    Yeah, I didn't think about that. If he was working with computers with punch cards then he wasn't using a programming language. But how could he get a programming job without having any formal training, not even in math. I seriously think that he thinks that learning any math beyond arithmatic is a complete waiste of time. Doesn't it seem like he would at least understand the importance of math, physics and other classes like that, even if he wasn't taught this stuff.
     
  17. Jan 3, 2006 #16
    I think that he thinks that it is important for me to be in college, but I think that he is one of those people that thinks that the only thing good about going to college is that I will get a piece of paper that will get me a better job. My sister is this same way. She is in college too, and she just takes her classes like the stuff she is learning is only going to be used to make a good grade on the test. She is deffinetely one of those people that memorized the information as oppose to actually learning it. I think most people in my family look at school like that. My dad is the only one that now appreciates all the things that I am working very hard to actually learn.
     
  18. Jan 3, 2006 #17

    Evo

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    That's exactly how it was done back then. Funny, an elderly gentleman and I were talking about this topic recently. He was working in a factory when he was younger and saw an ad for a "programmer" for IBM, of all places. They taught him everything he needed to know. It was very basic to begin with. He didn't own a suit and it was required, so he borrowed money to buy a $29 suit. He wore it every day for 2 years.
     
  19. Jan 3, 2006 #18

    -Job-

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    I think good programming requires experience, creativity and ingenuity above all. There is alot of math in Computer Science, but the truth is you don't need to know alot of math to be able to program. It's comparable to many other forms of engineering. Alot of math is often used in the planning and designing of efficient algorithms, but the actual product is put together by means that are less theoretical by nature.
    I find Computer science very attractive as much for its theory and complexity as for the actual programming. It's one of the few fields where a single person can take a product through all the stages from design to implementation & testing with little delay.
    And though there is a direct relation between a program and mathematical structure, you don't need much more than common sense and experience to program. The general problem solving that is required to have an efficient program is another story, but perhaps your grandpa was only assigned simple programming tasks, hence never really understood the outstanding role math plays in this field. Plus, it's common for people to minimize the importance of things they don't/can't understand.
     
  20. Jan 3, 2006 #19
    You make a very good point. I will try to keep that in mind.
     
  21. Jan 4, 2006 #20

    Ouabache

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    My analogy to driving a car is that you can program a computer without needed to know what's going on inside the chassis.

    With regards to programming, my comment about actually wiring a computer with jumper cables was one of the earlier methods of programming. For instance, the person responsible for hooking up the cables could easily be called the "programmer". I would assume this programmer would need a schematic of how to wire up each particular algorithm. Another person could be responsible for developing that schematic... So you see, the programmer could like an electronics technician in those early days. They might be responsible for wiring & debugging the machine.

    My cousin's Dad used to program an ENIAC just this way :smile:

    Hopefully Nothing000 grandad, will elaborate on what he meant by programming computers..
     
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