When Hunting for Software Bugs Really Meant Getting Your Hands Dirty
Most modern programmers never need to get into the physical parts of a computer. We take computers for granted. Most of us walk around with a very powerful computer in our pockets. The smartphones of today are a relatively modern invention but are so ubiquitous that they are just part of normal life. A palm sized phone more powerful than the desktop computers of 10 to 20 years ago. If they go wrong they either get replaced or sent to specialist repairers. Many programmers will now have careers where the closest they get to the hardware is installing a micro SD card or SIM card in their phone. However, there was a time when debugging software was more than setting breakpoints in an IDE, you really had to know how computers worked at the hardware level and get into the machine.
Debugging Mode in the Old Days
It is good to look at how today’s technology evolved from past technology. It gives you a better understanding of why and how the modern technology operates. When pictures of old technology are viewed it reminds you of how far we have come in a short time frame. Computers have come a long way since their rapid evolution from the days after World War II. But it would not be until the 2000’s that they began to fit comfortably in the pocket. Yet computers used to need very large rooms. Here’s a picture from July 1961 of an IBM computer in the City Hall in Redmond, Virginia.
Even a computer this size was nothing more than a glorified calculator. They were good at counting and tabulating but not much else. When the programs failed it was not only the software that needed debugging. Often the hardware was the cause of the problem. In that case debugging mode meant opening the machine up to see which mechanical, electrical or electronic parts needed fixing or replacing. I wonder if the gentleman in this picture is in hardware debugging mode? BTW look at the size of the ducting over the machine, they used to use a stack of energy and generate a lot of heat. (And we moan about smartphones that need charging everyday.)
Next time you are struggling to debug your App or software think how much harder it used to be. It may help ease the pain 🙂
For the origination of the term software bug and possibly the first description of removing a real “bug” from hardware see Software bug on Wikipedia.
The photo was seen on Flickr Commons and is from the Adolph B. Rice Photograph Collection at the Library of Virginia.