Thu. Jun 24th, 2021

the Torch

The student voice of Wichita High School South

Computer Programming: A Brief History and How It Works

6 min read

Various names of programming languages

Computer programming is the practice of creating an executable that is meant to perform a predetermined task. Programming consists of creating algorithms and implementing those algorithms in a programming language of the developer’s choosing (this is more commonly referred to as “coding”). Notable examples of modern programming languages would be Visual Basic, C, C++, and Python. You may see computer programming referred to as “software development.”

The first 23 Bernoulli numbers
An example of written assembly code compared to compiled assembly code (dated September 14, 1980).

Programming in general dates back to at least 1206 AD when there were self-operating machines that could play various rhythms and drum patterns depending on the position of the pegs and cams inside the machine. The first actual example of a computer program was showcased in 1843 when a mathematician by the name of Ada Lovelace created an algorithm that would calculate a sequence of the Bernoulli numbers that in turn would be carried out by a computer called the “Analytical Engine” created by Charles Babbage. A method to store data in a machine-readable form was created in the 1880s. In 1906, an extension was made for the Type I Tabulator (a tabulating machine, which is a machine that performs instructions based on patterns on punch cards) that would allow it to be programmed to perform different tasks. Stored-program computers (computers that store program instructions in electronic memory) were introduced in 1949. The concept of assembly languages was introduced not too long after. Assembly languages are languages that include statements that are the closest to the instructions of the computer’s architecture (think of assembly languages as if they’re the “final level” of programming languages).

Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper (most known for her work on the Mark I computer) developed the first ever compiler (software that converts the code in one programming language to another programming language) for a programming language. In 1951, the first soft-merge generator (which was one of the earliest examples of using a computer to make a computer program) was developed by Frances E. Holberton. FORTRAN was soon released in 1957 and became one of the most widely used programming languages. COBOL (aimed at commercial data processing) and Lisp (aimed towards computer research) are two other programming languages that were released soon after FORTRAN. FORMAC was developed in 1961 by Jean E. Sammet, who would later go on to publish “Programming Languages: History and Fundamentals.” Programming became more affordable when terminals and storage devices stopped being expensive. Terminals allowed code to be directly typed into the computer through keyboards. Text editors were developed, making the process of writing code much easier.

A snippet of C code that prints “Hello World” when executed

The initial version of BASIC was developed in the 1960s with many variations being created later on by companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Atari. BASIC even inspired the creation of the aforementioned language of Visual Basic. C was created between 1969 and 1973 and still remains as a widely used language. C++ was introduced in 1980 (then called C with classes) and offered various improvements over the base language of C. C++ is the third most used programming language, behind Java (introduced in 1995) and C. C influenced more programming languages such as Objective-C (introduced in 1986), C# (introduced in 2000), and the aforementioned Python (introduced in 1991). Programming, in general, has greatly influenced our daily lives. The most mundane tasks that you have performed in your daily life such as looking at Facebook on your phone was all thanks to programming and many people don’t even realize it. Programming has become essential to our daily lives.

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June 2021

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