The programming language BASIC celebrates its 50th birthday this year, and Time has a nice piece about it by Harry McCracken.
I find the “everybody should learn to code” movement laudable. And yet it also leaves me wistful, even melancholy. Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one. And the thing that made it possible was a programming language called BASIC.
Although the “everybody needs to code” trope seems a little debatable to me, I’m with him on the wistful melancholy. BASIC was the first computer language I ever encountered. I was in 6th grade and my science teacher gave me the manual, which I played with. Using the real computer required getting access to a time-share machine, waiting to use a few moments of a massive device that is less powerful than my iPod watch. All my later computer camps and courses through high school taught BASIC, but when I got to college the computer science teachers scoffed at BASIC, as a poor tool. Maybe true, but it lives on.