It's all spinning wheels and self-doubt until the first pot of coffee.

Ancient software and programmer-archaeologists

I've been meaning to compose a longer entry / essay about the idea of ancient software--and when I say ancient, I mean in the millenia-old sense, not the tongue-in-cheek decades-old sense we usually think. This notion first got stuck in my head after reading Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky and the description of the Qeng Ho interstellar trading group.

Imagine a particular work of software development as a tradition spanning hundreds or thousands of years, undertaken by generations of rotating shifts of programmers taking their turns in cold sleep. Imagine layer upon layer of scripts, code, hacks, APIs, and workarounds so deep that it becomes viable to make a life's profession as a programmer-archaeologist. And imagine it all driven by commercial pragmatism--not for sales of software, but for the day-to-day necessity of running systems whose reliability needs to span light-years and centuries.

But, since this is probably the most I'll actually get around to writing on the topic, I wanted to at least make a note of it.

Archived Comments

  • Back in 2001 or 2002 I read an article on the Enterprise Resource Planning ERP packages such as SAP and it was opined that the ERP platforms replacing legacy mainframe applications that had been in place for decades would see the replacement software end up being used for hundreds of years... I found the thought fascinating at the time. Although I wonder if it is possible?
  • Isn't this what maintenance programming is all about? :)
  • "Half-assed programming was a time-filler that, like knitting, must date to the beginning of the human experience." --Kjet Svensndot, untold millennia in the future, in Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep I don't know why, but clocks and nuclear waste sites apparently stir our imagination to great stretches of time more readily than does software... http://www.longnow.org/10kclock/clock.htm http://downlode.org/etext/wipp/ http://www.paulgraham.com/hundred.html
  • "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike." I imagine there'd be a lot of easter eggs and in-jokes in such code. I'd also be surprised if I didn't find a video game or two hiding in there.