Which computer era would have been the most exciting to take part in?

ben profile image Ben Halpern ・1 min read

Let's say you can be plopped in any point in computer history and get to be pretty close to the action, what stands out as fascinating times to land in?


Editor guide

I am glad to have my peak time today. I started back in 81 as a kid, made it to the 90ies as a hobbyist, had a little pause till the early 2000 and came right back professionally to the birth of the modern web. The browser has become the gateway to the world. And with the rise of the browser as the relevant platform operating systems became less of a thing. I have a Mac in the living room. My workplace is linux powered. I have a Windows machine (somewhere at least). As long as it has a browser, I can watch videos, listen to music, surfing the web. Chitchatting etc.

I am able to sit at my laptop listen to music, switch to my phone listening in my WLAN. When leaving the house my mobile switches to LTE and I am able to listen without big interruptions on my bike on my way to work. We have intelligent IDEs, great tooling, nice languages.

The web is a great learning ressource. And last but not least, we have dev.to:]

What greater time could there be?


I feel the same! So many resources to learn from, and still so much to be solved. Plus...it’s more friendly for women in tech so that a huge plus for me.


The Y2K era! It would be fun to see devs expecting a worldwide crash on systems and laugh about it when nothing happened. lol


Y2K was fun: I got $1000 just to be on available in case something blew up (and would have gotten double-time had they actually had to call me). Nothing blew up and I got to pocket the $1000 for doing nothing other than staying sober.


The saying then should be "I'm not partying like it's 1999".

I actually worked that night out our California datacenter. Had arrived a few days early as part of a trip to use the first weeks of January to train staff on (OS-level) clustering technology. Knowing the $1000 was "in the mail" made it a fun trip.


You can see that again in roughly 19 years. The issue caused by the rollover of the 32-bit UNIX time era will however probably not be something that just gets laughed off afterwards. Unlike Y2K, much of the affected code is running in places that quite simply can't be updated even if people wanted to fix them.


Loads of people did work to make sure it was ok too.

But yes. One washing machine turned off.I have a sticker somewhere.


just to be clear on that one, it wasn't that nothing happened, it was that a ton of IT staff all over the world (including my dad) had a mad rush to patch critical systems to prevent the bug


Desktop apps era (before smart phones).

It was just so much easier to write/ship desktop apps.


I didn't know the Desktop Apps era was over (not being sarcastic & don't mean anything bad by that statement). The majority of my favorite tools are still well maintained regular programs. I understand there's a large world of new languages and apps out there, but I will not convert to them until they can be fully automated. I mean FULLY. Good thing I no longer make a living with computers (well, I do make a little, but not my main income) and only as a hobby now. And even on my Android devices I try to do as much as I can with scripts and a terminal.


Most apps now are either web or mobile.

If you wanna make a living from developing desktop apps, you can only do so by joining big companies that dominated the market long ago like Adobe, AutoDesk... etc.

operating systems, developer tools, web browsers... are still also desktop apps :D

Be honest with yourself and think: can you make money on those?

Most dev tools are free.

OSs and desktop apps who make money are owned by the big companies that I mentioned before.

As an indie developer, it's just much harder to make money building desktop apps these days.

Oh 100%. I did not think about making money on those.

Tho. There is still room for innovative desktop software. For example I can imagine software development tools (that add some value on top of just being cool text editor), will be huge thing in couple of years. They are right now commercial IDEs but they don't do much more. When AI gets in, it will be huge deal. But yes, not easy.

Anything where you need low latency and high (but not supercomputer-like) performance and/or work offline is still good for desktop. Tho it may also change (even tho, it will most likely be desktop apps streaming, like we can see with games already).


I'd love to go to that event as a time-traveller. To just sit in the back and watch, preferably with popcorn.


Look at those weird old dudes partying 🎉


Yes, you never had to worry about how things got displayed on different screen size too.

I remember the first Touch Screen application I wrote.
It had to run on this old school CRT display, super high tech at the time.
It was strange to make the buttons so big that you could touch them with your fingers!! [weirdness]


Different screen sizes... ughh!

I know right. Let's start a movement.

Every should use the same screen!



But much harder to fix bugs. You can't ship an update when your software is shrinkwrapped and sitting on a shelf at Circuit City.


Absolutely true... There was no dev ops thing on those days 😁


Early days of Apple. It'd be pretty cool to be a part of the rise of personal computers and to see all the people doubting Steve Jobs' vision knowing what the company is going to turn into down the line because of him.


I think being a fly on the wall while Woz was doing his best work would be something special.

I got a copy of the apple I schematics signed by wiz for my office. I’m pretty excited to get it up on the wall.


That was my first computer, woohoo!
I was six (no, six and a half) at the time!


I see.. You want to go back in time and buy Apple shares. 😁


It depends on the individual but the next. The very next era.

It's going to be the best, most crazy, most fun yet.

Broadband arrival was fun. SEO was fun. Win arrival too.

Stuff older than that was mostly not as cool as it now appears, polished for decades but there was no internet for most people (prior to 2000 ish), 99% didn't know what was going on. Downloading an MP3 was an achievement. Lots of rose colored glasses. It wasn't immersive for almost everyone.


Hold tight @peter & check my last tweet at Ben.

The signallers & fakes are about to experience a washout.

I strongly suggest you all start doing some provable, public good. Nobody wants a tarnished resume next. Talking about safe spaces & being great while this goes on around you is a bad look (or on wrong side).

How many lawyers read this?
Notice the named people in the title. This is a hint.

So 30m devs should learn how to be a better human, but avoid any serious problems in tech, is that a joke or gaslight?

If you think I came for the dev chat, badges or likes, you are not paying attention.

I only write stuff I can refer to later.


Can we carry our current knowledge of history back in time with us?

If so, then I would go back to 1998/99'ish, just before the dot-com craze: Invest every penny I have, accumulate great wealth, pull my money out before the industry crashes in 2000, and then retire young! :)


I'd have taken the position AOL offered rather than the one SGI offered (January of 1997 was a busy month). The employee stock options AOL was offering turned out to be worth so much more than either the salary-differential or "day to day job-interest" were.


I watched my grandmother work remotely in the early 80s. That wasn't thrilling. I watched my mom deploy images of windows back when it was still called ghosting. That was kinda cool to hear about.

I had a tiny computer as a kid and my friend had compuserve. Those were fun and safe.

Right now seems infinitely more exciting than all of that though.

I really believe we're treading through the digital marketing wild west right now.


It was only called "Ghosting" if you were using Symantec's "Ghost" utility to push your OS images out. There were several other options that people used. That was early days in Windows build-automation. UNIX systems had had a number of options for automated OS-deployments for a couple decades prior to that.

During that era, UNIX systems also had serial console access so you could be in a different timezone from the host you were imaging. Whereas you had to pay $400-$700 to add a third-party remote-console solution if you were stuck managing Windows servers (though, eventually HP/Compaq and Dell started offering RIBs and DRAC, respectively, on their server-systems). Was always so glad to be a Unix SA whenever a system needed to be provisioned or went belly up. Never had to huck down to a datacenter just "get on console" like my Windows Ops peers did.


I think Windows' servers started to be competitive since the releases of 2003.

They started to use automated tools to analyze the code and find antipatterns that use to trigger security flaws.

I guess they focused first in office and other apps, the most visible part the desktop, and the reason why people bought computers.


Thank you! I really wish I had paid closer attention when my mom was telling me things like that


Mid-80's into the 90's.
I'd love to have been a part of that era.
I envision a lot of "problems" were solved by using hardware/physical solutions or calculations that implicitly relied on these fundamentals.

It'd be cool to be part of the movement of trying to figure out what we could do with computers.


You haven't had real fun until you've waited several days for your system's OS to re-compile (for a new driver), only to boot up the freshly-built kernel and have the hardware flip you the bird because something wasn't quite right in that newly-compiled kernel.


:) I remember when I took the family desktop computer over to my friends house for a Windows OS upgrade. While we waited we played starcraft and we played many a games until it was done.

I can only imagine the frustration and elation of waiting multiple days for a recompile and it failing but then ultimately succeeding.

I would suppose in the early days of computer there were many victories like this and high fives all around.

While a lot of the earlier problems with respect to hardware and computing are now not a common concern, I feel a sense of nostalgia and a want of appreciation through experiencing the "fun".

I was born in the 80's and my family did not have resources to get a computer until the late 90's (which was used for our writing assignments in school) and I at times play this exact "what if" scenario of either being born earlier, or time traveling back with the resources I have now to just explore the computing world.



If we could take knowledge with us, then the mid 80's. I'd love to go about figuring out a way to convince Microsoft to favor Xenix over Windows long-term (modern knowledge that UNIX runs almost everything except desktops could probably go a long way towards achieving that).

Without modern knowledge, I'd rather go all the way back to the late 40's. Being able to be there (and ideally involved in) the birth of general purpose electronic computing would have been absolutely fascinating for me.


More likely, the'd have taken that knowledge to combat Linux far, far earlier and even more aggressively than they actually did.


I think the most exciting time was the early 1990s. I wish I took part in it, or at least was more a part of it, and had learned more things sooner.

This was when the Internet was a thing and the Web wasn't. When spam and advertising were virtually synonymous. Usenet was the most interesting thing online (although Archie and IRC and some other things were also interesting). Usenet had a holographic quality to it, in that there was a copy of it in thousands of /usr/spool/news directories. That made it very hard to fake message traffic and impossible to erase it. Add to that the fact that there was no entity that could be identified as the owner of Usenet itself, and you have something the world had never before seen. I had seen talk radio, amateur radio, even BBS systems, but Usenet had multi-continent reach, effectively zero censorship, effectively zero advertising, ran on free software. It was obviously government subsidized, the Internet itself having been a DARPA project, and the bulk of Usenet traffic coming from .edu domains, so I had grave doubts about the magic of the Internet being able to survive privatization. In hindsight, I can only say my doubts were not nearly grave enough.


The late 70s early 80s, the 'hobbyist' era, the birth of the personal computer (Apple, PC and a host of others) and its surrounding nascent software "industry", the early internet scene (Whole Earth 'lectronic link anyone?), the innovations coming out of XEROX PARC (ethernet, the mouse, windowed OS, etc.), BYTE magazine, the 1st golden age of gaming consoles, etc.

So much stuff happening back then.


Was there. It wasn't great. Token ring? AUI intefaces? Thick-net and vampire taps? Having to dick with gateway systems and encapsulation snafus because some systems spoke TCP, some spoke SNA, others spoke yet more protocols? Having to deal with SLIP connections? I would never go back to that. Ugh.

Only good part about that time was if you were a prankster. Security was pretty much non-existent.


Right now!! I am really thankful that I am a part of it today. Just such exciting times with frameworks and new ways of doing things everyday ❤️❤️


The upcoming one, where we have to fight for our lives against murderous AIs.

Remember, "may you live in interesting times" is considered a curse rather than as blessing.


I doubt we're there yet.


Its obviously the era when hacker culture was just starting to take off and Linux 1.0 was perhaps just released (circa 1991).

It was also the time when GNU and open source was starting to take off across the world, and firefox was also open sourced out of netscape around the same time. This was also the time described in the movie, Hackers. And a whole lot of other things like Java, mysql, PHP, Python, etc. were also born around this same time and Bill Gates was just on the brink of becoming a millionaire then! That time could probably be called the big bang of modern computing.


Early 90s PC video game scene. A lot of new and exciting things happened there. One example is the story of id software as documented in Masters of Doom. But there were also the likes of Lucas Arts, Origin, Bullfrog, etc.


I remember how incredible it was when doom first came out while I was in college. It seriously dented my GPA.


I don't think I would pick a different time, right now is pretty awesome and incredible already. We're on the edge of self-driving cars! And space travel! And hopefully sooner than later a lot of engineering and software work on building a "greener" planet! This is exciting stuff.


All that truly is exciting, but the knowledge that most if not all of those solutions will be proprietary makes me cry just a little.


I would say that every time was fascinating if you were on the edge. And therefore I think that today is most fascinating as the progress is on always going forward.

It is easier and cheaper to develop ideas to products than ever before, there is bigger user pool for any kind of software or computer system than ever before, and things that were few years ago thought impossible are now possible.

And that thanks to all the previous generations of engineers and developers that were fascinated by what the can do and how they can improve the tools they had back then and become what we have now.

So I think for me the most fascinating is to be part of continuous effort to improve things for future generations (of others and ourselves).


I think for me it would either be present or early 80s. I watch a lot of videos about early 80s computers, both software and hardware. It’s super fascinating how much engineering had to go into that to move it along so quickly.


The Era where Ben Freaking Halpern answers every comment with a GIF 🤘


Gif-driven dialog really is a computer era in and of itself.


I'm reading mythical man month right now and I think the 70s would be super cool. Lots of interesting stuff happened with systems engineering. It would be great to work at DEC or IBM figuring out how to make good software.


I'd love to go back to the computing of the 40s and 50s. As a female developer (and a young one at that), I would love to see the humble beginnings of the industry I love so much. It's the sort of thing you can only learn about through museums and pictures these days. Unlike how I came upon my first Atari, it's not the sort of tech you can pull out from under your dad's bed.
Plus, it was completely pivotal in the development of the computing industry. Not to mention the women that programmed them have all but been forgotten about. Jean Jennings Bartik; Grace Hopper. Feminist icons. I'd love to meet them all and just revel in their genius. Systems like ENIAC paved the way for modern coders and to see it face-to-face would personally make me feel the same way I did seeing the giant dinosaur skeleton in the foyer of the Natural History Museum.


1995 - 2002 was the good old time, everything was new and challenging. Also less spam and my favorite IRC lol :) I met ton of interesting people back then that would have been impossible to meet today. I started my journey as a video game publisher and later around 2000 did start one of the first mobile pocketpc / palmOS game publisher, those were exciting times!


My first experiences with computers was with the Apple ][+ so I almost got in on the ground floor. Still, I would have loved to have been in the Homebrew Computer Club back in the day when Woz introduced the Apple I.

Hackers by Steven Levy was an important book that I read as a kid, several times. Because I could relate.


I've lived through all of the personal computer eras. They each had their moments. But I would have loved to be there back in the punch-card, mainframe days when man was launching themselves to the moon on "computers" barely as powerful as a simple calculator.

Regarding Y2K, I made serious money during that period of time. We were contracting 80 hours a week (I was paid hourly) for a hospital system, getting mileage for driving 2 hours each way per day and getting per deim for meals (which I banked because I rarely ate out). My boss even bought me a new car (stick-shift Honda CRV). I was in my 20's, so working that kind of hours wasn't a big deal.

I didn't think the world was going to end because of Y2K, but hospitals had a liability concern and had no other choice than to address the potential issue. So I don't feel bad about the money I made off of them during those couple of years.


I'm loving it right now! It's never been easier to learn, build or publish amazing tech!


I'm happy in the range I was. I remember trying to do basic string manipulation with C and strings.h, and took the first lifeline out.


My mind jumps right to Mutiny from Halt and Catch Fire. I guess that would be mid-80s. Although I don't know how I would have fared with so little abstraction.


You got used to flipping dip-switches and having to juggle IRQs.


Anything to do with the Space race and getting to the moon.


That was my thought as well. They had so little in comparisons now and did amazing things with it!


Definitely when they built the Antikythera.


The mainframe era where you could still go to work and look like a professional.

IBM 360


I like this era a lot, the instant access to compute and storage is huge.


The lover-of-space in me would have loved to have been a part of NASA's first space exploration missions. The maths, physics involved is insane.

Btw, NASA is on Github 👀



I would call up Nokia and tell them that if you don't accept Android, you will fail miserably and your golden throne will be thrown away.

Anyway, they will ignore me for sure.


This one, technology is always getting better. The best time to be alive is objectively the present.


Probably the now era since it's the least racist time for the industry. But it's still pretty racist. PoC can't mess with time machines.


Also I'm fascinated by the idea of working with quantum computers so now is pretty good.


In the Svelte era :D


Personally it has to be the 2160s when they invented time travel. Classic


The dotcom crash area to invest and work in Google before it became big.


the one before the computers.