What we did Before StackOverflow

So StackOverflow the question and answer site for programmers went down yesterday and if what you read is to be believed all coding stopped. Of course that wasn’t the case but it did make me stop and think about what it was like before the internet.

As I have stated before I have been coding a very long time. Professionally since 1988 but I have been programming in one form or another since I was 11, i.e. long before either StackOverflow or the Internet was around. Just how did we cope back then?

While they aren’t too popular now, for pretty obvious reasons, back then printed manuals were essential. I remember both the IDMS and Cobol manuals sitting in A4 binders in the cupboard at IBM where I first worked. When I moved onto PowerBuilder I carefully guarded my set of manuals that had now got small enough to be sat on my desk. Overtime these became help files (CHM files in Microsoft’s case) which were always a frustratingly incomplete experience.

I quickly worked out that while the syntax may be different between languages the functions were always maybe just under a different name. So if you wanted to find a string within a string it would be there somewhere. Or you could work out how to construct what you needed from the functions that were provided.

But here’s the thing, we DID have StackOverflow then. It was called turning round and asking a colleague and it was really successful. There was always someone who had more knowledge or more skilled in the language you were working with and was willing to help. This interaction had two positives: you increased your knowledge and you learnt to communicate.

So don’t wait for the next time that StackOverflow goes down. Go now and speak to someone face to face about an issue. It will make you a better programmer and a better person.