By Joshua

First Software Engineer, Margaret Hamilton, NASA


The First Software Engineer | My Discovery

Imagine a world devoid of modern Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) without hints, code completion, or AI assistance.

This was the reality for computer scientists in the 1960s, a time I often reflect on with awe. Among these pioneers was an exceptional figure, Margaret Hamilton, a mathematician and computer scientist whose work has always inspired me.

My Journey into Coding the Flight Software

I was fascinated when I learned about Margaret Hamilton's role at MIT's Instrumentation Lab. She and her team were tasked with developing the flight software for NASA's Apollo mission, which was crucial in landing Apollo 11 on the moon.

They employed 'rope memory' – a method of storing software using woven rings of wire, essentially hardwiring code into the system. This technique, to me, symbolizes the ingenuity of early software engineering.

The Skillset of Early Software Engineers: A Personal Reflection

As I delved deeper into the history, I realized that software engineers of that era wrote stacks of handwritten code.

They had to think critically about every aspect of their code and foresee potential issues, all while meticulously creating solutions by hand.

This level of engagement with the code, which connected engineers to their work, seems almost esoteric compared to today's fast-paced coding environment.


Solving Coding Problems: My Experience with the Handwritten Approach

I've learned that while no one today should code an entire application by hand, the practice serves a different purpose.

Whenever I'm stuck on a coding issue, I follow their lead: I pick up a pen and paper. By manually writing out my code, I engage different cognitive processes. Often, I find less apparent solutions when just typing away on a keyboard.

When I write code by hand, my focus shifts from syntax to working on the logic and generating ideas.

Writing on a whiteboard or piece of paper has become a mechanism for me to solve problems and a creative outlet for exploring ideas, especially when coding with others.

Hand Coding: A Tool for Interview Preparation

Another significant benefit I've discovered is that hand coding helps me think under stress.

Writing by hand has been invaluable when preparing for interviews where I need to pseudo-code solutions. It helps me remember and perform better during coding interviews.

Reflecting on Today's Coding Landscape

In our world of advanced coding tools and resources, I often find myself in awe of what Margaret Hamilton and her team accomplished with the limited technology of their time.

While less prevalent than in the Apollo era, coding by hand definitely holds a special place in the modern software engineer's toolkit.

So, if you ever need help understanding a concept or have trouble tackling a problem.

Try to write it out on a whiteboard or paper, and even better, try to brainstorm with one of your colleagues.

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