Systems programmers help people

Way back in the 1970s, I attended a banquet at RIT, for incoming or prospective students. My assigned seat placed me next to another intended Computer Science major.

I had cut my teeth in high school on some Basic programming (on a Xerox Sigma mainframe and a Wang 2200B), then self-taught myself APL and IBM/360 assembly language (paying for access at UR to an APL terminal, and editing object decks on the keypunch to save money while debugging assembly language programs).

My dinnermate at the banquet had had no such experience. So in choosing her major and concentration, she had to depend on the layman’s descriptions she heard during a college visit. You see, application programmers write programs that actually do things. Meanwhile, system programmers work on the operating system.

What’s an operating system? Well, it doesn’t do anything itself, it’s just there to help people write application programs.

Why did she choose Computer Science with a system programming concentration? “I like to help people.”

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