Fifty Years of BASIC

I learnt Basic as a sixth former at technology college on a Teletype machine linked to the Open University. That skill helped me get a job on Practical Computing magazine and later writing for Your Computer.

Basic was a big deal in the early days of personal computers. Microcomputers had the language effectively hardwired in Roms so when the first disc-based PCs came along it was a natural choice.


Knowing how to program a computer is good for you, and it’s a shame more people don’t learn to do it.

For years now, that’s been a hugely popular stance. It’s led to educational initiatives as effortless sounding as the Hour of Code (offered by and as obviously ambitious as Code Year (spearheaded by Codecademy).

Even President Obama has chimed in. Last December, he issued a YouTube video in which he urged young people to take up programming, declaring that “learning these skills isn’t just important for your future, it’s important for our country’s future.”

I find the “everybody should learn to code” movement laudable. And yet it also leaves me wistful, even melancholy. Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one. And the thing that made it possible was a programming language called BASIC.

John KemenyJohn…

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