Hidden Cloud Advice in “Hidden Figures”
Then: Human to IBM 7090. Now: On prem data center to Cloud
I love the movie, “Hidden Figures”. Starting with a heroine who is herself a “computer” to the historical education on gender and race discrimination right here in Virginia early in our space program; the hidden computer science history in a local context is as dear to my heart as the characters’ stories. This was a movie I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated along with the entire family. I highly suggest watching this movie with your family, friends and colleagues and expose more people to critical technology evolution history that has been overlooked.
One of the things we teach in our Computer Science curriculum at Tech Em is how the term computer was used for human calculators. So, to see this played out on the large screen while also clearly showing one of the first instances of job deprication due to advancing technology is exciting. And, it is not just entertaining historically based storytelling, but a wake-up call to all — to excel in technology is not always about traditional background and education, but more about openness, acceptance, and the passion to keep learning and applying knowledge using the emerging tools.
A measure of these women’s brilliance is that they accepted where technology was going and took action, immediately arming themselves with knowledge about the new systems and how to program them. Okay, my kids didn’t really get why my wife and I were laughing when Dorothy gets a FORTRAN programming book from the library:
FORTRAN, Language of the Future
Dorothy Vaughan went on to become one of the leading FORTRAN programmers in the world.
Many of us in the IT field know — that along with the advancement of hardware/network capabilities, we see cycles of the similar patterns applied within the context of the new capabilities to take advantage of the improved hardware/network performance. These cyclical patterns take the form of newer languages, frameworks, programming paradigms, and more recently black boxing of large-scale services (IaaS and PaaS) on which to run systems. However, are we thinking about today’s analogy for the IBM 7090 that was featured in the film? It is clearly cloud computing. And while cloud is definitely the opposite of huge pieces of machinery (that won’t even fit through the door), the potential impact is much farther along the exponential curve of computing advancement. The current major advancement, cloud computing, is closer than your place of employment in a room that requires approved physical access; it is right here on your web browser in the form of AWS, MS Azure, and Google Cloud Platform consoles! Take a cue from history and learn how to leverage and evangelize the cloud just as Dorothy Vaughan taught herself FORTRAN and shared that knowledge with her colleagues.
I have certainly become a cloud advocate and highly encourage everyone to explore the capabilities — especially around serverless. Seek out cloud training and certifications to ensure you are armed for the future just as these women did. What’s more compelling is that you don’t need to be a part of a large organization to implement an application or service that is immediately available and scalable to all. I truly look forward to hearing about the “hidden figures” of this cloud generation — in fact, they may not be hidden at all, but immediately visible to all through their novel application of these services that enable immediate scale.
One can imagine that in 50 or 60 years, using the term computer to refer to some physical machine will seem as silly as the term computer referring to a human. We are already thinking more of the computing act as a service and not a thing — as in cloud computing. Programmers will likely become AI agents in the cloud that will perfect your overall solution with self-verifying software. So, take a cue from the movie and take the first step: teach yourself cloud computing [infrastructure as code]: Language of the future.