Signs That You’re Coding in the 1990s

If you say “yes” to any of these, you’re probably programming in the late twentieth century

Matthew MacDonald
Jan 25 · 4 min read
Welcome to your workstation, circa 1998 [flickr, CC]

Welcome to a very special time. It’s 1999, and if we can survive the Y2K bug there’s a rosy world of development ahead of us. The web is a neat place with lots of links and spinning globe icons. All your development tools come on CDs. And most hackers are happy just getting free long-distance phone calls.

So spin up those CD drives, dial up that internet, and stare into the warm and comforting glow of a CRT monitor (NEC MultiSync 19" — state of the art!) How will you know that you’re in the right place? Here are some signs that tell you that you’re coding in the late 90s:

  • Free software means shareware, not open source.
  • You have a binder full of MSDN CDs (including a dozen different client and server versions of Windows).
So shapely. [flickr, CC]
  • The only time you see a Mac is when you go to the graphic designer’s cubicle.
A programmer’s bookshelf [flickr, CC]
  • You have a stack of books, because that’s where the answers are. If you want to make sure your colleagues know how smart you are, you get the red books with the yearbook covers, or the white ones with the animal covers.
Like 69 floppy disks! [WikiCommons]
  • Need to work at home? I hope you have an Iomega Zip drive. 100 MB, baby!

The late 1990s were interesting times. We wrote twice the code to do half as much. We had to install programs before we could use them. We updated websites by FTPing everything over in a massive overwrite-everything copy operation (“We’ll do it live!”). Programming was sometimes primitive, usually frustrating, and always fun. And in another 20 years, when we take a brief pause from tweaking our AI-powered software generation toolkits to peer into the past, the coding of today will seem just as old-fashioned.


Partly inspired by Sedat Kapanoglu’s excellent list of programming changes; check it out! And for a once-a-month email with our best tech stories, subscribe to the Young Coder newsletter.

Young Coder

Hack. Code. Think. Stories about science, tech, and programming.

Matthew MacDonald

Written by

Teacher, coder, long-ago Microsoft MVP. Author of heavy books. Join Young Coder for a creative take on science and technology. Queries: matthew@prosetech.com

Young Coder

Hack. Code. Think. Stories about science, tech, and programming.

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