Then and now: How learning computer programming changed from the 1990s

computer in India

Last Updated on December 17, 2023 by Splendid Digital Solutions

During the early 1990s, there was a spurt of private educational houses in cities in India providing computer training. Computer use was increasing and its future (IT History) rightly looked promising. Access to the computer was mainly limited to offices. Trainees used to pay a premium for learning something which they learn by themselves in home/school these days.

A typical beginner’s computer course in 1993 before mouse-based Windows’ advent would include familiarity with DOS commands, followed by Wordstar (word processor), Lotus 1-2-3 (spreadsheet) and dBase (database management system). This free course by Udacity Shell Workshop demonstrates how DOS training still relevant at a time when most users opt for GUI interface.

niit ads 1990s

By 1997, Microsoft Windows with its mouse based office applications made keyboard-based Wordstar, Lotus 1-2-3, and to some extent dBase obsolete. A full-fledged computer course from then famed NIIT would start with training in MS Word, (word processor), Excel (spreadsheet), PowerPoint (presentation software), and Access (database management system), which surprisingly stands the test of time and conceptually nothing changed here despite continuous upgrades making them compatible to work in World Wide Web and across devices including smartphones. In the second semester, Sybase was their choice of RDBMS followed by C++ for programming language.

With limited study materials in hand and the high cost of books, learning software programming was a privilege. Some of the training institutions were excellent, but the time allocated could be as low as five hours a week in a batch of around 20 candidates. Within nine months, you were expected to use the mouse for the first time to write C++ codes for a project.

Add to it the fact that the computer was not available in most homes. Candidates used to feel lucky if they could use the computer in the so-called drome (patented term by NIIT for a pool of computers assembled for candidates so that they could practice). This is in sharp contrast to today’s easily accessible IDEs (Integrated Development Environment) on desktops/laptops, free tutorials, and free online forums like Stack Exchange, Reddit, and Quora.

An interesting model of today’s free online learning is CS50x Introduction to Computer Science by HarvardX (dare to say rigorous) which one can pursue totally free and if so desired get a verified certificate after paying a fee. From one angle, learning is also liberated from brands aggressive in making bucks by investing single-handedly in marketing.

Many young aspirants, however, are still caught in a trap with like of promises of 100% job assistance while pursuing a degree/diploma in IT. Until and unless one is looking for a government service where the academic degree is a must (which too changing in case of a new trend of contractual jobs under which hiring performance-based and HR given flexibility), why not consider learning mediums like HackerRank which is a skills-based tech hiring platform that helps companies evaluate technical skills better. They claim they are driving a new paradigm shift by eliminating resumes and creating opportunities for hundreds of thousands of programmers worldwide.

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