I knew a man, once. His name is Bill. He’s Air Force, retired.
In the 1960s, he was a part of the ARPANET project, and in the late eighties, he realized that he was one of the men who helped create the Internet. And he told me a story:
When he became a Computer Programmer, he and about fifty other guys were in this enormous indoor office… everyone had his own desk. Cubicles haven’t been invented yet. And he seldom touched a computer – that was for the “keypunch” people, the “data entry” folks, who worked in rooms with refrigerator sized databanks, and tape reels the size of dinner plates, like in the old movies. He and the forty-nine other “Programmers” had a yellow legal pad and a can of pencils, and these were the only tools they needed.
Bill would sit at his desk, and think, and doodle equations on his pad. Eventually, a line of code would come to him, and he’d write it down. He’d look at it, work it out in his head, and perhaps erase it and try something else that looked like it would work better. Eventually, the line of code would be done to his satisfaction, and he’d lean back, and look at the ceiling, and think of the next line of code. And then repeat the process described in this paragraph. He would do this two or three times, every ten minutes or so. Once in a blue moon, someone would get up, take a pencil to the pencil sharpener, and return to his desk.
Fifty guys, in a room, doing this, all day long. At the end of the day, they’d hand all their scribblings over to the Keypunch people, who would actually enter the code into the computers. They’d get it back a day or two later if it didn’t work, and they were expected to correct it. If it worked, they’d take on new projects… for which they had to think up and write new code.
At the front of the room was the duty officer. He was the officer in charge. He sat at his own desk, and supervised the Programmers. While the programmers sat at their desks… and doodled on legal pads… and stopped to think… and stared at the ceiling … and chewed on their pencils… and doodled some more… and stopped and thought… and doodled some more…
One day at lunch, the duty officer finally snapped. “I’m going to request a new assignment,” he said. “I’m about to go crazy, doing nothing but watching you guys sit and doodle on your legal pads all day. And what’s worse, I CAN’T TELL IF YOU’RE GOLDBRICKIN’, OR NOT!”