Your assumptions may outlive you

Walt Mankowski had a great article on last week called “Don’t hate COBOL until you’ve tried it“. In this article, he shares the story of a bug. Because columns are special in some versions of COBOL, his code didn’t behave the way he expected.

The lesson I took away from this is: be careful about the assumptions that you make because they might bite someone decades later.

This isn’t a knock on Grace Hopper. At the time COBOL was invented, 80-line punch cards had been in use for over a century. It made sense at the time to treat that as a given. But here’s the thing about the 20th century: not only did technology change, but the rate of change increased. The punch cards that had survived over 100 years were well on their way to obsolescence 10 years later.

The future is hard. You can’t fault pioneers for not seeing how people would use computers decades later. But it turns out that this assumption was not future-proof.

Maybe that’s the better lesson: if you make something well, your assumptions will out live you.

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