Taking pride in being the author of legacy software

For the early part of my career as a computer nerd, “legacy software” was something to be deprecated and rewritten by me and my heroic colleagues. Increasingly, however, I am encountering people for whom software that I wrote back in 1995 is the “legacy system”. On a summer beach picnic with Greta, I randomly talked to an online course developer at the Berklee School of Music, for example, who said that the school had used the .LRN system for about 10 years and it had “served us well” but had recently migrated to something new. As I was the reviewer of the SQL data model and page flow for this module of the ArsDigita Community System (described in this book chapter), I felt a surge of pride at the fact that it had worked so well for so long. I felt even better hearing that Zipcar was still relying on the ArsDigita Community System, despite having hired programmers and attempting to write something newer and fancier. It probably is a character flaw that it makes me feel good to hear that a group of new programmers with much better tools and much more money and time have thus far utterly failed to get to where Eve, Jin, Tracy, Aure, and I got back in 1995-1999… (we had four years, of course, which is a long time, but we and the folks who joined us built about 200 different applications during those four years)

Perhaps the way to make a COBOL programmer feel good on her deathbed is to find some customers who have never been able to migrate off the mainframe…


  1. David Lloyd-Jones

    October 20, 2012 @ 9:55 am



    After I’d built the first few dozen coin laundries in Japan, and after I started making a profit at it in about the third year, I would walk down the streets, mostly looking for sites, but also going Hello birds, hello trees, hello school that I helped pay for. I shared exactly the sot of pride you so deservedly have in your good work.

    Then in year four they audited me. For three days two guys came into my house and went through every piece of paper, and every machine, tool, or other asset they could find, that I had. At the end of it they (Am I imagining it, grumpily?) said “Mr. Lloyd-Jones, you are an honest man.” And as a sort of tip they gave me some tax hints that were the equivalent of handing me $14,000 on the spot.

    Nevertheless, it hut: I never looked at a public facility I’d helped pay for with quite the same fresh pleasure I’d always had before the audit.


  2. DE

    October 21, 2012 @ 5:44 pm


    Fifteen years old barely qualifies as legacy.

    I’m chasing an MIT inspired system that first breathed life in the early 1970s from a Sloan PhD. It’s still running at Fortune 10 financial services firms.

    Written in PL/1.

    BTW… there are now 250 “major” software languages, 1,500 “minor” languages & a new language is introduced at the rate of one per month.

  3. Paul Houle

    October 23, 2012 @ 10:24 am


    A friend of mine recently retired from a career with Unisys; he’s done well enough that he can still afford to keep a house in Hawaii and Upstate NY.

    His last big project was developing a new printer interface for whatever it is that the System 360 has become.

    The stock printer interface from IBM wasn’t fast enough to handle the large volume of paperwork that comes out of Albany, so he developed a new printer interface just for the state of New York and wrote device drivers for it in Macro Assembly.

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