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Knowing how to program a computer is good for you, and it’s a shame more people don’t learn to do it.

For years now, that’s been a hugely popular stance.

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Once upon a time, knowing how to use a computer was virtually synonymous with knowing how to program one. Kurtz of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, BASIC was first successfully used to run programs on the school’s General Electric computer system 50 years ago this week–at 4 a.m. The two math professors deeply believed that computer literacy would be essential in the years to come, and designed the language–its name stood for “Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code”–to be as approachable as possible.

And the thing that made it possible was a programming language called BASIC. It worked: at first at Dartmouth, then at other schools.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, when home computers came along, BASIC did as much as anything else to make them useful.

Especially the multiple versions of the language produced by a small company named Microsoft.

That’s when I was introduced to the language; when I was in high school, I was more proficient in it than I was in written English, because it mattered more to me.