May 30, 2019
 in 
Tech

Travel Back in Time to 1995 to Understand 2019

I

n this article we explore a language we should all be familiar with. If you have no background in computer science, please read on, this is for you.

The language is called Javascript, and it is a programming language that not only creates jobs in the Software sector, but also powers most of the services you use. It is used by 95.2% of all the websites. If it was a language such as English, it would be used by more than 4 billion people.

At Interlink, we believe that people in non-technical jobs should be familiar with the programming technologies that define global success in our sector.

In this dive into new concepts, let us travel back in time to explain why this matters.

Set your time travel machinery to 1995. It was a special kind of year. If you were alive during that time, how do you remember it?

I was 10 years old, and my main memory is connected to Football.

Way before I was interested in the football style of FC Barcelona, I was in love with the way Ajax was playing. I had bought their jersey that year, with #10 Litmanen imprinted on the back, and I watched as the team set a record 52 matches undefeated in the Eredivisie, the league at the highest level of football in the Netherlands.

That same year they won the Champions League by defeating AC Milan 1-0 on May 24th, 1995. It was a spectacular achievement made possible by the amazing goalkeeping of Van Der Sar, and just like Javascript's dynamic nature, the classic Ajax passing/positioning style that leads to the goal.

If you like football, these names will bring about special memories.

Musically, 1995 saw established icons such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi releasing new albums, yet the #1 Billboard single that year was from Coolio with the song Gangsta's Paradise.

It was a mainstream moment for Hip Hop and a confirmation that technology made it possible to have new entrants with different skills.

As Bon Jovi puts it in the title-track from 1995's These Days, it seemed like a new era that was hard to grasp:

These days, are fast, nothing lasts in this graceless age
There ain't nobody left but us these days
No one wants to be themselves these days
Still there's nothing to hold on to but these days
These days, the stars seem out of reach
These days, there ain't a ladder on these streets.
Did Bon Jovi predict the advent of social media with the line "no one wants to be themselves these days"? :)
But while these technological changes could make things seem unstable, confusing or hard to imagine with the conceptual order of the past, there was great potential for improvement.

On March 26, 1995, thanks to the use of technology in speed detection and visual surveillance of vehicles to replace cumbersome passport controls in country borders in Europe, the Schengen Agreement went into effect to ease cross-border travel.

At different airports from the "Schengen Group", computerized records were used to check the identities of passing travellers. As we see in this article from the New York Times from 1995, Britain was already not on board with the idea, 21 years before the Brexit referendum.

The world was opening up, reducing barriers of access, and Europe was consolidating its union before thinking of a common currency. Source: NYTimes.

Also in 1995, I tried the World Wide Web for the first time, less than a year before Interlink was created. It was an experience that revolved largely around search engines and static pages.

When Interlink was created, the explanation angle for what the Web did for you was similar to the experience you would have by going to a library.

That same year, thanks to an unstable operating system that was very easy to install on accessible hardware (Windows 95), a lot of people "went online" using Dial-Up connections and Netscape to browse the Web.

Terms like "browsing" or "surfing" became associated to accessing content through the Internet.

The N symbol at the top-right corner would animate when loading a website, and there was a comet that would go past it, making it look very cool for the time.

So in 1995 the feeling was one of openness and new opportunities, especially in the next two years, as I tried to bridge this divide between accessing information and being able to publish it.

Precisely for creating dynamic content for the Web, there was also something that happened in 1995 that would forever change my life, and the lives of many people around the world. It was the creation of Javascript.

Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, hired a developer and tasked him with providing a way to let people create and access dynamic content on the browser.

At the time, the option was to have either static content with limited features, or a complex Java applet that put a strain on your connection, but the idea was to have a natural scripting language that was built-in. Something that was low friction, or seamless for the user.

During that same month that Ajax won the Champions League, that developer at Netscape spent 10 days making a prototype of what would become JavaScript in December 1995.

Why is this important?

Because to borrow from 1995's Bon Jovi, these days, the stars seem out of reach.

We have seen tremendous growth at a global scale thanks to dynamic content on the Web, but these days, as Javascript moves from the browser to the server, it gets hard to distinguish the good from the bad.

The mainstream developments that get the biggest investments (think about all the social media services that get all the consumer-based attention) are often famous for all the wrong reasons, while engineering remains a mystery or an afterthought for consumers, and the spirit of 1995's openness lives only in Open Source projects.

Ajax is not what it used to be, and their playing style lives on in FC Barcelona, but they both took a difficult Semi-Final elimination in 2019's Champions League.

The European Union also seems at a crossroads, with many people wanting out, and some even calling for the end of the Schengen Area.

The New Yorker magazine cover, after the 2016 referendum of the United Kingdom, which resulted in a 51.9% of the votes leaning to leave the European Union. Later we'd find out most people did not know what that could mean for them.

But does that mean that all is bad? No, I like to believe that it is a matter of going back a step or two, only to then go forward.

In that way, 2019 sees the problem that Netscape had in 1995: It is about giving developers and users a great, simple way to create/access awesome experiences online.

Except this time the challenge lies in the backend of the services and websites we use. There are many moving parts, and there are many ways to get closer to the potential and excitement that this generates.

In this case, imagine Javascript as a language that is used so much, we are seeing a whole new batch of words being introduced to define a lot of new things.

It is likely that these new concepts will become commonplace to you if you work let's say, in sales, as most jobs become now intertwined with these technologies. Making that new website section to highlight something about your product, or rolling out that new feature you need, could well depend on a Javascript component or library.

The 2019 Amsterdam JSNation conference will gather JS pros at Zuiderkerk, a stunning former church located directly in Amsterdam’s city center where Rembrandt painted his famous work The Night Watch.

So this is where we are, plenty of things to work with, a whole new set of opportunities on the horizon. This is why it is the perfect time to go to JSNation, an event about Javascript-related technologies taking place in Amsterdam from June 5th to the 7th.

We will be there and hope to start participating each year, since the event is focused on the community behind Javascript, and carries interesting speakers that are relevant to the tools of today and tomorrow. Watch this space for more.

-Mariano Malisani.