Voyager 2

NASA is Hiring If You Know A 60-Year-Old Programming Language

You should always be looking to add new skills during your career, that’s a given. But what about old skills? And I mean really old skills. Like a 60-year-old programming language. Because that’s what could get you a job at NASA.

The last original engineer on the Voyager project, Larry Zottarelli, is retiring and a replacement needs to be found. He’s 80, so he deserves the rest. The catch is that Voyager 1 and 2 are carrying NASA’s very first on-board computers. The programming languages most people are familiar with today are nowhere to be seen. Instead, Cobol, FORTRAN and Algol are the order of the day.

Voyager 2

These are the assembly languages that were used in the early days of computing. State-of-the-art at the time Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977, the languages have since fallen by the wayside.

Suzanne Dodd, program manager for Voyager, isn’t expecting 20-something coders to hunt down a FORTRAN guide and add it to their repertoire, though. She thinks it’s more likely that she’ll find someone in their 50s with a basis in assembly languages.

“Although some people can program an assembly language and understand the intricacy of the spacecraft, most younger people can’t or really don’t want to,​” said Dodd.

An image of Jupiter taken by Voyager

The Voyager craft still have enough power to keep running for another ten years but one of the tasks facing whoever gets the job will be to try and increase that lifespan by examining power usage and shutting down unnecessary systems.

The moral of this story is that you never know what skill(s) may land you your next job. So you should not only add to what you know but also make sure you don’t forget things learned earlier in your career. This is a pretty extreme example but, on a very feasible level, if you switch from a PR role to a marketing one, or from frontend to backend development, you never know when those old skills might come in handy.


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6 thoughts on “NASA is Hiring If You Know A 60-Year-Old Programming Language”

  1. I wonder if they’ve considered a team; one programmer in their fifties and a younger programmer (in their 30’s perhaps?) to handle the more energetic programming that a fifty-year-old would consider out of their realm?

    1. What the hell is “energetic programming”? Programming while consuming Redbull?

      They’re looking for a FORTRAN developer. If you don’t know FORTRAN you shouldn’t apply for the job. If you don’t have the energy required to develop FORTRAN you shouldn’t apply either, be it you are 30 or 50 years old.

      1. Why is there such bile in your comment? I am only making a suggestion.
        You don’t think there are different levels of energy required in planning, implementing, and writing algorithms? What about the differences in the approach of a fifty year old programmer as compared to a 30 year old programmer?
        Considering that it’s NASA, I am skeptical that a ‘red bull’ approach to programming would be encouraged. Most of the energy required would be spent dealing with a heavy bureaucracy.
        Hopefully you are not further frustrated by my comments, if I have caused some offence I apologize.

  2. I am 62. I learned to program FORTRAN when you developed your code on punched cards and fed them into a card reader. I later learned assembler, C and C++. But I realized that at the age of about 50, that I did not know beans about programming. That is when I learned functional programming (HASKELL). I got energetic then.

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