But then things started to change. In 2009 Ryan Dahl presented Node.js.
In 2013 a company called Technical Machine released the Tessel.
So what does this mean?
As someone with a classical embedded systems (what Internet-of-Things devices used to be called) engineering degree behind me I'm used to thinking about hardware and software in completely different terms. If I write a software application that is supposed to run on a laptop I'm fully aware that I'm not really constrained by a lot of things. There's plenty of computing power and I don't really need to care that much about battery life unless my application is really supposed to be used when the user is on the go.
But if I'm writing software that is supposed to run on a device that is battery powered and for that reason has a slower processor, the effectiveness of my code suddenly becomes a big factor. Now if that device also has actuators I need to be very careful about my battery budget and I probably need to write driver for driving the actuator.
But today, battery power and computing power will continue to scale so to write code for Internet-of-Things devices will not be as important as it once was. There's simply more resources available now compared to then so writing effective code for many Internet-of-Things applications may not be as necessary as it once was. And let's face it the Tessel comes with 14 different general purpose actuators out of the box for which I don't need to write my own driver.
NASAs Mars Exploration Rover vs. The Tessel
Let's compare NASAs famed Mars Exploration Rover mission from 2003 to a Tessel.
The rover brain was a RAD6000
It features a 20MHz PowerPC based processor with 128MB DRAM burning between 5-20W depending on what it is doing. It is radiation hardened obviously (since it needs to go to space) and weighs 1Kg.
The Tessel on the other hand sports a 180MHz ARM Cortex M3-based processor featuring 32MB SD RAM, it has WIFI and definitely does not weigh 1Kg. Pound for pound the Tessel is kicking the RAD6000s ass. (But I'm actually a little suprised to see the Tessel not kicking the RAD6000s ass even more).
The Raspberry Pi is even more powerful as it comes in with a 700MHz ARM core sporting upto 512MB RAM.
The need for speed and power
So is there still a need to write effective code?
Probably yes. Yes the technologies are scaling in our favour which allows us to get more performance pr. line of code. But we also want to do more and more stuff.
Compared to writing embedded software in e.g. C - you can't do very low level ressource management even though Node gives you much lower level access than say, Rails.
We'll see where this goes. My Tessel is waiting at the post office :)