I originally wrote this as an answer to a question on Quora.
In the “bad old days” the actual programming work wasn’t much different, just worse. Monitors were smaller and lower-resolution, chairs more uncomfortable, you had to spend a lot more time waiting for the computer to finish what it was doing, hardware was much more expensive, tools were barely capable, there weren’t pre-existing libraries for much of anything, open source wasn’t a thing, and there weren’t good marketplaces for selling what you created.
There was no internet, no StackOverflow, and no communities to go to for help. You did not have a Meetup group in your town where you could talk to other people working with similar technologies.
The one thing that was better in some ways is that fewer of the “interesting” problems had been solved yet, and many of the solutions and applications that were built were created by a single person with an itch to solve a particular problem.
Though sometimes I wish I could go back to a time where Java did not exist yet, programming really was awful in the old times. The same goes for the web. Sometimes it feels like it would be nice to go back to a time before it was hypercommercialized and mainstream – a time before the popup ad existed and before you couldn’t avoid being inundated with inane celebrity gossip on sites like Twitter and Facebook – but no. It was nearly useless back then.