Saturday, July 16, 2011

Books: Masterminds of Programming

I just finished reading Masterminds of Programming: Conversations with the Creators of Major Programming Languages
Masterminds of Programming features exclusive interviews with the creators of several historic and highly influential programming languages. In this unique collection, you'll learn about the processes that led to specific design decisions, including the goals they had in mind, the trade-offs they had to make, and how their experiences have left an impact on programming today.
In short, I really enjoyed it. Here's an extremely abbreviated and opinionated summary:

Adin D. Falkoff (APL) made programming as mathematical as possible.

Thomas E. Kurtz (BASIC) was generally a nice guy who wanted to bring programming to the masses.

Charles H. Moore (FORTH) frustrated the heck out of me. He stated that operating systems are the software industry's biggest con job. I disagree. Operating systems protect me to some degree from bad and malicious code. They also let me run multiple programs at the same time and allow me to keep running even when one of the programs crashes. He also said that a piece of code written in any other programming language will be 10 times as large (in number of lines of code) as the same code written in Forth. I'd like to see him try that trick with Python!

Robin Milner (ML) was completely fascinated with programming models and proving the correctness of code. That reminds me of the quote, "All models are wrong. Some models are useful."

Donald D. Chamberlin (SQL) showed me some of the history of SQL. I didn't know IBM research was such an interesting place.

Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan (AWK) were as good as I expected.

Charles Geschke and John Warnock (PostScript) talked about Adobe and the history of PostScript. I just don't like that Charles guy, and I don't like Adobe. However, they're smart guys.

Bjarne Stroustrup (C++) was as frustrating as I expected.

Bertrand Meyer (Eiffel) was really interesting. He wrote a book in French that has had a profound impact on French programmers. If he had translated that book into English, it's likely he'd be as famous as, say, Richard Stevens (the author of "UNIX Network Programming").

Brad Cox and Tom Love (Objective-C) showed me that Objective-C's goal was to enhance C in the smallest way possible to make it a bit more like Smalltalk.

Larry Wall (Perl) was awesome, as usual.

Simon Peyton Jones, Paul Hudak, Philip Wadler, and John Hughes (Haskell) were fascinating, as usual.

Guido van Rossum (Python) was practical and interesting, as usual.

Luiz Henrique de Figueiredo and Roberto Ierusalimschy (Lua) were okay. (I'm a Python guy, so it's a bit hard for me to get excited about Lua.)

James Gosling (Java) appears to suffer from premature optimization.

Grady Booch, Ivar Jacobson, and James Rumbaugh (UML) left me even less interested in learning UML.

Anders Hejlsberg (Turbo Pascal, Delphi, C#) was awesome. I knew I liked this guy from previous books, but this interview made me like him even more.

Overall, I think this book was a bit drier than, say, Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of Programming, so you should read that one first. However, if you're a guy like me who loves programming languages, this book is a must read.


Shrutarshi Basu said...

I absolutely loved Coders at Work. The masters interviewed by Peter Siebel is truly one of the cultural treasures of the hacker world. I think I'm going to sit down and read this too since I'm very interested in programming languages.

darin said...

"Bjarne Stroustrup (C++) was as frustrating as I expected."