Coders at Work

I recently bought and read Coders at Work, a collection of interviews with past and present people of influence in the programming world. Very easy book to casually read. A few typographical problems, but I have fairly low expectations. Full of fascinating stories that really made me think about how far we’ve come in some areas and how little we’ve progressed in others. I recommend it if you’re into that sort of thing.

I found three quotations particularly poignant. I don’t have anything to add to them; make of them what you will.

Douglas Crockford:

My interest in programming is helping other people to do programming, designing a language or a programming tool specifically so that it’s more accessible to more people—the thing that got Smalltalk started. Smalltalk went in a different direction, but the initial direction was really attractive to me. How do we build a language specifically for children or how do we build a language specifically for people who don’t think of themselves as programmers?

Ken Thompson:

I think by necessity algorithms—new algorithms are just getting more complex over time. A new algorithm to do something is based on 50 other little algorithms. Back when I was a kid you were doing these little algorithms and they were fun. You could understand them without it being an accounting job where you divide it up into cases and this case is solved by this algorithm that you read about but you don’t really know and on and on. So it’s different. I really believe it’s different and most of it is because the whole thing is layered over time and we’re dealing with layers. It might be that I’m too much of a curmudgeon to understand layers.

Fran Allen:

Isaac Asimov made a statement about the future of computers—I don’t know whether it’s right or not—that what they’ll do is make every one of us much more creative. Computing would launch the age of creativity. One sees some of that happening—particularly in media. Kids are doing things they weren’t able to do before—make movies, create pictures. We tend to think of creativity as a special gift that a person has, just as being able to read and write were special gifts in the Dark Ages—things only a few people were able to do. I found the idea that computers are the enablers of creativity very inspiring.