If it wasn’t for him, we’d still be using toggle switches…


Okay, not quite, but John W. Backus, the developer of FORTRAN has died.


He brought us do loops, assignment statements, the much-debated goto, intrinsic data types, and started the software developer’s obsession with code formatting (1). FORTRAN is the root of the Computer language family tree, and he started it back in 1954.


He was also the inventor of the Backus-Naur notation.


1) For you younger pups out there, FORTRAN is a line-oriented language obsessed with column positioning. Columns 1-5 are used for numeric labels, column 6 is used to indicate continuation from the previous line, and columns 7-72 are used for statements. Columns higher than 72 are ignored.


Which led to many programmers – as they were called in those times – carrying around little rulers that you could put on top of a code printout – assuming you have a code printout and note a punched-card deck – to check that the columns were right.


Though I understand that they wimped out and relaxed these in later versions of the language.


I learned FORTRAN (my second, or perhaps third language) on a 300 baud modem connected to a DECWriter, back in the fall of 1979.


But you tell kids these days that, and they won’t believe you.

Comments (3)

  1. Luciano says:

    Me too in 1978, on an old mainframe HP with core memories!!!

  2. AlfredTh says:

    FORTRAN was my first language. I still have boxes of punched cards from college. None of those blazing fast 300 baud modems were available when I was first learning to program. 🙂 I can still write a good FORTRAN program in just about any language.

  3. Jake Good says:

    I wouldn’t be so sure… 97-99, Junior and Senior year of highschool… I used Fortran to write various little applications and simulations.

    That would put me in the "kids these days" category.

    🙂 Ohh… what about S360/390 ASM? Learned that too!

    Some of us new schoolers do pay tribute to the old languages and at least write some code…