From email@example.com Thu Jul 12 20:56:41 1990
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Maarten Litmaath)
Subject: Re: REAL PROGRAMMERS
Date: 12 Jul 90 18:56:41 GMT
Reply-To: email@example.com (Maarten Litmaath)
Organization: VU Dept. of Computer Science, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Posted: Thu Jul 12 19:56:41 1990
- Real programmers don't write specs -- Users should consider
themselves lucky to get any programs at all and take what they
- Real programmers don't comment their code. If it was hard to
write, it should be hard to read.
- Real programmers don't write application programs, they program
right down on the bare metal. Application programming is for
feebs who can't do systems programming.
- Real programmers don't eat quiche. They eat twinkies, and szechevan
- Real programmers programs never work right the first time.
But if you throw them on the machine they can be patched into
working in only a few 30-hours debugging sessions.
- Real programmers don't write in Fortran. Fortran is for pipe
stress freaks and crystallography weenies.
- Real programmers never work 9 to 5. If any real programmers
are around at 9 am, it's because they were up all night.
- Real programmers don't write in BASIC. Actually, no programmers
write in BASIC, after the age of 12.
- Real programmers don't document. Documentation is for simps
who can't read the listings or the object deck.
- Real programmers don't write in Pascal, or Bliss, or Ada, or
any of those pinko computer science languages. Strong typing
is for people with weak memories.
- Real programmers know better than the users what they need.
- Real programmers think structured programming is a communist
- Real programmers don't use schedules. Schedules are for manager's
toadies. Real programmers like to keep their manager in suspense.
- Real programmers think better when playing adventure.
"Real Programmers Don't Use PASCAL"
Ed Post, "Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal",
DATAMATION, July 1983, pp. 263-265 (Readers'Forum).
Back in the good old days -- the "Golden Era" of computers,
it was easy to separate the men from the boys (sometimes called
"Real Men" and "Quiche Eaters" in the literature).
During this period, the Real Men were the ones that understood
computer programming, and the Quiche Eaters were the ones that
didn't. A real computer programmer said things like "DO
10 I=1,10" and "ABEND" (they actually talked in
capital letters, you understand), and the rest of the world said
things like "computers are too complicated for me"
and "I can't relate to computers -- they're so impersonal".
(A previous work  points out that Real Men don't relate"
to anything, and aren't afraid of being impersonal.)
But, as usual, times change. We are faced today with a world
in which little old ladies can get computers in their microwave
ovens, 12-year-old kids can blow Real Men out of the water playing
Asteroids and Pac-Man, and anyone can buy and even understand
their very own personal Computer. The Real Programmer is in danger
of becoming extinct, of being replaced by high-school students
There is a clear need to point out the differences between the
typical high-school junior Pac-Man player and a Real Programmer.
If this difference is made clear, it will give these kids something
to aspire to -- a role model, a Father Figure. It will also help
explain to the employers of Real Programmers why it would be
a mistake to replace the Real Programmers on their staff with
12-year-old Pac-Man players (at a considerable salary savings).
The easiest way to tell a Real Programmer from the crowd is by
the programming language he (or she) uses. Real Programmers use
FORTRAN. Quiche Eaters use PASCAL. Nicklaus
Wirth, the designer of PASCAL, gave a talk once at which he was
asked "How do you pronounce your name?". He replied,
"You can either call me by name, pronouncing it 'Veert',
or call me by value, 'Worth'." One can tell immediately
from this comment that Nicklaus Wirth is a Quiche Eater. The
only parameter passing mechanism endorsed by Real Programmers
is call-by-value-return, as implemented in the IBM\370 FORTRAN-G
and H compilers.
* Real programmers don't need all
these abstract concepts to get their jobs done -- they are perfectly
happy with a keypunch, a FORTRAN IV compiler, and a beer.
* Real Programmers do List Processing in FORTRAN.
* Real Programmers do String Manipulation in FORTRAN.
* Real Programmers do Accounting (if they do it at all) in FORTRAN.
* Real Programmers do Artificial Intelligence programs in FORTRAN.
If you can't do it in FORTRAN, do it
in assembly language. If you can't do it in assembly language,
it isn't worth doing.
The academics in computer science have gotten into the "structured
programming" rut over the past several years. They claim
that programs are more easily understood if the programmer uses
some special language constructs and techniques. They don't all
agree on exactly which constructs, of course, and the examples
they use to show their particular point of view invariably fit
on a single page of some obscure journal or another -- clearly
not enough of an example to convince anyone. When I got out of
school, I thought I was the best programmer in the world. I could
write an unbeatable tic-tac-toe program, use five different computer
languages, and create 1000-line programs that WORKED. (Really!)
Then I got out into the Real World. My first task in the Real
World was to read and understand a 200,000-line FORTRAN program,
then speed it up by a factor of two. Any Real Programmer will
tell you that all the Structured Coding in the world won't help
you solve a problem like that -- it takes actual
Some quick observations on Real Programmers and Structured
* Real Programmers aren't afraid to use GOTO's.
* Real Programmers can write five-page-long DO loops without
* Real Programmers like Arithmetic IF statements -- they make
the code more interesting.
* Real Programmers write self-modifying code, especially if they
can save 20 nanoseconds in the middle of a tight loop.
* Real Programmers don't need comments -- the code is obvious.
* Since FORTRAN doesn't have a structured IF, REPEAT ... UNTIL,
or CASE statement, Real Programmers don't have to worry about
not using them. Besides, they can be simulated when necessary
using assigned GOTO's.
Data Structures have also gotten a lot of press lately. Abstract
Data Types, Structures, Pointers, Lists, and Strings have become
popular in certain circles. Wirth (the above-mentioned Quiche
Eater) actually wrote an entire book  contending that you
could write a program based on data structures, instead of the
other way around. As all Real Programmers know, the only useful
data structure is the Array. Strings, lists, structures, sets
-- these are all special cases of arrays and can be treated that
way just as easily without messing up your programing language
with all sorts of complications. The worst thing about fancy
data types is that you have to declare them, and Real Programming
Languages, as we all know, have implicit typing based on the
first letter of the (six character) variable name.
What kind of operating system is used by a Real Programmer? CP/M?
God forbid -- CP/M, after all, is basically a toy operating system.
Even little old ladies and grade school students can understand
and use CP/M.
Unix is a lot more complicated of course -- the typical Unix
hacker never can remember what the PRINT command is called this
week -- but when it gets right down to it, Unix is a glorified
video game. People don't do Serious Work on Unix systems: they
send jokes around the world on UUCP-net and write adventure games
and research papers.
No, your Real Programmer uses OS\370. A good programmer can find
and understand the description of the IJK305I error he just got
in his JCL manual. A great programmer can write JCL without referring
to the manual at all. A truly outstanding programmer can find
bugs buried in a 6 megabyte core dump without using a hex calculator.
(I have actually seen this done.)
OS is a truly remarkable operating system. It's possible to destroy
days of work with a single misplaced space, so alertness in the
programming staff is encouraged. The best way to approach the
system is through a keypunch. Some people claim there is a Time
Sharing system that runs on OS\370, but after careful study I
have come to the conclusion that they were mistaken.
What kind of tools does a Real Programmer use? In theory, a Real
Programmer could run his programs by keying them into the front
panel of the computer. Back in the days when computers had front
panels, this was actually done occasionally. Your typical Real
Programmer knew the entire bootstrap loader by memory in hex,
and toggled it in whenever it got destroyed by his program. (Back
then, memory was memory -- it didn't go away when the power went
off. Today, memory either forgets things when you don't want
it to, or remembers things long after they're better forgotten.)
Legend has it that Seymore Cray, inventor of the Cray I supercomputer
and most of Control Data's computers, actually toggled the first
operating system for the CDC7600 in on the front panel from memory
when it was first powered on. Seymore, needless to say, is a
One of my favorite Real Programmers was a systems programmer
for Texas Instruments. One day he got a long distance call from
a user whose system had crashed in the middle of saving some
important work. Jim was able to repair the damage over the phone,
getting the user to toggle in disk I/O instructions at the front
panel, repairing system tables in hex, reading register contents
back over the phone. The moral of this story: while a Real Programmer
usually includes a keypunch and lineprinter in his toolkit, he
can get along with just a front panel and a telephone in emergencies.
In some companies, text editing no longer consists of ten engineers
standing in line to use an 029 keypunch. In fact, the building
I work in doesn't contain a single keypunch. The Real Programmer
in this situation has to do his work with a "text editor"
program. Most systems supply several text editors to select from,
and the Real Programmer must be careful to pick one that reflects
his personal style. Many people believe that the best text editors
in the world were written at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
for use on their Alto and Dorado computers . Unfortunately,
no Real Programmer would ever use a computer whose operating
system is called SmallTalk, and would certainly not talk to the
computer with a mouse.
Some of the concepts in these Xerox editors have been incorporated
into editors running on more reasonably named operating systems
-- EMACS and VI being two. The problem with these editors is
that Real Programmers consider "what you see is what you
get" to be just as bad a concept in Text Editors as it is
in women. No the Real Programmer wants a "you asked for
it, you got it" text editor -- complicated, cryptic, powerful,
unforgiving, dangerous. TECO, to be precise.
It has been observed that a TECO command sequence more closely
resembles transmission line noise than readable text . One
of the more entertaining games to play with TECO is to type your
name in as a command line and try to guess what it does. Just
about any possible typing error while talking with TECO will
probably destroy your program, or even worse -- introduce subtle
and mysterious bugs in a once working subroutine.
For this reason, Real Programmers are reluctant to actually edit
a program that is close to working. They find it much easier
to just patch the binary object code directly, using a wonderful
program called SUPERZAP (or its equivalent on non-IBM machines).
This works so well that many working programs on IBM systems
bear no relation to the original FORTRAN code. In many cases,
the original source code is no longer available. When it comes
time to fix a program like this, no manager would even think
of sending anything less than a Real Programmer to do the job
-- no Quiche Eating structured programmer would even know where
to start. This is called "job security".
Some programming tools NOT used by Real Programmers:
* FORTRAN preprocessors like MORTRAN and RATFOR. The Cuisinarts
of programming -- great for making Quiche. See comments above
on structured programming.
* Source language debuggers. Real Programmers can read core dumps.
* Compilers with array bounds checking. They stifle creativity,
destroy most of the interesting uses for EQUIVALENCE, and make
it impossible to modify the operating system code with negative
subscripts. Worst of all, bounds checking is inefficient.
* Source code maintenance systems. A Real Programmer keeps his
code locked up in a card file, because it implies that its owner
cannot leave his important programs unguarded .
THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT WORK
Where does the typical Real Programmer work? What kind of programs
are worthy of the efforts of so talented an individual? You can
be sure that no Real Programmer would be caught dead writing
accounts-receivable programs in COBOL, or sorting mailing lists
for People magazine. A Real Programmer wants tasks of earth-shaking
* Real Programmers work for Los Alamos National Laboratory, writing
atomic bomb simulations to run on Cray I supercomputers.
* Real Programmers work for the National Security Agency,
decoding Russian transmissions.
* It was largely due to the efforts of thousands of Real Programmers
working for NASA that our boys got to the moon and back before
* Real Programmers are at work for Boeing designing the operating
systems for cruise missiles.
Some of the most awesome Real Programmers of all work at the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Many of them know the
entire operating system of the Pioneer and Voyager
spacecraft by heart. With a combination of large ground-based
FORTRAN programs and small spacecraft-based assembly language
programs, they are able to do incredible feats of navigation
and improvisation -- hitting ten-kilometer wide windows at Saturn
after six years in space, repairing or bypassing damaged sensor
platforms, radios, and batteries. Allegedly, one Real Programmer
managed to tuck a pattern-matching program into a few hundred
bytes of unused memory in a Voyager spacecraft that searched
for, located, and photographed a new moon of Jupiter.
The current plan for the Galileo spacecraft is to use a gravity
assist trajectory past Mars on the way to Jupiter. This trajectory
passes within 80 +/-3 kilometers of the surface of Mars. Nobody
is going to trust a PASCAL program (or a PASCAL programmer) for
navigation to these tolerances.
As you can tell, many of the world's Real Programmers work for
the U.S. Government -- mainly the Defense Department. This is
as it should be.
Recently, however, a black cloud has formed on the Real
Programmer horizon. It seems that some highly placed Quiche Eaters
at the Defense Department decided that all Defense programs should
be written in some grand unified language called "ADA"
((C), DoD). For a while, it seemed that ADA was destined to become
a language that went against all the precepts of Real Programming
-- a language with structure, a language with data types, strong
typing, and semicolons. In short, a language designed to cripple
the creativity of the typical Real Programmer. Fortunately, the
language adopted by DoD has enough interesting features to make
it approachable -- it's incredibly complex, includes methods
for messing with the operating system and rearranging memory,
and Edsgar Dijkstra doesn't like it . (Dijkstra, as I'm sure
you know, was the author of "GoTos Considered Harmful"
-- a landmark work in programming methodology, applauded by PASCAL
programmers and Quiche Eaters alike.) Besides, the determined
Real Programmer can write FORTRAN programs in any language.
The Real Programmer might compromise his principles and work
on something slightly more trivial than the destruction of life
as we know it, providing there's enough money in it. There are
several Real Programmers building video games at Atari, for example.
(But not playing them -- a Real Programmer knows how to beat
the machine every time: no challenge in that.) Everyone working
at LucasFilm is a Real Programmer. (It would be crazy to turn
down the money of fifty million Star Trek fans.) The proportion
of Real Programmers in Computer Graphics is somewhat lower than
the norm, mostly because nobody has found a use for computer
graphics yet. On the other hand, all computer graphics is done
in FORTRAN, so there are a fair number of people doing graphics
in order to avoid having to write COBOL programs.
THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT PLAY
Generally, the Real Programmer plays the same way he works --
with computers. He is constantly amazed that his employer actually
pays him to do what he would be doing for fun anyway (although
he is careful not to express this opinion out loud). Occasionally,
the Real Programmer does step out of the office for a breath
of fresh air and a beer or two. Some tips on recognizing Real
Programmers away from the computer room:
* At a party, the Real Programmers are the ones in the corner
talking about operating system security and how to get around
* At a football game, the Real Programmer is the one comparing
the plays against his simulations printed on 11 by 14 fanfold
* At the beach, the Real Programmer is the one drawing flowcharts
in the sand.
* At a funeral, the Real Programmer is the one saying "Poor
George. And he almost had the sort routine working before the
* In a grocery store, the Real Programmer is the one who insists
on running the cans past the laser checkout scanner himself,
because he never could trust keypunch operators to get it right
the first time.
THE REAL PROGRAMMER'S NATURAL HABITAT
What sort of environment does the Real Programmer function best
in ? This is an important question for the managers of Real Programmers.
Considering the amount of money it costs to keep one on the staff,
it's best to put him (or her) in an environment where he can
get his work done.
The typical Real Programmer lives in front of a computer terminal.
Surrounding this terminal are:
* Listings of all programs the Real Programmer has ever worked
on, piled in roughly chronological order on every flat surface
in the office.
* Some half-dozen or so partly filled cups of cold coffee. Occasionally,
there will be cigarette butts floating in the coffee. In some
cases, the cups will contain Orange Crush.
* Unless he is very good, there will be copies of the OS JCL
manual and the Principles of Operation open to some particularly
* Taped to the wall is a line-printer Snoopy calendar for the
* Strewn about the floor are several wrappers for peanut butter
filled cheese bars -- the type that are made pre-stale at the
bakery so they can't get any worse while waiting in the vending
* Hiding in the top left-hand drawer of the desk is a stash of
double-stuf Oreos for special occasions.
* Underneath the Oreos is a flowcharting template, left there
by the previous occupant of the office. (Real Programmers write
programs, not documentation. Leave that to the maintenance people.)
The Real Programmer is capable of working 30, 40, even 50 hours
at a stretch, under intense pressure. In fact, he prefers it
that way. Bad response time doesn't bother the Real Programmer
-- it gives him a chance to catch a little sleep between compiles.
If there is not enough schedule pressure on the Real Programmer,
he tends to make things more challenging by working on some small
but interesting part of the problem for the first nine weeks,
then finishing the rest in the last week, in two or three 50-hour
marathons. This not only impresses the hell out of his manager,
who was despairing of ever getting the project done on time,
but creates a convenient excuse for not doing the documentation.
* No Real Programmer works 9 to 5 (unless it's the ones
* Real Programmers don't wear neckties.
* Real Programmers don't wear high-heeled shoes.
* Real Programmers arrive at work in time for lunch .
* A Real Programmer might or might not know his wife's name.
He does, however, know the entire ASCII (or EBCDIC) code table.
* Real Programmers don't know how to cook. Grocery stores aren't
open at three in the morning. Real Programmers survive on Twinkies
What of the future? It is a matter of some concern to Real Programmers
that the latest generation of computer programmers are not being
brought up with the same outlook on life as their elders. Many
of them have never seen a computer with a front panel. Hardly
anyone graduating from school these days can do hex arithmetic
without a calculator. College graduates these days are soft --
protected from the realities of programming by source level debuggers,
text editors that count parentheses, and "user friendly"
operating systems. Worst of all, some of these alleged "computer
scientists" manage to get degrees without ever learning
FORTRAN! Are we destined to become an industry of Unix hackers
and PASCAL programmers?
From my experience, I can only report that the future is bright
for Real Programmers everywhere. Neither OS\370 nor FORTRAN show
any signs of dying out, despite all the efforts of PASCAL programmers
the world over. Even more subtle tricks, like adding structured
coding constructs to FORTRAN have failed. Oh sure, some computer
vendors have come out with FORTRAN 77 compilers, but every one
of them has a way of converting itself back into a FORTRAN 66
compiler at the drop of an option card -- to compile DO loops
like God meant them to be.
Even Unix might not be as bad on Real Programmers as it once
was. The latest release of Unix has the potential of an operating
system worthy of any Real Programmer -- two different and subtly
incompatible user interfaces, an arcane and complicated teletype
driver, virtual memory. If you ignore the fact that it's "structured",
even 'C' programming can be appreciated by the Real Programmer:
after all, there's no type checking, variable names are seven
(ten? eight?) characters long, and the added bonus of the Pointer
data type is thrown in -- like having the best parts of FORTRAN
and assembly language in one place. (Not to mention some of the
more creative uses for #define.)
No, the future isn't all that bad. Why, in the past few years,
the popular press has even commented on the bright new crop of
computer nerds and hackers ( and ) leaving places like
Stanford and M.I.T. for the Real World. From all evidence, the
spirit of Real Programming lives on in these young men and women.
As long as there are ill-defined goals, bizarre bugs, and unrealistic
schedules, there will be Real Programmers willing to jump in
and Solve The Problem, saving the documentation for later. Long
I would like to thank Jan E., Dave S., Rich G., Rich E., for
their help in characterizing the Real Programmer, Heather B.
for the illustration, Kathy
E. for putting up with it, and atd!avsdS:mark for the initial
 Feirstein, B., "Real Men don't Eat Quiche", New
York, Pocket Books, 1982.
 Wirth, N., "Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs",
Prentice Hall, 1976.
 Ilson, R., "Recent Research in Text Processing",
IEEE Trans. Prof. Commun., Vol. PC-23, No. 4,
Dec. 4, 1980.
 Finseth, C., "Theory and Practice of Text Editors
-- or -- a Cookbook for an EMACS", B.S. Thesis,
MIT/LCS/TM-165, Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, May 1980.
 Weinberg, G., "The Psychology of Computer
Programming", New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold,
1971, p. 110.
 Dijkstra, E., "On the GREEN language submitted to
the DoD", Sigplan notices, Vol. 3 No. 10, Oct
 Rose, Frank, "Joy of Hacking", Science 82, Vol.
No. 9, Nov 82, pp. 58-66.
 "The Hacker Papers", Psychology Today, August 1980.
 sdcarl!lin, "Real Programmers", UUCP-net, Thu Oct
21 16:55:16 1982
The IBM term for ABortive END. It's what you do to bring the
system down when all else fails. Also, (jokingly) the command
issued to the system to enable the third-shift operators to leave
early (from the german Guten Abend, meaning good evening).
Real Men Don't Eat Quiche:
It's a wonderful little booklet, describing, with a lot of humor,
how a Modern Real Man can live in a world of quiche eaters.
State-of-the-art, and rather expensive, brand of food processor.
This is how FORTRAN compilers usually pass parameters to subroutines.
It's not the same as call by reference (or by name), since you
are not passing the addresses (references to) each individual
parameter, but rather both the caller and the callee know where
the parameter block is and deal with it appropriately.
`Interesting' FORTRAN constructs: An arithmetic if is a statement
IF (expression) label1,label2,label3
If expression evaluates to negative, zero, or positive, the execution
will continue at label1, label2 or label3, respectively. In REAL
FORTRAN, of course, expression is just an integer variable!
A computed GOTO is like the ON GOTO in BASIC (yuck!):
when N is an index into the list of labels. If N<0 or N>n
the following statement is executed.
An assigned GOTO is a bit different. You can assigne a label
to an integer variable using the ASSIGN statement; you can say
ASSIGN 10 TO IFOO, and then use IFOO as a label (e.g., GOTO IFOO).
The GOTO IFOO (label1,label2,...,labeln) statement branches to
that label matched by IFOO. If none is matched, execution continues.
It's used when IFOO can have been set to a variety of labels,
but you only want to branch is it has been set to some particular
values. You can say it's a set membership operation! Now, how
many CS seniors know that, I wonder!
Control Program for Microcomputers. A very antiquated (ca 1978?)
rudimentary operating system for 8080-based microcomuters. Would
have been picked up by IBM instead of MSDOS, (then called QDOS)
had the president of Digital Research not been out to lunch with
instructions not to be interrupted!
IBM messages are usually three letters (indicating the module
the error occured in), followed by a number, followed by a letter
indicating the severity of the error. I is Information. IJK is
a fictitious prefiex. The closest to that one is IKJ, which is
the MVS (then OS) nucleus, if my memory serves me right. (I actually
tried to look up this message when I was working for IBM!)
Fluorescent-orange colored liquid, kind of like orange soda without
the carbonation. Gross.
Vending-machine type of junk food. Also available at supermarket
checkout counters. These are cheese-flavored (just flavored,
no real cheese) crackers filled with rancid peanut butter or
mock-cheese spread. Usually three one-square-inch sandwiches
to a package (picture of similar item).
A brand of cookies made by Nabisco (picture).
They are `sandwich' cookies, two ~2 inch, very dark, supposedly
chocolate-flavor cookies (picture),
with a vanilla-flavored stuffing. They are very common in the
YA example of junk food. These are small cakes filled with some
sort of custard. They are not too bad (taste-wise).
"and with a sudden plop it lands on usenet. what is it?
omigosh, it must[...] be a new user! quick kill it before it
multiplies!" (Loren J. Miller)