A guide to the REAL PROGRAMMER!

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STRUCTURED PROGRAMMING

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 talent. Some quick observations on Real Programmers and Structured Programming: 
  • Real Programmers aren't afraid to use GOTOs.
  • Real Programmers can write five-page-long DO loops without getting confused.
  • 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 GoTos.

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 Ouiche Eater) actually wrote an entire book [2] 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 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 the 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. In general:

  • No Real Programmer works 9 to 5 (unless it's the ones at night).
  • Real Programmers don't wear neckties.
  • Real Programmers don't wear high-heeled shoes.
  • Real Programmers arrive at work in time for lunch [9].
  • Real Programmers might or might not know their spouse's name, They do, 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 and coffee.

THE FUTURE

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 as 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, and 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 ([7] and [8]) 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 live FORTRAN!

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