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Quotations about Computer Programming

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Few companies that installed computers to reduce the employment of clerks have realized their expectations.... They now need more, and more expensive clerks even though they call them "operators" or "programmers."  ~Peter F. Drucker

Programmer - an organism that turns coffee into software.  ~Author Unknown

Programming is like sex.  One mistake and you have to support it for the rest of your life.  ~Michael Sinz

All programmers are playwrights and all computers are lousy actors.  ~Author Unknown

Always code as if the guy who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live.  ~Martin Golding

Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place.  So if you are as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it?  ~Brian Kernighan

Sometimes it pays to stay in bed in Monday, rather than spending the rest of the week debugging Monday's code.  ~Dan Salomon

[A]nd then it occurred to me that a computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things.  They are, in short, a perfect match.  ~Bill Bryson

Another effective technique is to explain your code to someone else.  This will often cause you to explain the bug to yourself.  Sometimes it takes no more than a few sentences, followed by an embarrassed "Never mind, I see what's wrong.  Sorry to bother you."  This works remarkably well; you can even use non-programmers as listeners.  One university computer center kept a teddy bear near the help desk.  Students with mysterious bugs were required to explain them to the bear before they could speak to a human counselor.  ~Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike, about debugging

A good programmer is someone who always looks both ways before crossing a one-way street.  ~Doug Linder

All programmers are optimists.  Perhaps this modern sorcery especially attracts those who believe in happy endings and fairy godmothers.  Perhaps the hundreds of nitty frustrations drive away all but those who habitually focus on the end goal.  Perhaps it is merely that computers are young, programmers are younger, and the young are always optimists.  ~Frederick Brooks, Jr.

Any fool can write code that a computer can understand.  Good programmers write code that humans can understand.  ~Martin Fowler

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature.  ~Rich Kulawiec

Beta.  Software undergoes beta testing shortly before it's released.  Beta is Latin for "still doesn't work."  ~Author Unknown

Controlling complexity is the essence of computer programming.  ~Brian Kernighan

Don't argue with people who write with digital ink and pay by the kilowatt-hour.  ~Don Rittner

From a programmer's point of view, the user is a peripheral that types when you issue a read request.  ~Peter Williams

At Group L, Stoffel oversees six first-rate programmers, a managerial challenge roughly equivalent to herding cats.  ~The Washington Post Magazine, 9 June 1985

It's not a bug - it's an undocumented feature.  ~Author Unknown

Version 1 of any software is full of bugs.  Version 2 fixes all the bugs and is great.  Version 3 adds all the things users ask for, but hides all the great stuff in Version 2.  ~Fred Blechman

Writing the first 90 percent of a computer program takes 90 percent of the time.  The remaining ten percent also takes 90 percent of the time and the final touches also take 90 percent of the time.  ~N.J. Rubenking

Good code is its own best documentation.  As you're about to add a comment, ask yourself, "How can I improve the code so that this comment isn't needed?"  ~Steve McConnell

Great software, likewise, requires a fanatical devotion to beauty.  If you look inside good software, you find that parts no one is ever supposed to see are beautiful too.  I'm not claiming I write great software, but I know that when it comes to code I behave in a way that would make me eligible for prescription drugs if I approached everyday life the same way.  It drives me crazy to see code that's badly indented, or that uses ugly variable names.  ~Paul Graham, "Hackers and Painters," 2003

I really hate this darn machine;
I wish that they would sell it.
It won't do what I want it to,
but only what I tell it.
~Author Unknown

One man's crappy software is another man's full time job.  ~Jessica Gaston

He who hasn't hacked assembly language as a youth has no heart.  He who does so as an adult has no brain.  ~John Moore

If debugging is the process of removing bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in.  ~Author Unknown

If you cannot grok the overall structure of a program while taking a shower, e.g., with no external memory aids, you are not ready to code it.  ~Richard Pattis

It should be noted that no ethically-trained software engineer would ever consent to write a DestroyBaghdad procedure.  Basic professional ethics would instead require him to write a DestroyCity procedure, to which Baghdad could be given as a parameter.  ~Nathaniel S. Borenstein

It's easy to cry "bug" when the truth is that you've got a complex system and sometimes it takes a while to get all the components to co-exist peacefully.  ~Doug Vargas

It's okay to figure out murder mysteries, but you shouldn't need to figure out code.  You should be able to read it.  ~Steve McConnell

It's the only job I can think of where I get to be both an engineer and an artist.  There's an incredible, rigorous, technical element to it, which I like because you have to do very precise thinking.  On the other hand, it has a wildly creative side where the boundaries of imagination are the only real limitation.  ~Andy Hertzfeld, about programming

We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time:  premature optimization is the root of all evil.  ~C.A.R. Hoare, quoted by Donald Knuth

Programming is like sex.  One mistake and you have to support it for the rest of your life.  ~Michael Sinz

Programming is similar to a game of golf.  The point is not getting the ball in the hole but how many strokes it takes.  ~Harlan Mills

Programming languages should be designed not by piling feature on top of feature, but by removing the weaknesses and restrictions that make additional features appear necessary.  ~Author Unknown

Programming languages, like pizzas, come in only two sizes:  too big and too small.  ~Richard Pattis

Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots.  So far, the universe is winning.  ~Author Unknown

Programs for sale:  fast, reliable, cheap - choose two.  ~Author Unknown

Ready, fire, aim:  the fast approach to software development.  Ready, aim, aim, aim, aim:  the slow approach to software development.  ~Author Unknown

Reusing pieces of code is like picking off sentences from other people's stories and trying to make a magazine article.  ~Bob Frankston

Should array indices start at 0 or 1?  My compromise of 0.5 was rejected without, I thought, proper consideration.  ~Stan Kelly-Bootle

The best performance improvement is the transition from the nonworking state to the working state.  ~J. Osterhout

The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time.  One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be.... The computer resembles the magic of legend in this respect, too.  If one character, one pause, of the incantation is not strictly in proper form, the magic doesn't work.  Human beings are not accustomed to being perfect, and few areas of human activity demand it.  Adjusting to the requirement for perfection is, I think, the most difficult part of learning to program.  ~Frederick Brooks

The only way for errors to occur in a program is by being put there by the author.  No other mechanisms are known.  Programs can't acquire bugs by sitting around with other buggy programs.  ~Harlan Mills

There are two ways to write error-free programs; only the third one works.  ~Alan J. Perlis

One man's constant is another man's variable.  ~Alan J. Perlis

There does not now, nor will there ever exist, a programming language in which it is the least bit hard to write bad programs.  ~Lawrence Flon

We don't manage our time as well as we manage our space.  There's an overhead of starting and an overhead of stopping a project because you kind of lose your momentum.  And you've got to bracket and put aside all the things you're already doing.  So you need reasonably large blocks of uninterrupted time if you're going to be successful at doing some of these things.  That's why hackers tend to stay up late.  If you stay up late and you have another hour of work to do, you can just stay up another hour later without running into a wall and having to stop.  Whereas it might take three or four hours if you start over, you might finish if you just work that extra hour.  If you're a morning person, the day always intrudes a fixed amount of time in the future.  So it's much less efficient.  Which is why I think computer people tend to be night people - because a machine doesn't get sleepy.  ~Bill Joy

When a programming language is created that allows programmers to program in simple English, it will be discovered that programmers cannot speak English.  ~Author Unknown

When debugging, novices insert corrective code; experts remove defective code.  ~Richard Pattis

When you catch bugs early, you also get fewer compound bugs.  Compound bugs are two separate bugs that interact:  you trip going downstairs, and when you reach for the handrail it comes off in your hand.  ~Paul Graham, "The Other Road Ahead," 2001

You cannot teach beginners top-down programming, because they don't know which end is up.  ~C.A.R. Hoare

In programming, as in everything else, to be in error is to be reborn.  ~Alan J. Perlis

The New Testament offers the basis for modern computer coding theory, in the form of an affirmation of the binary number system.  "But let your communication be Yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."  Matthew 5:37  ~Author Unknown

What I mean is that if you really want to understand something, the best way is to try and explain it to someone else.  That forces you to sort it out in your own mind.  And the more slow and dim-witted your pupil, the more you have to break things down into more and more simple ideas.  And that's really the essence of programming.  By the time you've sorted out a complicated idea into little steps that even a stupid machine can deal with, you've certainly learned something about it yourself.  ~Douglas Adams

Thanks to Doug P. for submitting some of these!

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Last modified 2008 Feb 10 Sun 20:12 PST

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