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Fortran father John Backus, dead at 82

John Backus made software back when no one called it software. As the project leader of the IBM team which created the venerable Fortran language, Backus helped define the "hacker ethic". Leading a small team to do great things quickly, and leverage their own mistakes in order to learn, Backus shattered the paradigm of 1950s corporate IBM and, developed a language that is only now beginning to fade into history.

The NYT examines how Backus defined what may have been the Alpha test version of the dot-com years, "Mr. Backus, colleagues said, managed the research team with a light hand. The hours were long but informal. Snowball fights relieved lengthy days of work in winter. I.B.M. had a system of rigid yearly performance reviews, which Mr. Backus deemed ill-suited for his programmers, so he ignored it."

Sounds like a boss you'd love to have. The Times article includes a beautiful quote from Backus which defines one of software development's philosophical keystones elegantly, "You need the willingness to fail all the time," he said. "You have to generate many ideas and then you have to work very hard only to discover that they don't work. And you keep doing that over and over until you find one that does work."

[via O'Reilly Radar]

Tags: FORTRAN, John Backus, JohnBackus, news, obit, obituary

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