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Staying Humble

Written June 03, 2008 at 02:33 MDT Tagged inspiration and programming

This post is in direct reference to the brilliant paper titled "The Humble Programmer" written by the software genius Edsger Dijkstra.
If you take the time to read this paper, keep in mind that it was originally published in 1972!! Here are 2 (of the many) that resound very strongly with me:
"But one should not first make the program and then prove its correctness, because then the requirement of providing the proof would only increase the poor programmer's burden. On the contrary: the programmer should let correctness proof and program grow hand in hand. Argument three is essentially based on the following observation. If one first asks oneself what the structure of a convincing proof would be and, having found this, then constructs a program satisfying this proof's requirements, then these correctness concerns turn out to be a very effective heuristic guidance. By definition this approach is only applicable when we restrict ourselves to intellectually manageable programs, but it provides us with effective means for finding a satisfactory one among these."
If that section in bold does not scream TDD to you, then I don't know what will!!
Another good section talking about languages and how we can abuse them is here:
"The competent programmer is fully aware of the strictly limited size of his own skull; therefore he approaches the programming task in full humility, and among other things he avoids clever tricks like the plague. In the case of a well-known conversational programming language I have been told from various sides that as soon as a programming community is equipped with a terminal for it, a specific phenomenon occurs that even has a well-established name: it is called "the one-liners". It takes one of two different forms: one programmer places a one-line program on the desk of another and either he proudly tells what it does and adds the question "Can you code this in less symbols?" —as if this were of any conceptual relevance!— or he just asks "Guess what it does!". From this observation we must conclude that this language as a tool is an open invitation for clever tricks; and while exactly this may be the explanation for some of its appeal, viz. to those who like to show how clever they are, I am sorry, but I must regard this as one of the most damning things that can be said about a programming language"
And finally he shares a piece of advice that is awesome:
"We shall do a much better programming job, provided that we approach the task with a full appreciation of its tremendous difficulty, provided that we stick to modest and elegant programming languages, provided that we respect the intrinsic limitations of the human mind and approach the task as Very Humble Programmers"
Brilliant advice from an equally brilliant man!!
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