[email@example.com ( really From: firstname.lastname@example.org): ]
Subject: [email@example.com ( really From: firstname.lastname@example.org): ]
From: Gene Spafford <spaf>
Date: Wed, 07 Nov 90 18:36:04 EST
This came out in 1982, and has circulated at odd times since then.
Most of you have seen this, but if you haven't read it recently, it
might be amusing to glance through it. I was going on about how our
students these days can't work in hex without a calculator and have
never programmed from a front panel, then this came along. Oh well.
One other note. It turns out that the "Jim" refered to in the
paragraph about the guy from TI helping over the phone was probably
none other than Jim Allchin, the first PhD from the Clouds project at
Georgia Tech. He came to Tech from TI, and when this article hit the
nets we asked him about it. He was a little embarassed to admit that
he had, indeed, helped people over the phone as described. I hope
they haven't made him learn Pascal over at Banyan Systems.
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Date: Wed, 07 Nov 90 11:16:15 -0800
From: email@example.com ( really From: firstname.lastname@example.org)
To: inane@AMD.COM ( really To: email@example.com)
=== Nandoed Message
Date: Wed, 7 Nov 90 09:02:13 PST
From: bob (Bob Bosler)
Real Programmers Don't Write Specs
1. Real Programmers don't write specs -- users should consider
themselves lucky to get any programs at all and take what
they can get.
2. Real Programmers don't comment their code. If it was hard to
write, it should be hard to understand.
3. Real Programmers don't write application programs; they
right down on the bare metal. Application programming is for
feebs who can't do systems programming.
4. Real Programmers don't eat quiche. They eat Twinkies, and
5. Real Programmers don't write in COBOL. COBOL is for wimpy
6. 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-hour debugging sessions.
7. Real Programmers don't write in FORTRAN. FORTRAN is for pipe
stress freaks and crystallography weenies.
8. Real Programmers never work 9 to 5. If any real programmers
are around at 9 AM, it's because they were up all night.
9. Real Programmers don't write in BASIC. Actually, no
programmers write in BASIC, after the age of 12.
10. Real Programmers don't write in PL/I. PL/I is for programmers
who can't decide whether to write in COBOL or FORTRAN.
11. Real Programmers don't write in APL. Any fool can be obscure
12. Real Programmers don't play tennis, or any other sport that
requires you to change clothes. Mountain climbing is OK, and
real programmers wear their climbing boots to work in case a
mountain should suddenly spring up in the middle of the
13. Real Programmers don't document. Documentation is for simps
who can't read the listings or the object deck.
14. 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.
15. Real Programmers know better than the users what they need.
16. Real Programmers think structured programming is a communist
17. Real Programmers don't use schedules. Schedules are for
manager's toadies. Real Programmers like to keep their
managers in suspense.
18. Real Programmers think better when playing Adventure.
19. Real Programmers do it middle-out.
20. Real Programmers enjoy machine coding Pascal compilers for
their micros which they improve but never use.
21. Real Programmers enjoy getting CP/M to work on 370 machines
and MVS on their ZX81's.
22. Real Programmers write their own assemblers, preferably in
23. Real Programmers never get annoyed by security systems, they
turn off the RACF bits and leave unsigned messages in the
security data sets.
24. Real Programmers never update the source to reflect the
ZAP's, after all, it will have changed tommorrow.
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
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
* 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
* Real Programmers do Artificial Intelligence programs in
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 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
* 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 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 programming 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 Seymour 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. Seymour, needless
to say, is a Real Programmer.
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 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
* 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
* 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
* 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 importance (literally!).
* Real Programmers work for Los Alamos National Laboratory,
writing atomic bomb simulations to run on Cray I
* 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 the Russkies.
* The computers in the Space Shuttle were programmed by Real
* 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 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" ((r), 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 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
* 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.
* A Real Programmer goes to discos to watch the light shows.
* 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 interesting pages.
* 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
* Hiding in the top left-hand drawer of the desk is a stash of
double-stuff Oreos for special occasions.
* Underneath the Oreos is a flow-charting template, left there
by the previous occupant of the office. (Real Programmers
write programs, not documentation. Leave that to the
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. In
* No Real Programmer works 9 to 5. (Unless it's the ones at
* 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 and coffee.
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
>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 live FORTRAN!
Copyright (c) 1982 Ed Post, Tektronix, Inc., Wilsonville, OR.
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