Haupz Blog

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In Touch With Old Languages

2024-05-24 — Michael Haupt

This list of the ten most(ly dead) influential programming languages is a fun trip to olden times. Even though I’m not old enough to have used COBOL “back in the day”, no less than four of these languages play quite important roles in my life.

My first programming language was indeed BASIC, and the one I learned most with during my early programmer days was PASCAL. While I don’t have any emotional attachment whatsoever to the former, I fondly recall learning about structured programming in the latter. The BASIC dialects I had used solely relied on line numbers, and consequently calling subroutines had to happen using GOSUB plus line number. Parameter passing and returning results was awkward. PASCAL with its named procedures and functions made such a tremendous difference - it was a true relief. (Remember: this was the late Eighties / early Nineties of the past century.)

Java happened in 1995, and I was an early adopter at university. I came across true object orientation only in 2003 or so, when I first looked into Smalltalk as part of my doctoral research. That was really eye opening. If I had to pick one programming language to spend the remainder of my programming work in, it would be Smalltalk. There simply is no other language that molds programming environment, application, and runtime environment like that.

Finally, APL became important in around 2014, when I was looking into optimised implementations of array programming languages as part of my work on an implementation of the R programming language. The loop-free way of programming with large vectors and (sometimes multi-dimensional) matrices was another eye opener. Also, the quirky syntax and terseness made APL appealing to this programming languages nerd.

The list features six more. I’ve heard / read about them all for sure. If I had to pick one to look into next, it would be COBOL, simply because it’s still around and running a lot of production systems around the world.

Tags: the-nerdy-bit, hacking