Lambda the Ultimate

inactiveTopic Most amazing designer?
started 10/8/2002; 7:53:24 AM - last post 10/17/2002; 6:41:57 AM
Ehud Lamm - Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/8/2002; 7:53:24 AM (reads: 1224, responses: 15)
Most amazing designer?
Dave Winer is looking for suggestions of nominees for Wired Rave Awards. The category is Software Designer.

Desgining programming languages is about design, so maybe you may want to tell Dave about language designers you admire (Guido, anyone?) Programming languages influence software design, so I think good language designers are deep down good software designers.

Another line of thought is to think of especially beautiful language implementations.

And, of course, Dave can always nominate Stallman and emacs...

Posted to general by Ehud Lamm on 10/8/02; 7:54:26 AM

Patrick Logan - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/8/2002; 9:02:15 AM (reads: 1200, responses: 1)
I nominated Ward Cunningham for the following reasons...

  • Contributions to Smalltalk and dynamic language style.
  • Invention of CRC card-based design.
  • Progenitor of use of patterns in software development.
  • Progenitor of extreme programming and other agile ideas.
  • Inventor of the original WikiWiki web.
  • All around guru of simplicity, e.g. his new FIT test framework.


Ehud Lamm - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/8/2002; 9:33:23 AM (reads: 1219, responses: 0)
Hey! We want language designers...

But while we are on the subject, how does FIT relate to xUnit, if at all?

Patrick Logan - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/8/2002; 3:36:37 PM (reads: 1142, responses: 1)
I nominated one, if you squint your eyes just so.

Think about it.

jon fernquest - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/8/2002; 11:39:29 PM (reads: 1100, responses: 1)
I'd nominate Philip Wadler. I know he did a lot of work on the GHC Haskell compiler and Generic Java, but I think the most important thing he is doing now is being a math evangelist. He's deeply involved in XML standards committees and and he seems to be *the* force pushing for more rigorous mathematical analysis of proposed languages and their features.

IMHO math will be the key to bug free portable definitions and will finally make it such that most programming work exemplifies new and unique contributions of ideas and not the millionth reinvention of some oft-used wheel. But unfortunately the award will probably go to some flashy pop-star celebrity type which will rule Philip Wadler out, I guess.

James Hague - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/9/2002; 7:31:04 AM (reads: 1062, responses: 0)
Well, I'd rule out Philip Wadler simply because he's more of a theoretician than a software designer. Some other personal favorites:

Joe Armstrong, the principal designer of Erlang, because he actually tried, and succeeded, at getting functional programming used in industry. Back when the original project started in 1983, looking to such extremely high level languages was a gutsy move. Heck, at the time the average PC ran at 4.77MHz. More recent languages, like Python, seem downright conservative in comparison.

I'd love to nominate Ken Iverson and Roger Hui for J, but it's such a hugely esoteric language, and I find it much less useful than other languages (despite its beauty).

Jay Han - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/9/2002; 10:07:29 AM (reads: 1076, responses: 0)
Why do you think "math will be the key to bug free portable definitions and will finally make it such that most programming work exemplifies new and unique contributions of ideas and not the millionth reinvention of some oft-used wheel"?

Ehud Lamm - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/9/2002; 3:08:05 PM (reads: 1064, responses: 0)
Think about it.

I did. If there's a joke here, I don't get it.

Dan Moniz - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/9/2002; 3:40:42 PM (reads: 1030, responses: 0)
Wouter van Oortmerssen, for originality and prolificacy.

Carl Hewitt, for the original PLANNER and PLASMA ideas, with which we are still striving towards the future of programming lanugages and computing.

I'll see if I can think of any more.

Dan Shappir - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/10/2002; 3:30:03 AM (reads: 1015, responses: 0)
Some top designers I can think of the did PL related work:

Alex Stepanov for his work on generics. STL, which resulted from his efforts, is now a standard part of the C++ language. BTW, here is an interesting interview with him that appeared in DDJ. Some quotes from this article:

We started working on a language called Tecton, which would allow people to describe algorithms associated with what we called generic structures ... There were some interesting ideas, but the research didn't lead to practical results because Tecton was functional. We believed Backus's idea that we should liberate programming from the von Neumann style, and we didn't want to have side effects. That limited our ability to handle very many algorithms that require the notion of state and side effects.


switching from a dynamically typed language, such as Scheme, to a strongly typed language, such as Ada, allowed me to realize the importance of strong typing. Everybody realizes that strong typing helps in catching errors. I discovered that strong typing, in the context of Ada generics, was also an instrument of capturing designs.

Another designer is Anders Hejlsberg, the creator of Turbo Pascal, Delphi and now the chief designer of the C# programming language and a key participant in the development of the .NET Framework. I cannot exaggerate the effect Turbo Pascal had on me as a programmer. Having a fast and friendly IDE and compiler that fit on a single diskette and worked on a PC XT was simply amazing. Compilations that took 10 minutes on the University's VAX flew by in a few seconds on my PC at home. Basically it let me move up from assembly to a high level PL.

jon fernquest - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/10/2002; 4:08:35 AM (reads: 1013, responses: 0)
> Why do you think "math will be the key to
> bug free portable definitions ...

The parts of computer science that rely on math seem to have the highest levels of reliability.

Once the theory behind them is complete they seem to serve as a foundation that is used over and over again.

Take for instance the use of boolean logic in cpu and alu design or the theory of formal languages in parser design.

Those parts that don't rely on math, like mainstream software development, seem to be easily swayed by fads that boom and fade rather quickly, like CASE methodologies in the 1980's....or.....

Quantum computing might eventually overtake boolean logic and the Von Neuman machine and solve some currently intractable problems, but boolean logic will not die in 8 years like most programming languages will.

The lambda calculus, combinators and higher order functions like fold and unfold serve the same function as boolean logic in functional programming.

I don't think the Lambda Calculus is going to die in 8 years. she will still be there hemming and hawing, taking a long draw on her cigarette, staring wearily off in the distance: "I've been waiting for you honey, for an eternity. What took you so long to realize I was the only one for you?"

There is nothing like boolean logic for the imperative programming paradigm.

The columns of assignment statements that populate most programs are not an adequate substitute as Backus's Turing Award Lecture points out.

Math is the ultimate quality control.

Anything of enduring value involves mathematics.

Pythagoras, Isoceles, and Dijkstra, do you agree?

Luke Gorrie - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/10/2002; 5:03:43 AM (reads: 991, responses: 0)
Another possibility is Niklaus Wirth for Oberon, the language/compiler/operating system/hardware/documentation. I haven't used or studied Oberon enough to say he's the best, but I've been most impressed with what I have seen and read. The similarities between Oberon and Emacs are very striking too, I think.

For software I actually do know and use, Emacs all the way :-). I guess that means Stallman, though I suspect the people who did Emacsen in between the TECO one and the GNU one pioneered a whole lot of the nice stuff I love about Emacs. A particularly fascinating paper is the history of Multics Emacs:

According to the Emacs Timeline at, GNU Emacs was actually the seventh Emacs to be written.

Francesco Cesarini - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/16/2002; 11:55:28 PM (reads: 896, responses: 0)
I would nominate Joe Armstrong, Mike Williams and Robert Virding, the creators of Erlang. Through an iterative process and extensive prototyping, they created Erlang, a language which even if clumsy in its syntax, is very powerful in its semantics.

    Ran on a virtual machine long before Java was invented and hyped.
    Allows code upgrade during runtime.
    Incorporated IP based distribution long before the masses knew what IP meant.
    Relies on extensive usage of design patterns.
    Is used on a wide scale with many success stories.

Noel Welsh - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/17/2002; 4:23:43 AM (reads: 886, responses: 0)
What about Guy Steele Jr? He's designed a few languages and written a few papers that have been of some influence.

Frank Atanassow - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/17/2002; 6:39:57 AM (reads: 876, responses: 1)
Language design should not be a popularity contest. Part of the problem with the state of computing is that in most people's minds it is.

However, it is not inappropriate to honor people who have had a major impact via language design.

  • John McCarthy for LISP and Algol 60.

  • Peter J. Landin for ISWIM, the first functional language (see page 29 of Paulson's notes for a comparison with LISP; also see Wadler's tribute, and the original).

  • Niklaus Wirth for the Pascal family.

  • Guy Steele for Scheme, Java and other contributions.

  • Donald Knuth for TeX which, although I believe it is a terrible programming language, is useful and practical, was ground-breaking and is still without equal.

  • Robin Milner for ML, LCF, CCS and the pi-calculus.

  • John Backus for Fortran, Algol 60 and FP.

I picked these people based not only on the worth and impact of their contributions, but also their originality. Oh, and almost all of them are Turing Award winners, but surely that's coincidental...! :)

Ehud Lamm - Re: Most amazing designer?  blueArrow
10/17/2002; 6:41:57 AM (reads: 900, responses: 0)
Ha. The problem is to choose one of them!