Seeking examples of programming language knowledge has helped students, companies, etc.

I'm part of a group that is writing a paper trying to explain, to other computer scientists and engineers, the importance to universities of teaching undergraduate courses on programming languages. (The group is a subcommittee of the (newly formed) ACM SIGPLAN education board.) The hope is that this paper will be useful in influencing the IEEE/ACM curriculum revisions and ABET accreditation process. It might also help motivate students in such a course.

So, we are seeking a set of examples (or data) that say how the kind of knowledge taught in (esp. undergraduate) courses on programming languages help students in their careers. These careers could be in industry or research, but probably the most interesting and least debatable examples would come from industry. What we'd like are examples that would be convincing to computer scientists and engineers who are outside the field of programming languages, since those are the ones we have to sell on the importance of courses in programming languages.

An example of such an example is Paul Graham's paper "Beating the Averages" (see Other examples we know something about, but would like more details about, are LexiFi's use of abstraction ideas in financial contracts ("Composing Contracts: An Adventure in Financial Engineering", by Simon Peyton Jones, Jean-Marc Eber, and Jullian Seward, in IFIP 2000), Ericsson's use of Erlang (, Twitter's use of Scala (, software transactional memory and Haskell (

If you know of more examples, please let us know by replying to this thread, preferably with a reference or link. Since the functional programming community has done an especially good job of making clear what their commercial successes are (see, we are particularly interested in ideas from the programming language community that are not just "apply functional programming ideas" (although those are welcome too), for example older stories of how using OO gave a market advantage, or how some company used logic programming to configure computers. The best kind of examples would relate directly to topics typical of undergraduate programming languages courses (e.g., "How I made a million dollars by using static scoping" :-).

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I am fond of Dan Friedman's

I am fond of Dan Friedman's The Role of the Study of Programming Languages in the Education of a Programmer, especially the DSL angle.


The current resurgence of interest in DSLs (particularly, but not limited to, Ruby on Rails) is probably a good area to investigate, although I'm not aware of any particular links tying them back to PLT.

It seems pretty clear (to me, at least) that frameworks like Rails couldn't be created without cross-fertilisation of ideas from various different fields of thought. I don't know whether David Heinemeier Hansson was directly influenced by PLT (I suspect not), but he definitely *was* influenced by people who are.

The project I currently work on is written in Rails, and we certainly wouldn't have switched to it if it wasn't for my interest in programming languages. It's not quite "How I made a million dollars by using static scoping", but I wrote a blog article about the benefits we received from Rails here:

While it is not about the

While it is not about the advantages of undergrad pl education, Jon Bentley's, Little Languages (In More Programming Pearls, AW, 1988) contains several examples of the usefulness (in industry!) of the kind of language oriented thinking that is the result of good PL courses.

Jane Street

It's somewhat impolite to toot one's own horn, and this is of course firmly in FP-land, but we've written a bit about our feelings on this. We definitely feel strongly about the utility of teaching FP concepts to students.

It's somewhat impolite to

It's somewhat impolite to toot one's own horn...

It's for a good cause...


Thanks for all of these, I appreciate them, and have read them with much interest.

- Gary

I assume it goes without

I assume it goes without saying the Sweeney's ideas are highly relevant to the task at hand.