El programador humilde

Leo hoy este fragmento en el post

Why I’m The Best Programmer In The World*

At the 1972 Turing Award lecture, Edsger Dijkstra delivered a paper titled �The Humble Programmer.� He argued that most of programming is an attempt to compensate for the strictly limited size of our skulls. The people who are best at programming are the people who realize how small their brains are. They are humble. The people who are the worst at programming are the people who refuse to accept the fact that their brains aren�t equal to the task. Their egos keep them from being great programmers. The more you learn to compensate for your small brain, the better a programmer you�ll be. The more humble you are, the faster you�ll improve.


Les recomiendo ese “paper” de E.W.Dijkstra:


Algunos pasajes

…. in 1957, I married and Dutch marriage rites require you to state your profession and I stated that I was a programmer. But the municipal authorities of the town of Amsterdam did not accept it on the grounds that there was no such profession. And, believe it or not, but under the heading “profession” my marriage act shows the ridiculous entry “theoretical physicist”!

Era lo que estubia Dijkstra antes de convertirse en el primer programador alemán holandés.

there is yet another circumstance that had a profound influence on the programmer’s attitude to his work: on the one hand, besides being unreliable, his machine was usually too slow and its memory was usually too small, i.e. he was faced with a pinching shoe, while on the other hand its usually somewhat queer order code would cater for the most unexpected constructions. And in those days many a clever programmer derived an immense intellectual satisfaction from the cunning tricks by means of which he contrived to squeeze the impossible into the constraints of his equipment.

Algo que Dijkstra ataca en el resto del paper.

In the beginning there was the EDSAC in Cambridge, England, and I think it quite impressive that right from the start the notion of a subroutine library played a central role in the design of that machine and of the way in which it should be used. It is now nearly 25 years later and the computing scene has changed dramatically, but the notion of basic software is still with us, and the notion of the closed subroutine is still one of the key concepts in programming. We should recognise the closed subroutines as one of the greatest software inventions; it has survived three generations of computers and it will survive a few more, because it caters for the implementation of one of our basic patterns of abstraction.

Nadie sabía bien que se requería de un lenguaje de programación. Lo explica Dijsktra con un caso:

The second major development on the software scene that I would like to mention is the birth of FORTRAN. At that time this was a project of great temerity and the people responsible for it deserve our great admiration. It would be absolutely unfair to blame them for shortcomings that only became apparent after a decade or so of extensive usage: groups with a successful look-ahead of ten years are quite rare! In retrospect we must rate FORTRAN as a successful coding technique, but with very few effective aids to conception, aids which are now so urgently needed that time has come to consider it out of date. The sooner we can forget that FORTRAN has ever existed, the better, for as a vehicle of thought it is no longer adequate: it wastes our brainpower, is too risky and therefore too expensive to use. FORTRAN’s tragic fate has been its wide acceptance, mentally chaining thousands and thousands of programmers to our past mistakes. I pray daily that more of my fellow-programmers may find the means of freeing themselves from the curse of compatibility.

Pero había joyitas apareciendo:

The third project I would not like to leave unmentioned is LISP, a fascinating enterprise of a completely different nature. With a few very basic principles at its foundation, it has shown a remarkable stability. Besides that, LISP has been the carrier for a considerable number of in a sense our most sophisticated computer applications. LISP has jokingly been described as “the most intelligent way to misuse a computer”. I think that description a great compliment because it transmits the full flavour of liberation: it has assisted a number of our most gifted fellow humans in thinking previously impossible thoughts.

La aparición de un lenguaje documentado, con conducta definida, y hasta manual, la nota con Algol (recuerdo mi paso por Algol-W):

The fourth project to be mentioned is ALGOL 60. While up to the present day FORTRAN programmers still tend to understand their programming language in terms of the specific implementation they are working with —hence the prevalence of octal and hexadecimal dumps—, while the definition of LISP is still a curious mixture of what the language means and how the mechanism works, the famous Report on the Algorithmic Language ALGOL 60 is the fruit of a genuine effort to carry abstraction a vital step further and to define a programming language in an implementation-independent way.

Pero también sufrí al PL/I, que me pareció en su tiempo que se iba de rumbo, y así lo demostró la historia:

Using PL/1 must be like flying a plane with 7000 buttons, switches and handles to manipulate in the cockpit. I absolutely fail to see how we can keep our growing programs firmly within our intellectual grip when by its sheer baroqueness the programming language —our basic tool, mind you!— already escapes our intellectual control.

Más fragmentos:

the programmer only needs to consider intellectually manageable programs, the alternatives he is choosing between are much, much easier to cope with

as soon as we have decided to restrict ourselves to the subset of the intellectually manageable programs, we have achieved, once and for all, a drastic reduction of the solution space to be considered

Today a usual technique is to make a program and then to test it. But: program testing can be a very effective way to show the presence of bugs, but is hopelessly inadequate for showing their absence. The only effective way to raise the confidence level of a program significantly is to give a convincing proof of its correctness.

We all know that the only mental tool by means of which a very finite piece of reasoning can cover a myriad cases is called “abstraction”; as a result the effective exploitation of his powers of abstraction must be regarded as one of the most vital activities of a competent programmer. In this connection it might be worth-while to point out that the purpose of abstracting is not to be vague, but to create a new semantic level in which one can be absolutely precise.

the tools we are trying to use and the language or notation we are using to express or record our thoughts, are the major factors determining what we can think or express at all! The analysis of the influence that programming languages have on the thinking habits of its users, and the recognition that, by now, brainpower is by far our scarcest resource, they together give us a new collection of yardsticks for comparing the relative merits of various programming languages.

I could even go one step further and make an article of faith out of it, viz. that the only problems we can really solve in a satisfactory manner are those that finally admit a nicely factored solution. At first sight this view of human limitations may strike you as a rather depressing view of our predicament, but I don’t feel it that way, on the contrary! The best way to learn to live with our limitations is to know them.

Ultima frase

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.

Nos leemos!

Angel “Java” Lopez
Primer post desde nueva notebook, gracias a Martin Salias

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One Response to El programador humilde

  1. Javier says:

    Dijkstra no era alemán, era holandés (Dutch, en el artículo original)

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