The Economics of Programming Languages – in the 1950’s

I was having a look at this paper on the development of Fortran:

http://www.softwarepreservation.org/projects/FORTRAN/paper/p165-backus.pdf (which I found here )

And I noticed the following quote:

1.2. The Economics of Programming

Another factor which influenced the development of FORTRAN was the economics of programming in 1954. The cost of programmers associated with a computer center was usually at least as great as the cost of the computer itself. (This fact follows from the aver- age salary-plus-overhead and number of programmers at each center and from the computer rental figures.) In addition, from one-quarter to one-half of the computer’s time was spent in debugging. Thus programming and debugging accounted for as much as three-quarters of the cost of operating a computer; and obviously, as computers got cheaper, this situation would get worse.

This economic factor was one of the prime motivations which led me to propose the FORTRAN project in a letter to my boss, Cuthbert Hurd, in late 1953 (the exact date is not known but other facts suggest December 1953 as a likely date). I believe that the economic need for a system like FORTRAN was one reason why IBM and my successive bosses, Hurd, Charles DeCarlo, and John McPherson, provided for our constantly expanding needs over the next five years without ever asking us to project or justify those needs in a formal budget.

As Hal Varian says, “Ignore basic economic principles at your own risk. Technology changes. Economic laws do not.”

I would continue to bet on programming languages that save programmers time, or otherwise make them more productive.

Won’t fix… why?

I discovered a minor Rails annoyance today, and, looking around for an answer to the problem, I found this, which is a perfect description of the issue, and includes a fix:

http://dev.rubyonrails.org/ticket/5123

Unfortunately it has marked as “wont fix” with no reason specified.

Perhaps there is a reasonable answer that was perhaps discussed elsewhere, and just didn’t make it into the bug report, making it invisible to people like me who find it via Google, which is pretty annoying. The other explanation is more along the lines of “don’t wanna” (or fuck you, as the case may be), but at least come out and say so. “We’re not going to do it, as it’s not part of our English-centric vision” or what have you. Being a native English speaker, even when doing stuff for Italian or Austrian or whatever clients, I tend to code in English, because it’s 1) fast, 2) easy and 3) it’s pretty much universally understood by programmers. However, I can see the case for specific things to be in a particular language, and on the surface, this one line patch makes that a little bit easier, and doesn’t appear to be costly, so why not?

Just closing the bugs of people who have taken the time to try and help (this is clearly not just a “dude, it’s, uh, broke” bug) is the twin of the equally annoying people who don’t bother to take 30 seconds to send an email or bug report about software they’re using, and both are things I greatly dislike.