Strange Loop

September 26-28 2018


Stifel Theatre


St. Louis, MO

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All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.

J.M. Barrie wrote in Peter Pan: "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again."

The time is 1954. The world of computing is thought of by "non-computer people" including management teams at technology companies as glorified adding machines programmed by a priesthood directly entering octal codes into memory locations. A select few see past the limitations of the state of the art and devise a system of "automatic coding" in which a computer program turns symbols into executable machine codes - the first compilers. These early successes spawn a burgeoning interest in "programming languages" which will:

In 1957, the language FORTRAN was released, followed by COBOL, LISP and Algol within a few years. To the astonishment of early practitioners, many of these fundamental goals went unrealized or were partially realized.

Using a variety of primary sources including papers, conference proceedings and contemporary books, this talk traces the motivations and stories behind the development of the first programming languages and comments on how those motivations and goals remain largely the same in 2014, sixty years later in a dramatically different computing landscape.

Mark Allen

I have been a system administrator and software developer for over 15 years and have spoken at numerous conferences including OSCON, Erlang Factory and others on topics ranging from composing objects using role based inheritance to using DTrace to profile emergent behavior in application code. I am currently researching a book on historical computer languages and the lessons they offer to developers in our current time.