John Backus, 1924-2007

From a link on Political Animal, I read this obituary of John Backus, the chief developer of Fortran and half-creator of the Backus-Naur form for describing programming language grammars. For at least thirty years, it’s been fashionable to make fun of Fortran and its primitive syntax, but it still chugs along. It’s the primary tool of those who need to crunch lots of numbers—those whose problems are so big they can’t afford to waste cycles, no matter how fast the hardware.

The programming I do now is not so number-intensive, so I haven’t used Fortran in ages. But it was my first language—as it was for most engineers—and I still see its influence in the languages I use today. An amazing legacy.