Wednesday, March 21, 2007

John Backus, Fortran originator, dead at 82

John Backus, leader of the original IBM Fortran development team, has died at 82. Fortran is widely held as the first successful high-level computing language. As such, it began the evolution of mainstream software programming away from the realm of machine and assembly coders, allowing a more ‘human-readable’ approach to programming.

One of his first jobs at IBM allowed him to work with famed computer scientist Wallace J. Eckert - then director of IBM’s Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory - to compute lunar orbits.

Like many other engineering efforts, the drive to create Fortran was at least in part the drive of an individual to eliminate some form of tedious work. In the biography of Backus on the IBM web site he says: “Much of my work has come from being lazy. I didn’t like writing programs, and so, when I was working on the IBM 701, writing programs for computing missile trajectories, I started work on a programming system to make it easier to write programs.”

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