- Real programmers don't write specs. Users should consider
themselves lucky to get any programs at all and take what they get.
- Real programmers don't comment their code. If it was hard to
write, it should be hard to read.
- Real programmers don't write application programs, they pro-
gram right down on the bare metal. Application programming
is for feebs who can't do systems programming.
- Real programmers don't eat quiche. Real programmers don't even know how to
spell quiche. They eat Twinkies, Coke and palate-scorching Szechwan food.
- Real programmers don't draw flowcharts. Flowcharts are, after all, the
illiterate's form of documentation. Cavemen drew flowcharts; look how
much it did for them.
- Real programmers don't read manuals. Reliance on a reference is a hallmark
of the novice and the coward.
- Real programmers programs never work right the first time.
But if you throw them on the machine they can be patched
into working in only a few 30-hours debugging sessions.
- Real programmers don't use Fortran. Fortran is for wimpy engineers who
wear white socks, pipe stress freaks, and crystallography weenies. They
get excited over finite state analysis and nuclear reactor simulation.
- Real programmers don't use COBOL. COBOL is for wimpy application
- Real programmers never work 9 to 5. If any real programmers
are around at 9 am, it's because they were up all night.
- Real programmers don't write in BASIC. Actually, no program-
mers write in BASIC, after the age of 12.
- Real programmers don't document. Documentation is for simps
who can't read the listings or the object deck.
- Real programmers don't write in Pascal, or Bliss, or Ada, or
any of those pinko computer science languages. Strong typing
is for people with weak memories.
- Real programmers know better than the users what they need.
- Real programmers think structured programming is a communist
- Real programmers don't use schedules. Schedules are for manager's
toadies. Real programmers like to keep their manager
- Real programmers think better when playing adventure.
- Real programmers don't use PL/I. PL/I is for insecure momma's boys
who can't choose between COBOL and Fortran.
- Real programmers don't use APL, unless the whole program can be written
on one line.
- Real programmers don't use LISP. Only effeminate programmers use more
parentheses than actual code.
- Real programmers disdain structured programming. Structured programming
is for compulsive, prematurely toilet-trained neurotics who wear neckties
and carefully line up sharpened pencils on an otherwise uncluttered desk.
- Real programmers don't like the team programming concept. Unless, of
course, they are the Chief Programmer.
- Real programmers have no use for managers. Managers are a necessary evil.
Managers are for dealing with personnel bozos, bean counters, senior
planners and other mental defectives.
- Real programmers scorn floating point arithmetic. The decimal point was
invented for pansy bedwetters who are unable to "think big."
- Real programmers don't drive clapped-out Mavericks. They prefer BMWs,
Lincolns or pick-up trucks with floor shifts. Fast motorcycles are
- Real programmers don't believe in schedules. Planners make up schedules.
Managers "firm up" schedules. Frightened coders strive to meet schedules.
Real programmers ignore schedules.
- Real programmers like vending machine popcorn. Coders pop it in the
microwave oven. Real programmers use the heat given off by the cpu.
They can tell what job is running just by listening to the rate of popping.
- Real programmers know every nuance of every instruction and use them all
in every real program. Puppy architects won't allow execute instructions
to address another execute as the target instruction. Real programmers
despise such petty restrictions.
- Real programmers don't bring brown bag lunches to work. If the vending
machine sells it, they eat it. If the vending machine doesn't sell it,
they don't eat it. Vending machines don't sell quiche.
"Real Programmers Don't Use PASCAL"
Back in the good old days -- the "Golden Era" of computers, it was easy
to separate the men from the boys (sometimes called "Real Men" and "Quiche
Eaters" in the literature). During this period, the Real Men were the ones that
understood computer programming, and the Quiche Eaters were the ones that
didn't. A real computer programmer said things like "DO 10 I=1,10" and "ABEND"
(they actually talked in capital letters, you understand), and the rest of the
world said things like "computers are too complicated for me" and "I can't
relate to computers -- they're so impersonal". (A previous work
 points out
that Real Men don't "relate" to anything, and aren't afraid of being
Ed Post, "Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal",
_DATAMATION_, July 1983, pp. 263-265 (Readers' Forum).
But, as usual, times change. We are faced today with a world in which
little old ladies can get computers in their microwave ovens, 12-year-old kids
can blow Real Men out of the water playing Asteroids and Pac-Man, and anyone
can buy and even understand their very own Personal Computer. The Real
Programmer is in danger of becoming extinct, of being replaced by high-school
students with TRASH-80's.
There is a clear need to point out the differences between the typical
high-school junior Pac-Man player and a Real Programmer. If this difference is
made clear, it will give these kids something to aspire to -- a role model, a
Father Figure. It will also help explain to the employers of Real Programmers
why it would be a mistake to replace the Real Programmers on their staff with
12-year-old Pac-Man players (at a considerable salary savings).
The easiest way to tell a Real Programmer from the crowd is by the
programming language he (or she) uses. Real Programmers use FORTRAN. Quiche
Eaters use PASCAL. Nicklaus Wirth, the designer of PASCAL, gave a talk once at
which he was asked "How do you pronounce your name?". He replied, "You can
either call me by name, pronouncing it 'Veert', or call me by value, 'Worth'."
One can tell immediately from this comment that Nicklaus Wirth is a Quiche
Eater. The only parameter passing mechanism endorsed by Real Programmers is
call-by-value-return, as implemented in the IBM\370 FORTRAN-G and H compilers.
Real programmers don't need all these abstract concepts to get their jobs done
-- they are perfectly happy with a keypunch, a FORTRAN IV compiler, and a beer.
If you can't do it in FORTRAN, do it in assembly language. If you can't do it
in assembly language, it isn't worth doing.
- Real Programmers do List Processing in FORTRAN.
- Real Programmers do String Manipulation in FORTRAN.
- Real Programmers do Accounting (if they do it at all) in FORTRAN.
- Real Programmers do Artificial Intelligence programs in FORTRAN.
The academics in computer science have gotten into the "structured
programming" rut over the past several years. They claim that programs are more
easily understood if the programmer uses some special language constructs and
techniques. They don't all agree on exactly which constructs, of course, and
the examples they use to show their particular point of view invariably fit on
a single page of some obscure journal or another -- clearly not enough of an
example to convince anyone. When I got out of school, I thought I was the best
programmer in the world. I could write an unbeatable tic-tac-toe program, use
five different computer languages, and create 1000-line programs that WORKED.
(Really!) Then I got out into the Real World. My first task in the Real World
was to read and understand a 200,000-line FORTRAN program, then speed it up by
a factor of two. Any Real Programmer will tell you that all the Structured
Coding in the world won't help you solve a problem like that -- it takes actual
talent. Some quick observations on Real Programmers and Structured Programming:
- Real Programmers aren't afraid to use GOTO's.
- Real Programmers can write five-page-long DO loops without
- Real Programmers like Arithmetic IF statements -- they make the
code more interesting.
- Real Programmers write self-modifying code, especially if they can
save 20 nanoseconds in the middle of a tight loop.
- Real Programmers don't need comments -- the code is obvious.
- Since FORTRAN doesn't have a structured IF, REPEAT ... UNTIL, or
CASE statement, Real Programmers don't have to worry about not
using them. Besides, they can be simulated when necessary using
Data Structures have also gotten a lot of press lately. Abstract Data
Types, Structures, Pointers, Lists, and Strings have become popular in certain
circles. Wirth (the above-mentioned Quiche Eater) actually wrote an entire book
 contending that you could write a program based on data structures, instead
of the other way around. As all Real Programmers know, the only useful data
structure is the Array. Strings, lists, structures, sets -- these are all
special cases of arrays and can be treated that way just as easily without
messing up your programing language with all sorts of complications. The worst
thing about fancy data types is that you have to declare them, and Real
Programming Languages, as we all know, have implicit typing based on the first
letter of the (six character) variable name.
What kind of operating system is used by a Real Programmer? CP/M? God
forbid -- CP/M, after all, is basically a toy operating system. Even little
old ladies and grade school students can understand and use CP/M.
Unix is a lot more complicated of course -- the typical Unix hacker
never can remember what the PRINT command is called this week -- but when it
gets right down to it, Unix is a glorified video game. People don't do Serious
Work on Unix systems: they send jokes around the world on UUCP-net and write
adventure games and research papers.
No, your Real Programmer uses OS\370. A good programmer can find and
understand the description of the IJK305I error he just got in his JCL manual.
A great programmer can write JCL without referring to the manual at all. A
truly outstanding programmer can find bugs buried in a 6 megabyte core dump
without using a hex calculator. (I have actually seen this done.)
OS is a truly remarkable operating system. It's possible to destroy
days of work with a single misplaced space, so alertness in the programming
staff is encouraged. The best way to approach the system is through a keypunch.
Some people claim there is a Time Sharing system that runs on OS\370, but after
careful study I have come to the conclusion that they were mistaken.
What kind of tools does a Real Programmer use? In theory, a Real
Programmer could run his programs by keying them into the front panel of the
computer. Back in the days when computers had front panels, this was actually
done occasionally. Your typical Real Programmer knew the entire bootstrap
loader by memory in hex, and toggled it in whenever it got destroyed by his
program. (Back then, memory was memory -- it didn't go away when the power went
off. Today, memory either forgets things when you don't want it to, or
remembers things long after they're better forgotten.) Legend has it that
Seymore Cray, inventor of the Cray I supercomputer and most of Control Data's
computers, actually toggled the first operating system for the CDC7600 in on
the front panel from memory when it was first powered on. Seymore, needless to
say, is a Real Programmer.
One of my favorite Real Programmers was a systems programmer for Texas
Instruments. One day he got a long distance call from a user whose system had
crashed in the middle of saving some important work. Jim was able to repair the
damage over the phone, getting the user to toggle in disk I/O instructions at
the front panel, repairing system tables in hex, reading register contents back
over the phone. The moral of this story: while a Real Programmer usually
includes a keypunch and lineprinter in his toolkit, he can get along with just
a front panel and a telephone in emergencies.
In some companies, text editing no longer consists of ten engineers
standing in line to use an 029 keypunch. In fact, the building I work in
doesn't contain a single keypunch. The Real Programmer in this situation has to
do his work with a "text editor" program. Most systems supply several text
editors to select from, and the Real Programmer must be careful to pick one
that reflects his personal style. Many people believe that the best text
editors in the world were written at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center for use on
their Alto and Dorado computers . Unfortunately, no Real Programmer would
ever use a computer whose operating system is called SmallTalk, and would
certainly not talk to the computer with a mouse.
Some of the concepts in these Xerox editors have been incorporated into
editors running on more reasonably named operating systems -- EMACS and VI
being two. The problem with these editors is that Real Programmers consider
"what you see is what you get" to be just as bad a concept in Text Editors as
it is in women. No the Real Programmer wants a "you asked for it, you got it"
text editor -- complicated, cryptic, powerful, unforgiving, dangerous. TECO, to
It has been observed that a TECO command sequence more closely
resembles transmission line noise than readable text . One of the more
entertaining games to play with TECO is to type your name in as a command line
and try to guess what it does. Just about any possible typing error while
talking with TECO will probably destroy your program, or even worse --
introduce subtle and mysterious bugs in a once working subroutine.
For this reason, Real Programmers are reluctant to actually edit a
program that is close to working. They find it much easier to just patch the
binary object code directly, using a wonderful program called SUPERZAP (or its
equivalent on non-IBM machines). This works so well that many working programs
on IBM systems bear no relation to the original FORTRAN code. In many cases,
the original source code is no longer available. When it comes time to fix a
program like this, no manager would even think of sending anything less than a
Real Programmer to do the job -- no Quiche Eating structured programmer would
even know where to start. This is called "job security".
Some programming tools NOT used by Real Programmers:
- FORTRAN preprocessors like MORTRAN and RATFOR. The Cuisinarts of
programming -- great for making Quiche. See comments above on
- Source language debuggers. Real Programmers can read core dumps.
- Compilers with array bounds checking. They stifle creativity, destroy
most of the interesting uses for EQUIVALENCE, and make it impossible
to modify the operating system code with negative subscripts. Worst of
all, bounds checking is inefficient.
- Source code maintenance systems. A Real Programmer keeps his code
locked up in a card file, because it implies that its owner cannot
leave his important programs unguarded .
THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT WORK
Where does the typical Real Programmer work? What kind of programs are
worthy of the efforts of so talented an individual? You can be sure that no
Real Programmer would be caught dead writing accounts-receivable programs in
COBOL, or sorting mailing lists for People magazine. A Real Programmer wants
tasks of earth-shaking importance (literally!).
Some of the most awesome Real Programmers of all work at the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in California. Many of them know the entire operating
system of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft by heart. With a combination of
large ground-based FORTRAN programs and small spacecraft-based assembly
language programs, they are able to do incredible feats of navigation and
improvisation -- hitting ten-kilometer wide windows at Saturn after six years
in space, repairing or bypassing damaged sensor platforms, radios, and
batteries. Allegedly, one Real Programmer managed to tuck a pattern-matching
program into a few hundred bytes of unused memory in a Voyager spacecraft that
searched for, located, and photographed a new moon of Jupiter.
- Real Programmers work for Los Alamos National Laboratory, writing
atomic bomb simulations to run on Cray I supercomputers.
- Real Programmers work for the National Security Agency, decoding
- It was largely due to the efforts of thousands of Real Programmers
working for NASA that our boys got to the moon and back before
- Real Programmers are at work for Boeing designing the operating
systems for cruise missiles.
The current plan for the Galileo spacecraft is to use a gravity assist
trajectory past Mars on the way to Jupiter. This trajectory passes within 80
+/-3 kilometers of the surface of Mars. Nobody is going to trust a PASCAL
program (or a PASCAL programmer) for navigation to these tolerances.
As you can tell, many of the world's Real Programmers work for the U.S.
Government -- mainly the Defense Department. This is as it should be.
Recently, however, a black cloud has formed on the Real Programmer horizon. It
seems that some highly placed Quiche Eaters at the Defense Department decided
that all Defense programs should be written in some grand unified language
called "ADA" ((C), DoD). For a while, it seemed that ADA was destined to
become a language that went against all the precepts of Real Programming -- a
language with structure, a language with data types, strong typing, and
semicolons. In short, a language designed to cripple the creativity of the
typical Real Programmer. Fortunately, the language adopted by DoD has enough
interesting features to make it approachable -- it's incredibly complex,
includes methods for messing with the operating system and rearranging memory,
and Edsgar Dijkstra doesn't like it . (Dijkstra, as I'm sure you know, was
the author of "GoTos Considered Harmful" -- a landmark work in programming
methodology, applauded by PASCAL programmers and Quiche Eaters alike.) Besides,
the determined Real Programmer can write FORTRAN programs in any language.
The Real Programmer might compromise his principles and work on
something slightly more trivial than the destruction of life as we know it,
providing there's enough money in it. There are several Real Programmers
building video games at Atari, for example. (But not playing them -- a Real
Programmer knows how to beat the machine every time: no challenge in that.)
Everyone working at LucasFilm is a Real Programmer. (It would be crazy to turn
down the money of fifty million Star Trek fans.) The proportion of Real
Programmers in Computer Graphics is somewhat lower than the norm, mostly
because nobody has found a use for computer graphics yet. On the other hand,
all computer graphics is done in FORTRAN, so there are a fair number of people
doing graphics in order to avoid having to write COBOL programs.
Real Programmers... p. 7
THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT PLAY
Generally, the Real Programmer plays the same way he works -- with
computers. He is constantly amazed that his employer actually pays him to do
what he would be doing for fun anyway (although he is careful not to express
this opinion out loud). Occasionally, the Real Programmer does step out of the
office for a breath of fresh air and a beer or two. Some tips on recognizing
Real Programmers away from the computer room:
- At a party, the Real Programmers are the ones in the corner talking
about operating system security and how to get around it.
- At a football game, the Real Programmer is the one comparing the plays
against his simulations printed on 11 by 14 fanfold paper.
- At the beach, the Real Programmer is the one drawing flowcharts in
- At a funeral, the Real Programmer is the one saying "Poor George. And he
almost had the sort routine working before the coronary."
- In a grocery store, the Real Programmer is the one who insists on running
the cans past the laser checkout scanner himself, because he never could
trust keypunch operators to get it right the first time.
THE REAL PROGRAMMER'S NATURAL HABITAT
What sort of environment does the Real Programmer function best in?
This is an important question for the managers of Real Programmers. Considering
the amount of money it costs to keep one on the staff, it's best to put him (or
her) in an environment where he can get his work done.
The typical Real Programmer lives in front of a computer terminal.
Surrounding this terminal are:
The Real Programmer is capable of working 30, 40, even 50 hours at a
stretch, under intense pressure. In fact, he prefers it that way. Bad response
time doesn't bother the Real Programmer -- it gives him a chance to catch a
little sleep between compiles. If there is not enough schedule pressure on the
Real Programmer, he tends to make things more challenging by working on some
small but interesting part of the problem for the first nine weeks, then
finishing the rest in the last week, in two or three 50-hour marathons. This
not only impresses the hell out of his manager, who was despairing of ever
getting the project done on time, but creates a convenient excuse for not doing
the documentation. In general:
- Listings of all programs the Real Programmer has ever worked on, piled in
roughly chronological order on every flat surface in the office.
- Some half-dozen or so partly filled cups of cold coffee. Occasionally,
there will be cigarette butts floating in the coffee. In some cases,
the cups will contain Orange Crush.
- Unless he is very good, there will be copies of the OS JCL manual and the
Principles of Operation open to some particularly interesting pages.
- Taped to the wall is a line-printer Snoopy calendar for the year 1969.
- Strewn about the floor are several wrappers for peanut butter filled
cheese bars -- the type that are made pre-stale at the bakery so they
can't get any worse while waiting in the vending machine.
- Hiding in the top left-hand drawer of the desk is a stash of double-stuff
Oreos for special occasions.
- Underneath the Oreos is a flowcharting template, left there by the
previous occupant of the office. (Real Programmers write programs, not
documentation. Leave that to the maintenance people.)
- No Real Programmer works 9 to 5 (unless it's the ones at night).
- Real Programmers don't wear neckties.
- Real Programmers don't wear high-heeled shoes.
- Real Programmers arrive at work in time for lunch .
- A Real Programmer might or might not know his wife's name. He does,
however, know the entire ASCII (or EBCDIC) code table.
- Real Programmers don't know how to cook. Grocery stores aren't open at
three in the morning. Real Programmers survive on Twinkies and coffee.
What of the future? It is a matter of some concern to Real Programmers
that the latest generation of computer programmers are not being brought up
with the same outlook on life as their elders. Many of them have never seen a
computer with a front panel. Hardly anyone graduating from school these days
can do hex arithmetic without a calculator. College graduates these days are
soft -- protected from the realities of programming by source level debuggers,
text editors that count parentheses, and "user friendly" operating systems.
Worst of all, some of these alleged "computer scientists" manage to get degrees
without ever learning FORTRAN! Are we destined to become an industry of Unix
hackers and PASCAL programmers?
From my experience, I can only report that the future is bright for
Real Programmers everywhere. Neither OS\370 nor FORTRAN show any signs of dying
out, despite all the efforts of PASCAL programmers the world over. Even more
subtle tricks, like adding structured coding constructs to FORTRAN have failed.
Oh sure, some computer vendors have come out with FORTRAN 77 compilers, but
every one of them has a way of converting itself back into a FORTRAN 66
compiler at the drop of an option card -- to compile DO loops like God meant
them to be.
Even Unix might not be as bad on Real Programmers as it once was. The
latest release of Unix has the potential of an operating system worthy of any
Real Programmer -- two different and subtly incompatible user interfaces, an
arcane and complicated teletype driver, virtual memory. If you ignore the fact
that it's "structured", even 'C' programming can be appreciated by the Real
Programmer: after all, there's no type checking, variable names are seven (ten?
eight?) characters long, and the added bonus of the Pointer data type is thrown
in -- like having the best parts of FORTRAN and assembly language in one place.
(Not to mention some of the more creative uses for #define.)
No, the future isn't all that bad. Why, in the past few years, the
popular press has even commented on the bright new crop of computer nerds and
hackers ( and ) leaving places like Stanford and M.I.T. for the Real
World. From all evidence, the spirit of Real Programming lives on in these
young men and women. As long as there are ill-defined goals, bizarre bugs,
and unrealistic schedules, there will be Real Programmers willing to jump in
and Solve The Problem, saving the documentation for later. Long live FORTRAN!
I would like to thank Jan E., Dave S., Rich G., Rich E., for their help
in characterizing the Real Programmer, Heather B. for the illustration, Kathy
E. for putting up with it, and atd!avsdS:mark for the initial inspiration.
- Feirstein, B., "Real Men don't Eat Quiche", New
York, Pocket Books, 1982.
- Wirth, N., "Algorithms + Data Structures =
Programs", Prentice Hall, 1976.
- Ilson, R., "Recent Research in Text Processing",
IEEE Trans. Prof. Commun., Vol. PC-23, No. 4,
Dec. 4, 1980.
- Finseth, C., "Theory and Practice of Text Editors
-- or -- a Cookbook for an EMACS", B.S. Thesis,
MIT/LCS/TM-165, Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, May 1980.
- Weinberg, G., "The Psychology of Computer
Programming", New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold,
1971, p. 110.
- Dijkstra, E., "On the GREEN language submitted to
the DoD", Sigplan notices, Vol. 3 No. 10, Oct
- Rose, Frank, "Joy of Hacking", Science 82, Vol. 3
No. 9, Nov 82, pp. 58-66.
- "The Hacker Papers", Psychology Today, August 1980.
- sdcarl!lin, "Real Programmers", UUCP-net, Thu Oct
21 16:55:16 1982
The IBM term for ABortive END. It's what you do to bring the system
down when all else fails. Also, (jokingly) the command issued to
the system to enable the third-shift operators to leave early
(from the german Guten Abend, meaning good evening).
- Real Men Don't Eat Quiche:
It's a wonderful little booklet, describing, with a lot of humor,
how a Modern Real Man can live in a world of quiche eaters.
State-of-the-art, and rather expensive, brand of food processor.
This is how FORTRAN compilers usually pass parameters to subroutines.
It's not the same as call by reference (or by name), since you are
not passing the addresses (references to) each individual parameter,
but rather both the caller and the callee know where the parameter
block is and deal with it appropriately.
- Arithmetic-IF statements:
`Interesting' FORTRAN constructs: An arithmetic if is a statement
IF (expression) label1,label2,label3
If expression evaluates to negative, zero, or positive, the execution
will continue at label1, label2 or label3, respectively. In
REAL FORTRAN, of course, expression is just an integer variable!
A computed GOTO is like the ON GOTO in BASIC (yuck!):
when N is an index into the list of labels. If N<0 or N>n
the following statement is executed.
An assigned GOTO is a bit different. You can assigne a label to
an integer variable using the ASSIGN statement; you can say
ASSIGN 10 TO IFOO, and then use IFOO as a label (e.g., GOTO IFOO). The
GOTO IFOO (label1,label2,...,labeln) statement branches to that
label matched by IFOO. If none is matched, execution continues. It's
used when IFOO can have been set to a variety of labels, but
you only want to branch is it has been set to some particular values.
You can say it's a set membership operation! Now, how many
CS seniors know that, I wonder!
Control Program for Microcomputers. A very antiquated (ca 1978?)
rudimentary operating system for 8080-based microcomuters. Would
have been picked up by IBM instead of MSDOS, (then called QDOS)
had the president of Digital Research not been out to lunch with
instructions not to be interrupted!
IBM messages are usually three letters (indicating the module
the error occured in), followed by a number, followed by a letter
indicating the severity of the error. I is Information. IJK is
a fictitious prefiex. The closest to that one is IKJ, which is
the MVS (then OS) nucleus, if my memory serves me right. (I actually
tried to look up this message when I was working for IBM!)
- Orange Crush:
Fluorescent-orange colored liquid, kind of like orange soda without
the carbonation. Gross.
Vending-machine type of junk food. Also available at supermarket
checkout counters. These are cheese-flavored (just flavored, no
real cheese) crackers filled with rancid peanut butter or mock-cheese
spread. Usually three one-square-inch sandwiches to a package.
- Double-stuffed Oreos:
A brand of cookies made by Nabisco. They are `sandwich' cookies, two
~2 inch, very dark, supposedly chocolate-flavor cookies, with a
vanilla-flavored stuffing. They are very common in the US.
YA example of junk food. These are small cakes filled with some
sort of custard. They are not too bad (taste-wise).
"the C shell is flakier than a snowstorm." (Guy Harris)