In Memoriam - John Backus

The computer world lost a huge figure in the history of programming languages today. John Backus, the primary developer responsible for Fortran, died at his home in Oregon today. He was 82. The cause of death is believed to be old age.

Fortran is regarded as the first widely used programming language, and helped open the door to modern computing. Released in 1957, Fortran was considered to be turning point in computer software, much like the microprocessor was in hardware. After Fortran, Mr. Backus developed the notation used for describing the structure of programming languages known as Backus-Naur form with Danish computer scientist Peter Naur.

The full article is available from The New York Times. I think Mr. Backus’ outlook on life and computer programming is summed up best by his definition of innovation:

“You need the willingness to fail all the time. You have to generate many ideas and then you have to work very hard only to discover that they don’t work. And you keep doing that over and over until you find one that does work.”