[lug] Stroustrup interview?

Michael J. Hammel mjhammel at graphics-muse.org
Mon Aug 28 14:49:23 MDT 2000

My brother forwarded this to me.  I'm a little skeptical as to it's
authenticity since the transcript lists Stroustrup's name as "Structure"
in the first half of the interview (even I'm not sure how it's spelled,
though).  But *if* it is real it's a rather interesting article.  Certainly
keeps in line with what I've heard of Stroustrup, which is that he never
really liked C++.

Read it with a grain of salt.  If anyone can verify this as being
authentic, I'd love to hear about it.

Forwarded message:
> On the 1st of January, 1998, Bjarne Structure gave an interview  to the
> IEEE's 'Computer' magazine.
> Naturally, the editors thought he would be giving a retrospective view of
> seven years of object-oriented design, using the language he created.
> By the end of the interview, the interviewer got more than he had bargained
> for and, subsequently, the editor decided to suppress its contents, 'for the
> good of the industry' but, as with many of these things, there was a leak.
> Here is a complete transcript of what was said, unedited, and unrehearsed,
> so it isn't as neat as planned interviews.
> __________________________________________________________________
> Interviewer:  Well, it's been a few years since you changed the world of
> software design, how does it feel, looking back?
> Structure:  Actually, I was thinking about those days, just before you
> arrived. Do you remember?  Everyone was writing 'C' and, the trouble was,
> they were pretty damn good at it. Universities got pretty good at teaching
> it, too. They were turning out competent - I stress the word 'competent' -
> graduates at a phenomenal rate. That's what caused the problem.
> Interviewer:  Problem?
> Structure:  Yes, problem. Remember when everyone wrote Cobol?
> Interviewer:  Of course, I did too
> Structure:  Well, in the beginning, these guys were like demi-gods.  Their
> salaries were high, and they were treated like royalty.
> Interviewer:  Those were the days, eh?
> Structure:  Right. So what happened?  IBM got sick of it, and invested
> millions in training programmers, till they were a dime a dozen.
> Interviewer:  That's why I got out. Salaries dropped within a year, to the
> point where being a journalist actually paid better.
> Structure:  Exactly. Well, the same happened with 'C' programmers.
> Interviewer:  I see, but what's the point?
> Structure:  Well, one day, when I was sitting in my office, I thought of
> this little scheme, which would redress the balance a little. I thought 'I
> wonder what would happen, if there were a language so complicated, so
> difficult to learn, that nobody would ever be able to swamp the market with
> programmers?  Actually, I got some of the ideas from X10, you know, X
> windows. That was such a bitch of a graphics system, that it only just ran
> on those Sun 3/60 things. They had all the ingredients for what I wanted.  A
> really ridiculously complex syntax, obscure functions, and pseudo-OO
> structure. Even now, nobody writes raw X-windows code. Motif is the only way
> to go if you want to retain your sanity.
> Interviewer:  You're kidding...?
> Structure:  Not a bit of it. In fact, there was another problem. Unix was
> written in 'C', which meant that any 'C' programmer could very easily become
> a systems programmer. Remember what a mainframe systems programmer used to
> earn?
> Interviewer:  You bet I do, that's what I used to do.
> Structure:  OK, so this new language had to divorce itself from Unix, by
> hiding all the system calls that bound the two together so nicely. This
> would enable guys who only knew about DOS to earn a decent living too.
> Interviewer:  I don't believe you said that...
> Structure:  Well, it's been long enough, now, and I believe most people
> have figured out for themselves that C++ is a waste of time but, I must say,
> it's taken them a lot longer than I thought it would.
> Interviewer:  So how exactly did you do it?
> Structure:  It was only supposed to be a joke, I never thought people would
> take the book seriously. Anyone with half a brain can see that
> object-oriented programming is counter-intuitive, illogical and
> inefficient.
> Interviewer:  What?
> Structure:  And as for 're-useable code' - when did you ever hear of a
> company re-using its code?
> Interviewer:  Well, never, actually, but...
> Structure:  There you are then. Mind you, a few tried, in the early days.
> There was this Oregon company - Mentor Graphics, I think they were called -
> really caught a cold trying to rewrite everything in C++ in about '90 or
> '91. I felt sorry for them really, but I thought people would learn from
> their mistakes.
> Interviewer:  Obviously, they didn't?
> Structure:  Not in the slightest. Trouble is, most companies hush-up all
> their major blunders, and explaining a $30 million loss to the shareholders
> would have been difficult. Give them their due, though, they made it work in
> the end.
> Interviewer:  They did?  Well, there you are then, it proves O-O  works.
> Structure:  Well, almost. The executable was so huge, it took five minutes
> to load, on an HP workstation, with 128MB of RAM. Then it ran like treacle.
> Actually, I thought this would be a major stumbling-block, and I'd get found
> out within a week, but nobody cared. Sun and HP were only too glad to sell
> enormously powerful boxes, with huge resources just to run trivial programs.
> You know, when we had our first C++ compiler, at AT&T, I compiled 'Hello
> World', and couldn't believe the size of the executable. 2.1MB
> Interviewer:  What?  Well, compilers have come a long way, since then.
> Structure:  They have?  Try it on the latest version of g++ - you won't get
> much change out of half a megabyte. Also, there are several quite recent
> examples for you, from all over the world. British Telecom had a major
> disaster on their hands but, luckily, managed to scrap the whole thing and
> start again. They were luckier than Australian Telecom. Now I hear that
> Siemens is building a dinosaur, and getting more and more worried as the
> size of the hardware gets bigger, to accommodate the executables. Isn't
> multiple inheritance a joy?
> Interviewer:  Yes, but C++ is basically a sound language.
> Structure:  You really believe that, don't you?  Have you ever sat down and
> worked on a C++ project?  Here's what happens: First, I've put in enough
> pitfalls to make sure that only the most trivial projects will work first
> time. Take operator overloading. At the end of the project, almost every
> module has it, usually, because guys feel they really should do it, as it
> was in their training course. The same operator then means something totally
> different in every module. Try pulling that lot together, when you have a
> hundred or so modules. And as for data hiding. God, I sometimes can't help
> laughing when I hear about the problems companies have making their modules
> talk to each other. I think the word 'synergistic' was specially invented to
> twist the knife in a project manager's ribs.
> Interviewer:  I have to say, I'm beginning to be quite appalled at all this.
> You say you did it to raise programmers' salaries?  That's obscene.
> Structure:  Not really. Everyone has a choice. I didn't expect the thing to
> get so much out of hand. Anyway, I basically succeeded. C++ is dying off
> now, but programmers still get high salaries - especially those poor devils
> who have to maintain all this crap. You do realize, it's impossible to
> maintain a large C++ software module if you didn't actually write it?
> Interviewer:  How come?
> Structure:  You are out of touch, aren't you?  Remember the typedef?
> Interviewer:  Yes, of course.
> Structure:  Remember how long it took to grope through the header files
> only to find that 'RoofRaised' was a double precision number?  Well, imagine
> how long it takes to find all the implicit typedefs in all the Classes in a
> major project.
> Interviewer:  So how do you reckon you've succeeded?
> Structure:  Remember the length of the average-sized 'C' project? About 6
> months. Not nearly long enough for a guy with a wife and kids to earn enough
> to have a decent standard of living. Take the same project, design it in C++
> and what do you get?  I'll tell you. One to two years. Isn't that great?
> All that job security, just through one mistake of judgment. And another
> thing. The universities haven't been teaching 'C' for such a long time,
> there's now a shortage of decent 'C' programmers. Especially those who know
> anything about Unix systems programming. How many guys would know what to do
> with 'malloc', when they've used 'new' all these years - and never bothered
> to check the return code. In fact, most C++ programmers throw away their
> return codes. Whatever happened to good ol' '-1'?  At least you knew you had
> an error, without bogging the thing down in all that 'throw' 'catch' 'try'
> stuff.
> Interviewer:  But, surely, inheritance does save a lot of time?
> Stroustrup:  Does it?  Have you ever noticed the difference between a 'C'
> project plan, and a C++ project plan?  The planning stage for a C++ project
> is three times as long. Precisely to make sure that everything which should
> be inherited is, and what shouldn't isn't. Then, they still get it wrong.
> Whoever heard of memory leaks in a 'C' program?  Now finding them is a major
> industry. Most companies give up, and send the product out, knowing it leaks
> like a sieve, simply to avoid the expense of tracking them all down.
> Interviewer:  There are tools...
> Stroustrup:  Most of which were written in C++.
> Interviewer:  If we publish this, you'll probably get lynched, you do
> realise that?
> Stroustrup:  I doubt it. As I said, C++ is way past its peak now, and no
> company in its right mind would start a C++ project without a pilot trial.
> That should convince them that it's the road to disaster. If not, they
> deserve all they get. You know, I tried to convince Dennis Ritchie to
> rewrite Unix in  C++.
> Interviewer:  Oh my God. What did he say?
> Stroustrup:  Well, luckily, he has a good sense of humor. I think both he
> and Brian figured out what I was doing, in the early days, but never let on.
> He said he'd help me write a C++ version of DOS, if I was interested.
> Interviewer:  Were you?
> Stroustrup:  Actually, I did write DOS in C++, I'll give you a demo when
> we're through. I have it running on a Sparc 20 in the computer room. Goes
> like a rocket on 4 CPU's, and only takes up 70 megs of disk.
> Interviewer:  What's it like on a PC?
> Stroustrup:  Now you're kidding. Haven't you ever seen Windows '95? I think
> of that as my biggest success. Nearly blew the game before I was ready,
> though.
> Interviewer:  You know, that idea of a Unix++ has really got me thinking.
> Somewhere out there, there's a guy going to try it.
> Stroustrup:  Not after they read this interview.
> Interviewer:  I'm sorry, but I don't see us being able to publish any of
> this.
> Stroustrup:  But it's the story of the century. I only want to be remembered
> by my fellow programmers, for what I've done for them. You know how much a
> C++ guy can get these days?
> Interviewer:  Last I heard, a really top guy is worth $70 - $80 an hour.
> Stroustrup:  See?  And I bet he earns it. Keeping track of all the gotchas I
> put into C++ is no easy job. And, as I said before, every C++ programmer
> feels bound by some mystic promise to use every damn element of the language
> on every project. Actually, that really annoys me sometimes, even though it
> serves my original purpose. I almost like the language after all this time.
> Interviewer:  You mean you didn't before?
> Stroustrup:  Hated it. It even looks clumsy, don't you agree?  But when the
> book royalties started to come in... well, you get the picture.
> Interviewer:  Just a minute. What about references?  You must admit, you
> improved on 'C' pointers.
> Stroustrup:  Hmm. I've always wondered about that. Originally, I thought I
> had. Then, one day I was discussing this with a guy who'd written C++ from
> the beginning. He said he could never remember whether his variables were
> referenced or dereferenced, so he always used pointers. He said the little
> asterisk always reminded him.
> Interviewer:  Well, at this point, I usually say 'thank you very much' but
> it hardly seems adequate.
> Stroustrup:  Promise me you'll publish this. My conscience is getting the
> better of me these days.
> Interviewer:  I'll let you know, but I think I know what my editor will
> say.
> Stroustrup:  Who'd believe it anyway?  Although, can you send me a copy of
> that tape?
> Interviewer:  I can do that.

Michael J. Hammel           |    Trifles make perfection and perfection is no
The Graphics Muse           |    trifle.
mjhammel at graphics-muse.org  |                    Michelangelo

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