Oral History of John Backus

Interviewed by Grady Booch on 2006-09-05 in Ashland, Oregon, X3715.2007

John Backus led a team at IBM in 1957 that created the first successful high-level programming language, FORTRAN. It was designed to solve problems in science and engineering, and many dialects of the language are still in use throughout the world. Describing the development of FORTRAN, Backus said, "We simply made up the language as we went along. We did not regard language design as a difficult problem, merely a simple prelude to the real problem: designing a compiler which could produce efficient programs . . . We also wanted to eliminate a lot of the bookkeeping and detailed, repetitive planning which hand coding involved." The name FORTRAN comes from FORmula TRANslation. The language was designed for solving engineering and scientific problems. FORTRAN IV was first introduced by IBM in the early 1960s and still exists in a number of similar dialects on machines from various manufacturers.

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