Guido van Rossum was born in 1956 in the Netherlands to parents belonging to the left-leaning Pacifist and Labor parties. He studied Mathematics at the University of Amsterdam, learned programming languages such as Pascal and ALGOL, and began programming on the university mainframe in the basement of the math building. While still a student, Van Rossum found a job at SARA (Stichting Academisch Rekencentrum Amsterdam) which provided computing services for the university. After graduating in 1982 he began a job at the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (Center for Mathematics and Informatics, or CWI) working with Lambert Meertens on the ABC programming language, which inspired many of the later features of Python. The project failed due to lack of traction, and Van Rossum moved on to working on the Amoeba operating system with Sape Mullender. While on this project, Van Rossum began to feel that he could be much more productive if he could write code using an ABC-like language instead of C. Over Christmas break of 1989, he started work on a language which would combine the simplicity and flexibility of Unix shell scripting, the productivity of ABC, the power of C, and the extensibility and modularity of Modula-2. Wanting a name that was fun, irreverent and a nod to pop culture, Van Rossum named the language Python, after the British comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Van Rossum explains how many of Python’s well-known features were derived from ABC, including its use of whitespace and its dynamic, object-oriented runtime. Its major departure is its extensibility through the use of modules, which has led to a large set of useful libraries. It is these libraries that Van Rossum credits for Python’s facility for rapid prototyping and its wide applicability to such wide ranging applications as web services, data science, machine learning, science, and education. Van Rossum also describes his efforts to open source Python, the early development of the Python community and its structure.
Adkinson, Justin, Camera person
Hsu, Hansen, Interviewer
Plutte, Max, Camera person
Van Rossum, Guido, Interviewee
Computer History Museum
Place of Publication
Mountain View, CA
ALGOL; Python; Pascal (Computer program language); Amoeba; UNIX; DEC SRC; Meertens, Lambert; Mullender, Sape; Tanebaum, Andrew; University of Amsterdam; open source; Raymond, Eric; O'Reilly, Tim; Object-oriented programming (Computer science); modular programming
CHM Oral History Collection
Computer History Museum