Niklaus Wirth has passed away at age 89

reading time 2 min

Computer science pioneer Niklaus Wirth dies aged 89.

Article on .

My thoughts…

A lot of people think of Wirth as the inventor of Pascal, and that would be enough to celebrate his life. In the 1970s/1980s the common “starter languages” that most people had access to taught bad habits. Pascal brought “structured programming” to the masses. While Pascal was rudimentary, it turned people away from “spaghetti code” towards more manageable coding practices without needing to own a million dollar mainframe computer. The impact on thousands of children studying for the AP CS test in Pascal probably did more to create the next generation of developers than gets acknowledged. (Can you imagine writing in a language without procedures and/or functions? Yes, that’s what it was like. I’d be glad to show you examples)

However his influence didn’t stop there. After Pascal he created Modula 2, Oberon and others. Those languages were very experimental and allowed Wirth to try new things and innovate. While these languages didn’t become household names, they influenced all the languages we use today.

His most famous joke is the nerdiest joke I know. It’s so nerdy you need to know this about Pascal: In Pascal you can pass parameters to a function “call by value” or “call by name”. (in C that’s like passing a variable or passing a pointer to the variable)

Niklaus Wirth joked that because Europeans pronounce his name properly (“Nik-las virt”), while Americans mis-pronounce it as “nickel’s worth”, he is called by name in Europe and called by value in America.

Tom Limoncelli

Tom Limoncelli

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