When I mention real work as opposed to work one does in the role of a pansy boy, I certainly mean this both seriously and tongue in cheek.
Only if you spend your days with real work will you ever understand. You will be dripping wet from sweating. Your clothes will be so entirely smelly from external causes. Your materials will be in dire need for cleaning ever so comprehensively. You have worked for many hours. And you will go back to do it all over again. A prosthetic arm that is built to last 3 years dies within 5 seconds, 15 minutes, or 2 months - using stock commercial parts, it burns and dies like paper consumed by a slow fire, component by component.
Welcome to the world of real work.
The idea of clarifying what real men do as opposed to quiche eaters is certainly not new or mine. It existed when I grew up, and it probably was part of me growing up. When my godfather became ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis around 1983 or so and los his ability to speak, I was a teenager, and so without further ado I used my Commodore 64 computer to solder a large wide switcht to it, that could be used to switch a bit or so. We had these plugs and wires lying around, and there was some documentation that we got our hands on as we were networked under the Commodore 64 Anwender Club in Zurich with the funny abbreviation "CAC". There, we swapped all kinds of interesting insights and there sure were photocopies of documentation that otherwise was not so available. At any rate, I then used the hardware switch to set or unset a software bit and that then could be read out in order to direct software program loops and so I had one very large character on the screen that was made up from little blocks (on a 25 x 40 character resolution CRT screen) and that serially went through alphabet, numbers and a few diacritical signs as well as a "delete", "new line" and "print" command to print stuff on the attached line printer. So my uncle could press his head against the switch, and by virtue of my software, thus relatively easily write sentences. With that I had thoughtlessly provided the more ergonomical solution for him than my aunt, who had asked her chief programmer to help out whereas that chief programmer's stuff was not legible and lacked the elegant hardware hack I had came up with, and the computer she had that stuff run on cost around 20 times as much as my C64. At any rate, the "family council" decided that my solution was technically too good, and would make the attempt of my aunt pale in comparison, or look bad, so it was decided to best remove my stuff and have my uncle having to use the device auntie had provided even though that was really hard for him. Clearly, I had landed a solution in the domain of real programming, with a hard programming approach to a then totally new area of assistive devices.
Real Programmers Don't Use PASCAL
Copyright (C) 1982
Back in the good old days -- the `Golden Era' of computers, it was easy to
separate the men from the boys (sometimes called ``Real Men'' and ``Quiche
Eaters'' in the literature). During this period, the Real Men were the
ones that understood computer programming, and the Quiche Eaters were the
ones that didn't. A real computer programmer said things like `DO 10
I=1,10' and `ABEND' (they actually talked in capital letters, you
understand), and the rest of the world said things like `computers are too
complicated for me' and `I can't relate to computers -- they're so
impersonal''. (A previous work  points out that Real Men don't `relate'
to anything, and aren't afraid of being impersonal.)
But, as usual, times change. We are faced today with a world in which
little old ladies can get computers in their microwave ovens, 12-year-old
kids can blow Real Men out of the water playing Asteroids and Pac-Man, and
anyone can buy and even understand their very own Personal Computer. The
Real Programmer is in danger of becoming extinct, of being replaced by
high-school students with TRASH-80's.
There is a clear need to point out the differences between the typical
high-school junior Pac-Man player and a Real Programmer. If this
difference is made clear, it will give these kids something to aspire to
-- a role model, a Father Figure. It will also help explain to the
employers of Real Programmers why it would be a mistake to replace the
Real Programmers on their staff with 12-year-old Pac-Man players (at a
considerable salary savings).
The easiest way to tell a Real Programmer from the crowd is by the
programming language he (or she) uses. Real Programmers use FORTRAN.
Quiche Eaters use PASCAL. Nicklaus Wirth, the designer of PASCAL, gave a
talk once at which he was asked ``How do you pronounce your name?'' He
replied, ``You can either call me by name, pronouncing it `Veert', or call
me by value, `Worth'.'' One can tell immediately from this comment that
Nicklaus Wirth is a Quiche Eater. The only parameter passing mechanism
endorsed by Real Programmers is call-by-value-return, as Implemented in
the IBM\370 FORTRAN-G and H compilers. Real programmers don't need all
these abstract concepts to get their jobs done -- they are perfectly happy
with a keypunch, a FORTRAN IV compiler, ana a beer.
o Real Programmers do List Processing in FORTRAN.
o Real Programmers do String Manipulation in FORTRAN.
o Real Programmers do Accounting (if they do it at all) in FORTRAN.
o Real Programmers do Artificial Intelligence programs in FORTRAN.
If you can't do it in FORTRAN, do it in assembly language. If you can't
do it in assembly language, it isn't worth doing.
The academics in computer science have gotten into the `structured
programming' rut over the past several years. They claim that programs
are more easily understood if the programmer uses sole special language
constructs and techniques. They don't all agree on exactly which
constructs, of course, and the examples they use to show their particular
point of view invariably fit on a single pace of some obscure journal or
another -- clearly not enough of an example to convince anyone. When I
got out of school, I thcught I was the best programmer in the world. I
could write an unbeatable tic-tac-toe program, use five different computer
languages, and create 1000-line prograns that WORKED. (Really!) Then I
got out into the Real World. My first task in the Real World was to read
and understand a 2O0,OO0-line FORTRAN program, then speed it up by a
factor of two. Any Real Programmer will tell you that all the Structured
Coding in the world won't help you solve a problem like that -- it takes
actual talent. Some quick observations on Real Programmers and Structured
o Real Programmers aren't afraid to use GOTO's.
o Real Programmers can write five-page-long DO loops without
o Real Programmers like Arithmetic IF statements -- they make the
code more Interesting.
o Real Prograwmers write self-modifying code, especially if they can
save 20 nanoseconds in the middle of a tight loop.
o Real Programmers don't need comments -- the code is obvious.
o Since FORTRAN doesn't have a structured IF, REPEAT ... UNTIL, or
CASE statement, Real Programners don't have to worry about not using
them. Besides, they can be simulated when necessary using assigned
Data Structures have also gotten a lot of press lately. Abstract Data
Types, Structures, Pointers, Lists, and Strings have become popular in
certain circles. Wirth (the above-mentioned Quiche Eater) actually wrote
an entire book  contending that you could write a program based on data
structures, instead of the other way around. As all Real Programmers
know, the only useful data structure is the Array. Strings, lists,
structures, sets -- these are all special cases of arrays and can be
treated that way just as easily without messing up your programing
language with all sorts of complications. The worst thing about fancy
data types is that you have to declare them, and Real Programming
Languages, as we all know, have implicit typing based on the first letter
of the (six character) variable name.
What kind of operating system is used by a Real Programmer? CP/M? God
forbid -- CP/M, after all, is basically a toy operating system. Even
little old ladies and grade school students can understand and use CP/M.
Unix is a lot more complicated of course -- the typical Unix hacker never
can remember what the PRINT command is called this week -- but when it
gets right down to it, Unix is a glorified video game. People don't do
Serious Work on Unix systems: they send jokes around the world on UUCP-net
and write adventure games and research papers.
No, your Real Programmer uses OS\370. A good programmer can find and
understand the description of the IJK305I error he just got in his JCL
manual. A great programmer can write JCL without referring to the manual
at all. A truly outstanding programmer can find bugs buried in a
6-megabyte core dump without using a hex calculator. (I have actually
seen this done.)
0S is a truly remarkable operating system. It's possible to destroy days
of work with a single misplaced space, so alertness in the programming
staff is encouraged. The best way to approach the system is through a
keypunch. Some people claim there is a Time Sharing system that runs on
OS\370, but after careful study I have come to the conclusion that they
What kind of tools does a Real Programmer use? In theory, a Real
Programmer could run his programs by keying them into the front panel of
the computer. Back in the days when computers had front panels, this was
actually done occasionally. Your typical Real Programmer knew the entire
bootstrap loader by memory in hex, and toggled it in whenever it got
destroyed by his program. (Back then, memory was memory -- it didn't go
away when the power went off. Today, memory either forgets things when
you don't want it to, or remembers things long after they're better
forgotten.) Legend has it that Seymore Cray, inventor of the Cray I
supercomputer and most of Control Data's computers, actually toggled the
first operating system for the CDC7600 in on the front panel from memory
when it was first powered on. Seymore, needless tc say, is a Real
One of my favorite Real Programmers was a systems programmer for Texas
Instruments. One day he got a long distance call from a user whose system
had crashed in the middle of saving some important work. Jim was able to
repair the damage over the phone, getting the user to toggle in disk I/0
instructions at the front panel, repairing system tables in hex,
reading register contents back over the phone. The moral of this story:
while a Real Programmer usually includes a keypunch and lineprinter in his
toolkit, he can get along with just a front panel and a telephone in
In some companies, text editing no longer consists of ten engineers
standing in line to use an 029 keypunch. In fact, the building I work in
doesn't contain a single keypunch. The Real Progranmer in this situation
has to do his work with a ``text cditor' program. Most systems supply
several text editors to selcct from, and the Real Programmer must be
careful to pick one that reflects his personal style. Many people believe
that the best text editors in the world were written at Xerox Palo Alto
Research Center for use on their Alto and Dorado computers .
Unfortunately, no Real Programmer would ever use a computer whose
operating system is called SmallTalk, and would certainly not talk to the
computer with a mouse.
Some of the concepts in these Xerox editors have been incorporated into
editors running on more reasonably named operating systems -- EMACS and VI
being two. The problem with these editors is that Real Programmers
consider `What You See Is What You Get' to be just as bad a concept in
Text Editors as it is in women. No, the Real Programmer wants a `you
asked for it, you got it' text editor -- complicated, cryptic, powerful,
unforgiving, dangerous. TECO, to be precise.
It has been observed that a TECO command sequence more closely resembles
transmission line noise than readable text . One of the more
entertaining games to play with TECO is to type your name in as a command
line and try to guess what it does. Just about any possible typing error
while talking with TECO will probably destroy your program, or even worse
-- introduce subtle and mysterious bugs in a once working subroutine.
For this reason, Real Programmers are reluctant to actually edit a program
that is close to working. They find it much easier to just patch the
binary object code directly, using a wonderful program called SUPERZAP (or
its equivalent on non-IBM machines). This works so well that many working
programs on IBM systems bear no relation to the original FORTRAN code. In
many cases, the original source code is no longer available. When it
comes time to fix a program like this, no manager would even think of
sending anything less than a Real Programmer to do the job -- no Quiche
Eating structured programmer would even know where to start. This is
called `job security'.
Some programming tools NOT used by Real Programmers:
o FORTRAN preprocessors like MORTRAN and RATFOR. The Cuisinarts of
Programming -- great for making Quiche. See comments above on
o Source language debuggers. Real Programmers can read core dumps.
o Compilers with array bounds checking. They stifle creativity,
destroy most of the interesting uses for EQUIVALENCE, and make it
impossible to modify the operating system code with negative
subscripts. Worst of all, bounds checking is inefficient.
o Source code maintenance systems. A Real Programmer keeps his code
locked up in a card file, because it implies that its owner cannot
leave his important programs unguarded .
THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT WORK
Where does the typical Real Programmer work? What kind of programs are
worthy of the efforts of so talented an individual? You can be sure
that no Real Programmer would be caught dead writing accounts-receivable
programs in COBOL, or sorting mailing lists for People magazine. A Real
Programmer wants tasks of earth-shaking importance (literally!).
o Real Programmers work for Los Alamos National Laboratory, writing
atomic bomb simulations to run on Cray I supercomputers.
o Real Programmers work for the National Security Agency, decoding
o It was largely due to the efforts of thousands of Real Programmers
working for NASA that our boys got to the moon and back before
o Real Programmers are at work for Boeing designing the operating
systems for cruise missiles.
Some of the most awesome Real Programmers of all work at the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in California. Many of them know the entire
operating system of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft by heart. With a
combination of large ground-based FORTRAN programs and small
spacecraft-based assembly language programs, they are able to do
incredible feats of navigation and improvisation -- hitting ten-kilometer
wide windows at Saturn after six years in space, repairing or bypassing
damaged sensor platforms, radios, and batteries. Allegedly, one Real
Programmer managed to tuck a pattern-matching program into a few hundred
bytes of unused memory in a Voyager spacecraft that searched for, located,
and photographed a new moon of Jupiter,
The current plan for the Galileo spacecraft Is to use a gravity assist
trajectory past Mars on the way to Jupiter. This trajectory passes within
80+/-3 kilometers of the surface of Mars. Nobody is going to trust a
PASCAL program (or a PASCAL programmer) for navigation to these
As you can tell, many of the world's Real Programmers work for the U.S.
Government -- mainly the Defense Department. This is as it should be.
Recently, however, a black cloud has formed on the Real Programmer
horizon. It seems that some highly placed Quiche Eaters at the Defense
Department decided that all Defense programs should be written in some
grand unified language called `ADA' ((C), DoD). For a while, it seemed
that ADA was destined to become a language that went against all the
precepts of Real Programming -- a language with structure, a language with
data types, strong typing, and semicolons. In short, a language designed
to cripple the creativity of the typical Real Programmer. Fortunately,
the language adopted by DoD has enough interesting features to make it
approachable -- it's incredibly complex, includes methods for messing with
the operating system and rearranging memory, and Edsgar Dijkstra doesn't
like it . (Dijkstra, as I'm sure you know, was the author of ``GoTos
Considered Harmful'' -- a landmark work in programming methodology,
applauded by PASCAL programmers and Quiche Eaters alike.) Besides, the
determined Real Programmer can write FORTRAN programs in any language.
The Real Programmer might compromise his principles and work on
something slightly more trivial than the destruction of life as we know
it, providing there's enough money in it. There are several Real
Programmers building video games at Atari, for example. (But not
playing them -- a Real Programmer knows how to beat the machine every
time: no challenge in that.) Everyone working at LucasFilm is
a Real Programmer. (It would be crazy to turn down the money of fifty
million Star Trek fans.) The proportion of Real Programmers in Computer
Graphics is somewhat lower than the norm, mostly because nobody has found
a use for computer graphics yet. On the other hand, all computer graphics
is done in FORTRAN, so there are a fair number of people doing graphics in
order to avoid having to write COBOL programs.
THE REAL PROGRAMMER AT PLAY
Generally, the Real Progranmer plays the same way he works -- with
computers. He is constantly amazed that his employer actually pays him to
do what he would be doing for fun anyway (although he is careful not to
express this opinion out loud). Occasionally, the Real Programmer does
step out of the office for a breath of fresh air and a beer or two. Some
tips on recognizing Real Programmers away from the computer room:
o At a Party, the Real Programmers are the ones in the corner talking
about operating system security and how to get around it.
o At a football game, the Real Programmer is the one comparing the plays
against his simulations printed on 11 by 14 fanfold paper.
o At the beach, the Real Programmer is the one drawing flowcharts in
o At a funeral, the Real Programmer is the one saying ``Poor George.
And he almost had the sort routine working before the coronary.''
o In a grocery store, the Peal Programmer is the one who insists on
running the cans past the laser checkout scanner himself, because he
never could trust keypunch operators to get it right the first time.
THE REAL PROGRAMMER'S NATURAL HABITAT
What sort of environment does the Real Programmer function best in? This
is an important question for the managers of Real Programmers.
Considering the amount of money it costs to keep one on the staff, it's
best to put him (or her) in an environment where he can get his work done.
The typical Real Programmer lives in front of a computer terminal.
Surrounding this terminal are:
o Listings of all programs the Real Programmer has ever worked on, piled
in roughly chronological order on every flat surface in the office.
o Some half-dozen or so partly filled cups of cold coffee. Occasionally,
there will be cigarette butts floating in the coffee. In some cases,
the cups will contain Orange Crush.
o Unless he is very good, there will be copies of the 0S JCL manual and
the Principles of Operation open to some particularly interesting
o Taped to the wall is a line-printer Snoopy calendar for the year 1969.
o Strewn about the floor are several wrappers for peanut butter filled
cheese bars -- the type that are made pre-stale at the bakery so they
can't get any worse while waiting in the vending machine.
o Hiding in the top left-hand drawer of the desk is a stash of
Double-Stuff Oreos for special occasions.
o Underneath the Oreos is a flowcharting template, left there by the
previous occupant of the office. (Real Programmers write programs,
not documentation. Leave that to the maintenance people.)
The Real Programmer is capable of working 30, 40, even 50 hours at a
stretch, under intense pressure. In fact, he prefers it that way. Bad
response time doesn't bother the Real Programmer -- it gives him a chance
to catch a little sleep between compiles. If there is not enough schedule
pressure on the deal Programmer, he tends to make things more challenging
by working on some small but interesting part of the problem for the first
nine weeks, then finishing the rest in the last week, in two or three
50-hour marathons. This not only impresses the hell out of his manager,
who was despairing of ever getting the project done on time, but creates a
convenient excuse for not doing the documentation. In general:
o No Real Progranmer works 9 to 5 (unless it's the ones at night).
o Real Programmers don't wear neckties.
o Real Programmers don't wear high-heeled shoes.
o Real Programmers arrive at work in time for lunch .
o A Real Programmer might or might not know his wife's name. He does,
however, know the entire ASCII (or EDCDIC) code table.
o Real Programmers can't know how to cook. Grocery stores aren't open
at three in the morning. Real Programmers survive on Twinkies and
What of the future? It is a matter of some concern to Real Programmers
that the latest generation of computer programmers are not being brought
up with the same outlook on life as their elders. Many of them have never
seen a computer with a front panel. Hardly anyone graduating from school
these days can do hex arithmetic without a calculator. College graduates
these days are soft -- protected from the realities of programming by
source level debuggers, text editors that count parentheses, and `user
friendly' operating systems. Worst of all, some of these alleged
`computer scientists' manage to get degrees without ever learning FORTRAN!
Are we destined to become on industry of Unix hackers and PASCAL
From my experience, I can only report that the future is bright for Real
Programmers everywhere. Neither DS\370 nor FORTRAN show any signs of
dying out, despite all the efforts of PASCAL programmers the world over.
Even more subtle tricks, like adding structured coding constructs to
FORTRAN have failed. Oh sure, some computer vendors have come out with
FORTRAN 77 compilers, but every one of them has a way of converting itself
back into a FORTRAN 66 compiler at the drop of an option card -- to
compile DO loops like God meant them to be.
Even Unix might not be as bad on Real Programmers as it once was. The
latest release of Unix has the potential of an operating system worthy of
any Real Programmer -- two different and subtly incompatible user
interfaces, an arcane and complicated teletype driver, virtual memory. If
you ignore the fact that it's `structured', even `C' programming can be
appreciated by the Real Programmer: after all, there's no type checking,
variable names are seven (ten? eight?) characters long, and the added
bonus of the Pointer data type is thrown in -- like having the best parts
of FORTRAN and assembly language in one place. (Not to mention some of the
more creative uses for #define.)
No, the future isn't all that bad. Why, in the past few years, the
popular press has even commented on the bright new crop of computer nerds
and hackers ( and ) leaving places like Stanford and M.I.T. for the
Real World. From all evidence, the spirit of Real Programming lives on in
these young men and women. As long as there are ill-defined goals,
bizarre bugs, and unrealistic schedules, there will be Real Programmers
willing to jump in and Solve The Problem, saving the documentation for
later. Long live FORTRAN!
I would like to thank Jan E., Dave S., Rich G., Rich E., for their help
characterizing the Real Programmer, Heather B. for the illustration, Kathy
E. for putting up with it, and atd!avsdS:mark for the initial inspiration.
 Feirsteln, B., ``Real Men Don't Eat Quiche'', New York,
Pocket Books, 1982.
 Wirth, N., ``Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs'',
Prentice Hall, 1976.
 Ilson, R., ``Recent Research in Text Processing'', IEEE
Trans. Prof. Commun., Vol. PC-23, No. 4, Dec. 4, 1980.
 Finseth, C., ``Theory and Practice of Text Editors -- or --
a Cookbook for an EMACS'', B.S. Thesis, MIT/LCS/TM-165,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, May 1980.
 Weinberg, G., ``The Psychology of Computer Programming'',
New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971, p. 110.
 Dijkstra, E., ``On the GREEN language submitted to the
DoD'', Sigplan notices, Vol. 3 No. 10, Oct 1978.
 Rose, Frank, ``Joy of Hacking'', Science 82, Vol. 3 No. 9,
Nov 82, pp. 58-66.
 ``The Hacker Papers'', Psychology Today, August 1980.
 sdcarl!lin, ``Real Programmers'', UUCP-net, Thu Oct 21
Real Programmers Don't Eat Quiche
o Real Programmers don't eat quiche.
They like twinkies, coke and palate-scorching Szechwan food.
o Real Programmers don't write applications programs.
They program right down on the bare metal.
Applications programming is for the dullards who can't
do systems programming.
o Real Programmers don't write specs.
Users should be grateful for whatever they get:
They are lucky to get any programs at all.
o Real Programmers don't comment their code.
If it was hard to write, it should be hard to understand
and harder to modify.
o Real Programmers don't document.
Documentation is for simpletons who can't read listings or
the object code from the dump.
o Real Programmers don't draw flowcharts.
Flowcharts are the illiterate's form of documentation.
Cavemen drew flowcharts; look at how much good it did for them.
o Real Programmers don't read manuals.
Reliance on a reference manual is the hallmark of the novice
and the coward.
o Real Programmers don't write in RPG.
RPG is for gum-chewing dimwits who maintain ancient payroll programs.
o Real Programmers don't write in COBOL.
COBOL is for COmmon Business-Oriented Laymen who can't run a
business, much less write a real program.
o Real Programmers don't write in FORTRAN.
FORTRAN is for wimp engineers who wear white socks.
They get excited over finite state analysis
and nuclear reactor simulation.
o Real Programmers don't write in PL/1.
PL/1 is for insecure anal-retentives who can't
choose between COBOL and FORTRAN.
o Real Programmers don't write in BASIC.
Actually, no programmer writes in BASIC after reaching puberty.
o Real Programmers don't write in APL,
unless the whole program can be written on one line.
o Real Programmers don't write in LISP.
Only idiots' programs contain more parenthesis than actual code.
o Real Programmers don't write in PASCAL, BLISS, ADA, or any
of those other sissy computer science languages. Strong typing
is the crutch for people with weak minds.
o Real Programmers' programs never work right the first time.
But if you throw them on the machine they can be patched into
working order in only a few 30-hour debugging sessions.
o Real Programmers never work 9 to 5.
If any Real Programmers are around at 9:00 am,
its because they were up all night.
o Real Programmers don't play tennis, or any other sport which
requires a change of clothes. Mountain Climbing is acceptable.
Real Programmers wear climbing boots to work in case a mountain
should suddenly spring up in the middle of the machine room.
o Real Programmers disdain structured programming.
Structured programming is for compulsive neurotics who were
permanently toilet trained. They wear neckties and carefully
line up sharp pencils on an otherwise clear desk.
o Real Programmers don't like the team programming concept.
Unless, of course they are the chief programmer.
o Real Programmers never write memos on paper.
They send memos via computer mail networks.
o Real Programmers have no use for managers.
Managers are a necessary evil. They exist only to deal with
personnel bozos, bean counters, senior planners, and other
o Real Programmers scorn floating point arithmetic.
The decimal point was invented for pansy bedwetters who are
unable to "think big."
o Real Programmers don't drive clapped-out Mavericks.
They prefer BMW's, Lincolns, or pick up trucks with floor shifts.
Fast motorcycles are highly regarded.
o Real Programmers don't believe in schedules.
Planners make up schedules.
Managers "firm up" schedules.
Frightened coders strive to meet schedules.
Real Programmers ignore schedules.