Uncle Bob: All Our Programming Languages Boil Down to Sequence, Selection and Iteration

“It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another,” wrote the American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, “it is one damn thing over and over.” Her statement is simply a newer version of the French expression Plus ça change, c’est la meme chose, which is approximated in the English “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. In turn, that French expression echoes a sentiment that dates at least as far back as the biblical book of Ecclesiates: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Even the idea of history repeating itself has a history of repeating itself!

That’s the essence of the keynote at the 2010 RailsConf conference given by Robert C. “Uncle Bob” Martin, whom I like to think of as “the programming world’s adult supervision”. If you’ve got some time to spare – perhaps while you’re having lunch – watch the video above, because it’ll give you a better sense of the history of programming languages and some educated guesses as to where they’re heading. Once you strip away the syntactic sugar, argues Uncle Bob, our programming languages essentially boil down to three things: sequence, selection and iteration, and every construct within those languages is some combination of them. In the keynote, Uncle Bob explains this essence and considers the implications, in classic “Uncle Bob” style, which includes, of all things, a drum solo at the beginning.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

5 replies on “Uncle Bob: All Our Programming Languages Boil Down to Sequence, Selection and Iteration”

Awesome, thanks. I actually learned a few of the languages he mentioned (and a lot he didn’t: SNOBOL, APL, …) in a “Computer Languages” course in University. And I did assembler programming on a PDF-11, which isn’t nearly so cool as you might think.

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