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 “I dig old books.”
 Est. 1998

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Quotations about
Computer Programming

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NOTE:  Some of the quotes on this page were submitted to me by visitors, and not all have been verified for original source or wording. I'm working hard to confirm everything, but in the meantime please be aware of the possibility for errors.  —ღ Terri, March 2021

Welcome to my page of quotes about programming, application developers, software development, code, bugs, etc. For ten years I worked in an I.T. department alongside end user support, database experts, business analysts, and an entire appdev team. Some of my time was spent doing manual software testing — the challenge of trying to break things was pretty fun. The technology changes so fast, but some things remain quite true over time. Enjoy the quotes!  —ღ Terri

Few companies that installed computers to reduce the employment of clerks have realized their expectations... They now need more, and more expensive clerks even though they call them "operators" or "programmers." ~Peter F. Drucker

Always code as if the guy who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live. ~Martin Golding

Sometimes it pays to stay in bed on Monday, rather than spending the rest of the week debugging Monday's code. ~Dan Salomon

BETA.   Software undergoes beta testing shortly before it's released. "Beta" is Latin for "still doesn't work." ~Author unknown

One man's crappy software is another man's full time job. ~Jessica Gaston, 2008

A good programmer is someone who always looks both ways before crossing a one-way street. ~Doug Linder

All programmers are playwrights and all computers are lousy actors. ~Author unknown

If debugging is the process of removing bugs, then programming must be the process of putting them in. ~Edsger W. Dijkstra (1930–2002)

Another effective technique is to explain your code to someone else. This will often cause you to explain the bug to yourself. Sometimes it takes no more than a few sentences, followed by an embarrassed "Never mind, I see what's wrong. Sorry to bother you." This works remarkably well; you can even use non-programmers as listeners. One university computer center kept a teddy bear near the help desk. Students with mysterious bugs were required to explain them to the bear before they could speak to a human counselor. ~Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike, about debugging

It's not a bug — it's an undocumented feature. ~Author unknown

Version 1 of any software is full of bugs. Version 2 fixes all the bugs and is great. Version 3 adds all the things users ask for, but hides all the great stuff in Version 2. ~Fred Blechman

Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. So if you are as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it? ~Brian Kernighan

Ninety-nine little bugs in the code,
Ninety-nine little bugs,
Take one down, patch it around —
A hundred and twelve little bugs in the code...
~Author unknown, programmers' drinking song

...and then it occurred to me that a computer is a stupid machine with the ability to do incredibly smart things, while computer programmers are smart people with the ability to do incredibly stupid things. They are, in short, a perfect match. ~Bill Bryson

At Group L, Stoffel oversees six first-rate programmers, a managerial challenge roughly equivalent to herding cats. ~The Washington Post Magazine, 1985

Don't argue with people who write with digital ink and pay by the kilowatt-hour. ~Don Rittner

From a programmer's point of view, the user is a peripheral that types when you issue a read request. ~Peter Williams

I really hate this darn machine;
I wish that they would sell it.
It won't do what I want it to,
but only what I tell it.
~Author unknown

The only way for errors to occur in a program is by being put there by the author. No other mechanisms are known. Programs can't acquire bugs by sitting around with other buggy programs. ~Harlan Mills

It's the only job I can think of where I get to be both an engineer and an artist. There's an incredible, rigorous, technical element to it, which I like because you have to do very precise thinking. On the other hand, it has a wildly creative side where the boundaries of imagination are the only real limitation. ~Andy Hertzfeld, about programming

Jason:  Apparently the leaked Windows source code contains some pretty naughty language.
Peter:  Naughty language?
Jason:  Curse words in the comments.
Peter:  So when people are swearing at their PC, it's actually swearing back?
Jason:  Clever Microsoft.
~Bill Amend, FoxTrot (comic), 2004

Should array indices start at 0 or 1? My compromise of 0.5 was rejected without, I thought, proper consideration. ~Stan Kelly-Bootle

The New Testament offers the basis for modern computer coding theory, in the form of an affirmation of the binary number system. "But let your communication be Yea, yea; nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil." —Matthew 5:37  ~Author unknown

Good code is its own best documentation. As you're about to add a comment, ask yourself, "How can I improve the code so that this comment isn't needed?" ~Steve McConnell

When that code was written, only God and the programmer understood it. Now, only God understands it. ~Author unknown  [mod of a joke about Robert Browning poetry —tg]

Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand. ~Martin Fowler

It's okay to figure out murder mysteries, but you shouldn't need to figure out code. You should be able to read it. ~Steve McConnell

Debugging — the classic mystery game where you are the victim, the detective, and the murderer. ~Internet meme

Program, n.  A magic spell cast over a computer allowing it to turn one's input into error messages;  v. tr.  To engage in a pastime similar to banging one's head against a wall, but with fewer opportunities for reward. ~Author unknown

The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds castles in the air, from air, creating by exertion of the imagination... The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be... The computer resembles the magic of legend in this respect, too. If one character, one pause, of the incantation is not strictly in proper form, the magic doesn't work. Human beings are not accustomed to being perfect, and few areas of human activity demand it. Adjusting to the requirement for perfection is, I think, the most difficult part of learning to program. ~Frederick Brooks

Great software, likewise, requires a fanatical devotion to beauty. If you look inside good software, you find that parts no one is ever supposed to see are beautiful too. I'm not claiming I write great software, but I know that when it comes to code I behave in a way that would make me eligible for prescription drugs if I approached everyday life the same way. It drives me crazy to see code that's badly indented, or that uses ugly variable names. ~Paul Graham

Errors have occurred.
We won't tell you where or why.
Lazy programmers.
~Charlie Gibbs, 1998, honorable mention in the Haiku Error Messages 21st Challenge by Charlie Varon and Jim Rosenau, sponsored by

There are two ways to write error-free programs; only the third one works. ~Alan J. Perlis (1922–1990)

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. ~Rich Kulawiec

When you catch bugs early, you also get fewer compound bugs. Compound bugs are two separate bugs that interact:  you trip going downstairs, and when you reach for the handrail it comes off in your hand. In software this kind of bug is the hardest to find, and also tends to have the worst consequences. ~Paul Graham, "The Other Road Ahead," 2001

Programming languages, like pizzas, come in only too sizes; too big and too small. ~Richard E. Pattis,

There does not now, nor will there ever exist, a programming language in which it is the least bit hard to write bad programs. ~Lawrence Flon

If you cannot grok the overall structure of a program while taking a shower [e.g., with no external memory aids], you are not ready to code it. ~Richard E. Pattis,

We should forget about small efficiencies, say about 97% of the time:  "Premature optimization is the root of all evil."  ~Donald Knuth, quoting C.A.R. Hoare

Writing the first 90 percent of a computer program takes 90 percent of the time. The remaining ten percent also takes 90 percent of the time and the final touches also take 90 percent of the time. ~N. J. Rubenking

It's easy to cry "bug" when the truth is that you've got a complex system and sometimes it takes a while to get all the components to co-exist peacefully. ~Doug Vargas

One man's constant is another man's variable. ~Alan J. Perlis (1922–1990)

All programmers are optimists. Perhaps this modern sorcery especially attracts those who believe in happy endings and fairy godmothers. Perhaps the hundreds of nitty frustrations drive away all but those who habitually focus on the end goal. Perhaps it is merely that computers are young, programmers are younger, and the young are always optimists. ~Frederick Brooks, Jr.

He who hasn't hacked assembly language as a youth has no heart. He who does so as an adult has no brain. ~John Moore  [A little fun here based on a saying from the 1800s about being liberal when young and conservative when older. —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]

      We don't manage our time as well as we manage our space. There's an overhead of starting and an overhead of stopping a project because you kind of lose your momentum. And you've got to bracket and put aside all the things you're already doing. So you need reasonably large blocks of uninterrupted time if you're going to be successful at doing some of these things. That's why hackers tend to stay up late.
      If you stay up late and you have another hour of work to do, you can just stay up another hour later without running into a wall and having to stop. Whereas it might take three or four hours if you start over, you might finish if you just work that extra hour. If you're a morning person, the day always intrudes a fixed amount of time in the future. So it's much less efficient. Which is why I think computer people tend to be night people — because a machine doesn't get sleepy. ~Bill Joy

Reusing pieces of code is like picking off sentences from other people's stories and trying to make a magazine article. ~Bob Frankston

When debugging, novices insert corrective code; experts remove defective code. ~Richard E. Pattis,

Programming languages should be designed not by piling feature on top of feature, but by removing the weaknesses and restrictions that make additional features appear necessary. ~Author unknown

Ready, fire, aim:  the fast approach to software development.  Ready, aim, aim, aim, aim:  the slow approach to software development. ~Author unknown

When a programming language is created that allows programmers to program in simple English, it will be discovered that programmers cannot speak English. ~Author unknown

Programming is like sex. One mistake and you have to support it for the rest of your life. ~Michael Sinz

Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning. ~Rich Cook

It should be noted that no ethically-trained software engineer would ever consent to write a DestroyBaghdad procedure. Basic professional ethics would instead require him to write a DestroyCity procedure, to which Baghdad could be given as a parameter. ~Nathaniel S. Borenstein

Controlling complexity is the essence of computer programming. ~Brian Kernighan

In programming, as in everything else, to be in error is to be reborn. ~Alan J. Perlis (1922–1990)

Find more great quotations at — Quotations from the World of Programming, by Hákon Ágústsson.

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Last saved 2021 Jul 18 Sun 12:43 PDT

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