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The Secret Of A Successful Programming Language? A Really Great Beard

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Why do some programming languages take over the world while others wallow in obscurity?

Two academics at Princeton and the University of California, Berkeley are combing through mountains of data trying to tackle this mystery of the modern world. They think the answer may lie with how well a language is documented. Or with the reality that the average programmer doesn’t have the time or the inclination to learn more than a handful of programming tools. Or even with the age-old tendency of academics to build stuff that’s gloriously clever but completely impractical.

But a man named Tamir Kahson has a different answer. He thinks it’s all about the beard.

According to Kahson’s playful analysis, there’s a direct correlation between the success of a programming language and the length of the hair growing on the face of the man who built it. And he may have a point (see photos above).

C is perhaps the most successful language of all time. At Bell Labs, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, it was used to build the UNIX operating system, which now forms the backbone of modern computing, and 30 years after busting out of Bell, it remains the world’s most popular language according to multiple studies. Some attribute its success to Brian Kernighan’s seminal book The C Programming Language. Others point to the genius of its designers, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie. But more than genius, they had really great beards:

Ken Thompson and Dennis Richie. Photo: Wikimedia Commons The second most popular programming language on the planet is Java. Fifteen years after its debut, it has suffered the ignominy of being closely associated with Oracle, but it remains the language of choice on everything from Android smartphones to cloud services driving massive video applications. And the man who built it, James Gosling, knows how to grow some serious facial hair.

The world’s third most popular language? It’s probably C++, a derivative of C also developed at Bell Labs. And its developer, Bjarne Stroustrup, rocked some great whiskers of his own. But C++ is still less popular than C, which could have something to with Stroustrup deciding to shave.


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