Re: why did you chose compiler development?

"Dwight VandenBerghe" <>
31 May 1997 09:43:49 -0400

          From comp.compilers

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From: "Dwight VandenBerghe" <>
Newsgroups: comp.compilers
Date: 31 May 1997 09:43:49 -0400
Organization: Pentasoft Corporation
References: 97-05-242 97-05-287 97-05-308 97-05-315
Keywords: practice

> Andrew Tucker wrote:
> > [ why did we all get into compiler development? ]

I was seventeen and had a lot of time on my hands. I was a programmer
for the US Marines, stationed in Da Nang, Vietnam, in the mid sixties,
and during the long nights I would go through the IBM microfiche -
they kept a full set in the computer room, all the manuals and all the
source code for all their tools. I got interested in the COBOL
compiler, and I read through the assembler code for it. I still
remember reading the instructions that scanned in an integer. It just
thrilled me, seeing how that magic was done. I stayed up late into
the early morning, trying to figure it all out.

It's 3:10AM here now, and I've just finished downloading some papers
from Norway on attribute grammars in ML. I have to go print them out.
I'm dead tired, but this stuff is so exciting that sleep will have to
wait. I'm 48 now, and my youngest boy is almost seventeen. My
grandkids are great, and my wife is a gem, but you know, I hope that I
am still cheating sleep for another couple of decades, because I feel
seventeen, not nearly fifty. Compilers are magical. Compilers are
like the two opposing mirrors in the funhouse - you see infinity, yet
you are clearly finite. Writing a compiler, you go back and forth,
from the infinite to the practical, over and over again. And now,
with the advent of functional programming into my life, there is an
elegance to the code that I haven't seen before. The functional style
seems to me to be made for us compiler jockeys. And the advances that
have been made in this field: BURS theory, the SUIF system,
transformational tree rewrite systems, higher-order attribute
grammars, the exciting new work with LL(infinite) parser generators
... it's simply thrilling. Nothing else compares, at least, for me.
Applications suck; device drivers are tedious; operating systems and
file management and databases are boring. After 31 years, I've pretty
much done it all, and if it wasn't for compilers I'd be bored stiff.
Yet here it is, the wee hours yet again. Last night I finally hauled
myself to sleep at a little after 2AM, because I found some great
papers on polymorphic type theory on some server in the UK. So it


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