An inteview with Brian Kernighan, co-developer of AWK and AMPL

Computerworld's series on the most popular programming languages continues as we chat to Brian Kernighan

Who would you consider to be the icons of the programming world?

For purely parochial reasons, I think of people who I know or whose work I know well. Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie changed my life and yours; we would not be having this conversation without them. People who created major languages would also fall into that camp, for instance we all regularly use languages created by Bjarne Stroustrup, James Gosling, Larry Wall, and Guido von Rossum. And of course there are super-icons like Don Knuth and Fred Brooks. But this is a personal list; there are many others whose work has been influential, and your list would surely differ.

Every language teaches you something, so learning a language is never wasted, especially if it's different in more than just syntactic trivia.

(Brian Kernighan)

Bell Labs has produced some of the most influential figures in the world as far as IT goes — does it still maintain its relevance in your view? What could it do to better its acclaimed past?

Bell Labs was an astonishing place for many decades, though it fell on somewhat hard times during the telecom meltdown some years ago, as its corporate owner had to cope with shrinking markets. There are great people at Bell Labs but the operation is much smaller than it used to be, which reduces the chance of a big impact, though certainly it can still happen — all it takes is one or two people with a good idea.

What are you working on at the moment? Can we expect any new books or work on languages?

I seem to get totally wrapped up in teaching and working with students during the school year. During the summer I try to spend time in the real world, writing code for therapy and perhaps for some useful purpose. This is fun but so far it hasn't led to any book, though ideas are percolating. I'm still very interested in domain-specific languages and, more generally, in tools that make it easier to write code. And it sometimes seems like some of the old Unix command line languages for special purposes might have a second life in web pages. So I play with these from time to time, or entice some student into exploring a half-baked idea for a semester.

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Tags a-z of programming languagesCBrian KernighanAWKAMPL

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