Dijkstra - was: [Oberon] Reiser - Wirth book

Bob Walkden bob at web-options.com
Mon Oct 4 19:52:41 MEST 2010

Apparently Wirth was responsible for the title "Go To Statement Considered

I was very lucky when I was being taught to program. The first 2 days I was
taught by a man who was in his 60s at the time (1981) and had been
programming since the dawn of time with no idea about structured programming
Iin fact he sneered at it). I could not get a grasp of what he was trying to
teach us, and I really struggled with it. On the 3rd day (!) a younger
teacher asked for volunteers to learn something called Jackson Structured
Programming. Having nothing to lose, I volunteered. He was a brilliant
teacher. He ignored COBOL altogether, first teaching us to design programs
using Jackson's method expressed in a pseudo-code which was essentially
Pascal, and only then learn how to express it as a COBOL program using only
those features of the language that implemented the design. This was what
drew me to the Pascal family of languages - I did not understand why, when
something as succinct as Pascal existed, anyone would use COBOL.
Neverthless, I was a COBOL programmer for about 12 years but I believe my
work gained immensely from that lucky break at the beginning and I was able
to avoid having my mind crippled by COBOL - a task which was left to the
lunacy of corporate life.

It was fortunate that I didn't have my mind destroyed by COBOL as my first
programming job involved at least 50% assembler programming, working on
software that was originally developed in the early 1960s. That was an


> This reminds me of Dijkstra's rather famous 1968 letter to /Communications
> of the ACM/ "Go To Statement Considered Harmful" in which he argues for
> structured control statements.  But he does not mention COBOL in it.
> (COBOL still sucks, BTW)
> link:
> http://www.u.arizona.edu/~rubinson/copyright_violations/Go_To_Consider
> ed_Harmful.html
> I also found this other link to his collected writings.
> link:    http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/
> --erikc
> On 2010-10-04 11:45, Duke Normandin wrote:
> > On Mon, 4 Oct 2010, Treutwein Bernhard wrote:
> >
> >> Hi Bob,
> >>
> >> [...]
> >>> Good luck with that. Experience has taught me that Dijkstra was
> >>> right about COBOL.
> >>
> >> just curious, what did Dijkstra say about COBOL, I know his nice
> >>
> >> 	The tools we use hav a profound (and devious!)
> >> 	influence on our thinking.
> >
> > Here's a quote from Wikipedia:
> >
> > [quote]
> > Lack of structurability
> >
> > In his letter to an editor in 1975 titled "How do we tell truths that
> > might hurt?", which was critical of several programming languages
> > contemporaneous with COBOL, computer scientist and Turing Award
> > recipient Edsger Dijkstra remarked that "The use of COBOL cripples the
> > mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal
> > offense."[6]
> >
> > In his dissenting response to Dijkstra's article and the above
> > "offensive statement", computer scientist Howard E. Tompkins defended
> > structured COBOL: "COBOL programs with convoluted control flow indeed
> > tend to 'cripple the mind'", but this was because "there are too many
> > such business application programs written by programmers that have
> > never had the benefit of structured COBOL taught well...".[7]
> >
> > Additionally, the introduction of OO-COBOL has added support for
> > object-oriented code as well as user-defined functions and
> > user-defined data types to COBOL's repertoire.
> > [/quote]
> >
> --
> Oberon at lists.inf.ethz.ch mailing list for ETH Oberon and related systems
> https://lists.inf.ethz.ch/mailman/listinfo/oberon

More information about the Oberon mailing list