Interview about C++

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On the 1st of January, 1998, Bjarne Stroustrup gave an interview to the
IEEE's 'Computer' magazine.

Naturally, the editors thought he would be giving a retrospective view
seven years of object-oriented design, using the language he created.

By the end of the interview, the interviewer got more than he had
for and, subsequently, the editor decided to suppress its contents,
'for the good of the industry' but, as with many of these things, there
was a

Here is a complete transcript of what was was said,unedited, and
unrehearsed, so it isn't as neat as planned interviews.

You will find it interesting...
Interviewer: Well, it's been a few years since you changed the world of

software design, how does it feel, looking back?

Stroustrup: Actually, I was thinking about those days, just before you
arrived. Do you remember? Everyone was writing 'C' and, the trouble
they were pretty damn good at it. Universities got pretty good at
it, too. They were turning out competent - I stress the word 'competent'
graduates at a phenomenal rate. That's what caused the problem.

Interviewer: problem?

Stroustrup: Yes, problem. Remember when everyone wrote Cobol?

Interviewer: Of course, I did too

Stroustrup: Well, in the beginning, these guys were like demi-gods.
salaries were high, and they were treated like royalty.

Interviewer: Those were the days, eh?

Stroustrup: Right. So what happened? IBM got sick of it, and invested
millions in training programmers, till they were a dime a dozen.

Interviewer: That's why I got out. Salaries dropped within a year, to
point where being a journalist actually paid better.

Stroustrup: Exactly. Well, the same happened with 'C' programmers.

Interviewer: I see, but what's the point?

Stroustrup: Well, one day, when I was sitting in my office, I thought
this little scheme, which would redress the balance a little. I thought
wonder what would happen, if there were a language so complicated, so
difficult to learn, that nobody would ever be able to swamp the market
programmers? Actually, I got some of the ideas from X10, you know, X
windows. That was such a bitch of a graphics system, that it only just
on those Sun 3/60 things. They had all the ingredients for what I
A really ridiculously complex syntax, obscure functions, and pseudo-OO
structure. Even now, nobody writes raw X-windows
code. Motif is the only way to go if you want to retain your sanity.

[NJW Comment: That explains everything. Most of my thesis work was in
X-windows. :)]

Interviewer: You're kidding...?

Stroustrup: Not a bit of it. In fact, there was another problem. Unix
written in 'C', which meant that any 'C' programmer could very easily
a systems programmer. Remember what a mainframe systems programmer used
to earn?

Interviewer: You bet I do, that's what I used to do.

Stroustrup: OK, so this new language had to divorce itself from Unix,
hiding all the system calls that bound the two together so nicely. This
would enable guys who only knew about DOS to earn a decent living too.

Interviewer: I don't believe you said that...

Stroustrup: Well, it's been long enough, now, and I believe most people

have figured out for themselves that C++ is a waste of time but, I must
it's taken them a lot longer than I thought it would.

Interviewer: So how exactly did you do it?

Stroustrup: It was only supposed to be a joke, I never thought people
take the book seriously. Anyone with half a brain can see that
object-oriented programming is counter-intuitive, illogical and

Interviewer: What?

Stroustrup: And as for 're-useable code' - when did you ever hear of a
company re-using its code?

Interviewer: Well, never, actually, but...

Stroustrup: There you are then. Mind you, a few tried, in the early
There was this Oregon company - Mentor Graphics, I think they were
called -
really caught a cold trying to rewrite everything in C++ in about '90 or

'91. I felt sorry for them really, but I thought people would learn from

their mistakes.

Interviewer: Obviously, they didn't?

Stroustrup: Not in the slightest. Trouble is, most companies hush-up
their major blunders, and explaining a $30 million loss to the
would have been difficult. Give them their due, though, they made it
in the end.

Interviewer: They did? Well, there you are then, it proves O-O works.

Stroustrup: Well, almost. The executable was so huge, it took five
to load, on an HP workstation, with 128MB of RAM. Then it ran like
Actually, I thought this would be a major stumbling-block, and I'd get
out within a week, but nobody cared. Sun and HP were only too glad to
enormously powerful boxes, with huge resources just to run trivial
You know, when we had our first C++ compiler, at AT&T, I compiled 'Hello

World', and couldn't believe the size of the executable. 2.1MB

Interviewer: What? Well, compilers have come a long way, since then.

Stroustrup: They have? Try it on the latest version of g++ - you won't
much change out of half a megabyte. Also, there are several quite recent

examples for you, from all over the world. British Telecom had a major
disaster on their hands but, luckily, managed to scrap the whole thing
and start again. They were luckier than Australian Telecom. Now I hear
Siemens is building a dinosaur, and getting more and more worried as the

size of the hardware gets bigger, to accommodate the executables. Isn't
multiple inheritance a joy?

Interviewer: Yes, but C++ is basically a sound language.

Stroustrup: You really believe that, don't you? Have you ever sat down
worked on a C++ project? Here's what happens: First, I've put in enough

pitfalls to make sure that only the most trivial projects will work
time. Take operator overloading. At the end of the project, almost every

module has it, usually, because guys feel they really should do it, as
was in their training course. The same operator then means something
different in every module. Try pulling that lot together, when you have
hundred or so modules. And as for data hiding. God, I sometimes can't
laughing when I hear about the problems companies have making their
talk to each other. I think the word 'synergistic' was specially
invented to
twist the knife in a project manager's ribs.

Interviewer: I have to say, I'm beginning to be quite appalled at all
You say you did it to raise programmers' salaries? That's obscene.

Stroustrup: Not really. Everyone has a choice. I didn't expect the
thing to
get so much out of hand. Anyway, I basically succeeded. C++ is dying off

now, but programmers still get high salaries - especially those poor
who have to maintain all this crap. You do realise, it's impossible to
maintain a large C++ software module if you didn't actually write it?

Interviewer: How come?

Stroustrup: You are out of touch, aren't you? Remember the typedef?

Interviewer: Yes, of course.

Stroustrup: Remember how long it took to grope through the header files

only to find that 'RoofRaised' was a double precision number? Well,
how long it takes to find all the implicit typedefs in all the Classes
in a
major project.

Interviewer: So how do you reckon you've succeeded?

Stroustrup: Remember the length of the average-sized 'C' project? About
months. Not nearly long enough for a guy with a wife and kids to earn
to have a decent standard of living. Take the same project, design it in
and what do you get? I'll tell you. One to two years. Isn't that great?

All that job security, just through one mistake of judgement. And
thing. The universities haven't been teaching 'C' for such a long time,
there's now a shortage of decent 'C' programmers. Especially those who
anything about Unix systems programming. How many guys would know what
to do
with 'malloc', when they've used 'new' all these years - and never
to check the return code. In fact, most C++ programmers throw away their

return codes. Whatever happened to good ol' '-1'? At least you knew you
an error, without bogging the thing down in all that 'throw' 'catch'

Interviewer: But, surely, inheritance does save a lot of time?

Stroustrup: does it? Have you ever noticed the difference between a
project plan, and a C++ project plan? The planning stage for a C++
is three times as long. Precisely to make sure that everything which
be inherited is, and what shouldn't isn't. Then, they still get it
Whoever heard of memory leaks in a 'C' program? Now finding them is a
industry. Most companies give up, and send the product out, knowing it
like a sieve, simply to avoid the expense of tracking them all down.

Interviewer: There are tools...

Stroustrup: Most of which were written in C++.

Interviewer: If we publish this, you'll probably get lynched, you do
realise that?

Stroustrup: I doubt it. As I said, C++ is way past its peak now, and no

company in its right mind would start a C++ project without a pilot
That should convince them that it's the road to disaster. If not, they
deserve all they get. You know, I tried to convince Dennis Ritchie to
rewrite Unix inC++.

Interviewer: Oh my God. What did he say?

Stroustrup: Well, luckily, he has a good sense of humor. I think both
and Brian figured out what I was doing, in the early days, but never let

on. He said he'd help me write a C++ version of DOS, if I was

Interviewer: Were you?

Stroustrup: Actually, I did write DOS in C++, I'll give you a demo when

we're through. I have it running on a Sparc 20 in the computer room.
like a rocket on 4 CPU's, and only takes up 70 megs of disk.

Interviewer: What's it like on a PC?

Stroustrup: Now you're kidding. Haven't you ever seen Windows '95? I
of that as my biggest success. Nearly blew the game before I was ready,

Interviewer: You know, that idea of a Unix++ has really got me
Somewhere out there, there's a guy going to try it.

Stroustrup: Not after they read this interview.

Interviewer: I'm sorry, but I don't see us being able to publish any of


Stroustrup: But it's the story of the century. I only want to be
by my fellow programmers, for what I've done for them. You know how much
C++ guy can get these days?

Interviewer: Last I heard, a really top guy is worth $70 - $80 an

Stroustrup: See? And I bet he earns it. Keeping track of all the
gotchas I
put into C++ is no easy job. And, as I said before, every C++ programmer

feels bound by some mystic promise to use every damn element of the
on every project. Actually, that really annoys me sometimes, even though
serves my original purpose. I almost like the language after all this

Interviewer: You mean you didn't before?

Stroustrup: Hated it. It even looks clumsy, don't you agree? But when
book royalties started to come in... well, you get the picture.

Interviewer: Just a minute. What about references? You must admit, you

improved on 'C' pointers.

Stroustrup: Hmm. I've always wondered about that. Originally, I thought
had. Then, one day I was discussing this with a guy who'd written C++
the beginning. He said he could never remember whether his variables
referenced or dereferenced, so he always used pointers. He said the
asterisk always reminded him.

Interviewer: Well, at this point, I usually say 'thank you very much'
it hardly seems adequate.

Stroustrup: Promise me you'll publish this. My conscience is getting
better of me these days.

Interviewer: I'll let you know, but I think I know what my editor will

Stroustrup: Who'd believe it anyway? Although, can you send me a copy
of that tape?

Interviewer: I can do that.

[Note - for the humor-impaired, not a true story. Making the rounds -
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2000-11-13 -04:00

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