Coding Horror

programming and human factors

Linus Torvalds, Visual Basic Fan

Stiff recently asked a few programmers a series of open-ended questions:

  • How did you learn programming? Were schools of any use?
  • What's the most important skill every programmer should have?
  • Are math and physics important skills for a programmer?
  • What will be the next big thing in computer programming?
  • If you had three months to learn one relatively new technology, which one would you choose?
  • What are your favorite tools and why?
  • What's your favorite programming book?
  • What's your favorite non-programming book?
  • What music do you listen to?

The participants are all quite notable:

  • Linus Torvalds (Linux)
  • Dave Thomas (Pragmatic Programmer)
  • David Heinemeier Hansson (Ruby/Rails)
  • Steve Yegge (Google/Amazon)
  • Peter Norvig (Google Research Director)
  • Guido Van Rossum (Python)
  • James Gosling (Java)
  • Tim Bray (XML)

The interesting thing about open-ended questions is that the answers often reveal more about the person answering the question than they do about the question. Guido Van Rossum, for example, comes across as kind of a jerk. But the questions generally provoked some very thoughtful responses.

The most surprising response, however, was from Linus Torvalds. When asked what the "next big thing" would be in computer programming, here's part of his reply:

For example, I personally believe that Visual Basic did more for programming than Object-Oriented Languages did. Yet people laugh at VB and say it's a bad language, and they've been talking about OO languages for decades.

And no, Visual Basic wasn't a great language, but I think the easy database interfaces in VB were fundamentally more important than object orientation is, for example.

Evidently we have another inductee into the he-man object hater's club.

Maybe the moral of this story is that we should value practical aspects of a language far more heavily than relatively meaningless technical merits. Or maybe I just get a kick out of hearing Linus Torvalds, the king of hard-core C geeks, compliment Visual Basic.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: