John W Backus, team leader of the original FORTRAN development team at IBM, died on 17 March at the respectable age of 82. I never met John Backus, but he was responsible for changing my life – and probably that of many other scientific programmers of my generation. I was at the Research School of Chemistry at the Australian …
A true hackers' hero
I cut my programming teeth on FORTRAN IV, and I used FORTRAN for many years to solve astronomy research problems, so I owe a debt of gratitude to John Backus.
The obituary over at the New York Times reveals the character of the man behind the legend. During the development of FORTRAN at IBM, it says: "I.B.M. had a system of rigid yearly performance reviews, which Mr. Backus deemed ill-suited for his programmers, so he ignored it."
Thanks for that link to Backus the man... My memory of IBM techies generally, even in the 1980s, is that they were nowhere near as stuffy as the "grey suits" legends would suggest. In IBM, technical excellence excused a lot!