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Chapter 61. Impresario

Ours is a big business. Even in smaller companies, it can seem like one person can hardly make a difference, much less a lasting impression. I regularly get messages from people who lament that they have no influence, that they are only one small voice in a programming wilderness and have little hope of improving software development practices. Some are programmers and software engineers, eager to make a difference not just make more code. Others are managers, in awe of their technical staff, who feel they have little to contribute compared to the jack flash working for them who can modify C code in 15 different open edit windows at once.

Influence and impact take many forms. An entire industry or profession can, indeed, be transformed by the acts and contributions of one individual. Edsgar Dijkstra applied the theoretical work of Bohm and Jacopini to program style and, in his historical letter to the editor, “GOTO Considered Harmful” (Dijkstra 1968), triggered a controversy that would spark a revolution in the practice of programming. A young Bill Gates made some right moves in deploying system software for the nascent microcomputer industry, and our business was never again the same. Alan Kaye turned a doctoral dissertation into the foundations for a revolutionary language that would help turn objects into a new programming paradigm. Indeed, at the core of contemporary computer programming is really a rather small number of essential ideas coming from a relatively small cadre of innovators.


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