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I Did It For You All

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 of seven years of object-oriented
design, using the language he created.

By the end of the interview, the interviewer got more than he had
bargained 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 leak.

Here is a complete transcript of what was said, unedited, and
unrehearsed, so it isn't as neat as a planned interview. You should
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 was, they were pretty damn good at it.
             Universities got pretty good at teaching it, too. They were
             turning out competent - I stress the word 'competent' -
             graduates at a phenomenal rate. That's what caused the

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. Their 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 the point where being a journalist actually paid

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 of this little scheme, which would redress the
             balance a little. I thought 'I 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 with
             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 ran on those Sun 3/60 things..
             They had all the ingredients for what I wanted. 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.

Interviewer: You're kidding?

Stroustrup:  Not a bit of it. In fact, there was another problem..
             Unix was written in 'C', which meant that any 'C' programmer
             could very easily become 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, by 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 say, 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 would take the book seriously. Anyone with half a
             brain can see that object-oriented programming is
             counter-intuitive, illogical and inefficient.

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 days. 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 all their major blunders, and explaining a $30
             million loss to the shareholders would have been difficult.
             Give them their due, though, they made it work 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 minutes to load, on an HP workstation, with 128MB of
             RAM. Then it ran like treacle. Actually, I thought this
             would be a major stumbling-block, and I'd get found out
             within a week, but nobody cared. Sun and HP were only too
             glad to sell enormously powerful boxes, with huge resources
             just to run trivial programs. 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 get 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 that 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

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

Stroustrup:  You really believe that, don't you? Have you ever sat
             down and 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 first 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 it was in their training course. The same
             operator then means something totally different in every
             module. Try pulling that lot together, when you have a
             hundred or so modules. And as for data hiding. God, I
             sometimes can't help laughing when I hear about the problems
             companies have making their modules 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 this. 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 devils who have to
             maintain all this crap. You do realize, 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, imagine 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 6 months. Not nearly long enough for a guy with a
             wife and kids to earn enough to have a decent standard of
             living. Take the same project, design it in C++ 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 another 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
             know 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 bothered 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 had an error, without bogging the thing down in all
             that 'throw' 'catch' 'try' stuff.

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

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

Interviewer: Oh my God. What did he say?

Stroustrup:  Well, luckily, he has a good sense of humor. I think
             both he 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 interested.

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. Goes 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 think of that as my biggest success. Nearly blew the game
             before I was ready, though.

Interviewer: You know, that idea of a Unix++ has really got me
             thinking. 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 this.

Stroustrup:  But it's the story of the century. I only want to be
             remembered by my fellow programmers, for what I've done for
             them. You know how much a 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 language on every
             project. Actually, that really annoys me sometimes, even
             though it serves my original purpose. I almost like the
             language after all this time.

Interviewer: You mean you didn't before?

Stroustrup:  Hated it. It even looks clumsy, don't you agree? But
             when the 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 I had. Then, one day I was discussing this with a
             guy who'd written C++ from the beginning. He said he could
             never remember whether his variables were referenced or
             dereferenced, so he always used pointers. He said the
             little asterisk always reminded him.

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

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

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

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

Interviewer: I can do that.

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