Miss Congeniality

Brad Merrill asked for a more “chatty” bio for the panel discussion page than the one I submitted for the speaker bio section. He also asked for us to talk about any “big questions” we might think about. See if you can find the most important one in there…

All programming involves making tradeoffs and compromises, but language design reduces the problem to its most stark terms. Stripped of the fancy graphics of a GUI or the richness of an object model, programming languages are the alligators of the computing world: very much alive, yet in many ways unchanged over millennia as the environment around them underwent radical transformation. How do you evolve something so perfectly suited to its task, yet so limited in its ability to absorb mutation?
Sweeping metaphors aside, programming languages continue to bump up against the limitations of their medium, namely plain text. Is it possible to look at code in ways other than text that might help programmers be more productive and make programming easier to learn? And what about the Tower of Babel-like profusion of domain-specific languages over the years such as SQL, XML, etc.? Is there a way to find commonalities between differing language domains in a way that enables people to write code that spans them using only a single language? (Without, of course, having that single language become Esperanto?) And, most importantly, will VB ever get any respect? These are the questions I ponder late at night…
I joined Microsoft in the antediluvian past, namely 1992. Back then, Windows 3.1 was the hot new operating system taking the world by storm, a little project named Visual Basic had just shipped, and I started on an upstart database product named Microsoft Access. I ended up working on Access for nearly four and a half years, and after Access 97 shipped I took a job working on OLE Automation, thinking it was the future of component automation. What did I know! Fortunately, after shipping Visual Basic 6.0 I moved over to work on the Visual Basic compiler proper just as the team started working on moving it to some new runtime that Microsoft had decided to build. Four years later, we shipped Visual Basic .NET 2002. Along the way, I moved from being a developer working on code generation to managing the compiler team and working on the design team for the language. Now I’m working full-time on design issues, as well as continuing to write the Visual Basic .NET Language Specification and working on a Visual Basic .NET language reference book. You can find my weblog at http://www.panopticoncentral.net.

Should be an interesting discussion.

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