Why Python is like BASIC (and why this is a good thing)

Alan Daniels daniels at mindspring.com
Sun Feb 17 06:42:13 CET 2002

Henrik Motakef <henrik.motakef at web.de> wrote in message news:

> Or, in the words of Edsger Dijkstra:
> "It is practically impossible to teach good programming style to
> students that have had prior exposure to BASIC: as potential
> programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of
> regeneration."

Dikstra also said:

"The use of COBOL cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore,
be regarded as a criminal offense."

After seeing that, I learned not to take the original BASIC quote
too seriously. COBOL, like BASIC, was never designed to be a true
general purpose language as far as I know; COBOL was meant to allow
accountant types to express business logic to a computer, and BASIC
was meant as a teaching language, and not ever meant to scale to real
programming tasks (sorry Microsoft, but it's true). 

So, whether these two languages either serve as springboards to "real"
languages later on, or as illusory dead-ends that stunt the growth of
a programmer's potential before it even gets started, I don't know. I
*do* know several very capable programmers who started with GW-Basic
back in the day, and they now work in C++/Java/Perl/My Favorite Language
just fine. They just need to unlearn the habits of using globals and
variants everywhere. Relatively small conceptual hurdles, I believe,
compared to the more difficult concepts such as learning stack vs. heap
memory management (or why even such a thing exists), choice of the best
data structure for a given task, etc etc. But then again, I'm no Dijkstra,
and I tend to be less judgemental of such things.

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