Saturday, July 16, 2016


If you know anyone that programs computers, then that person knows all about conditional logic, because it’s about 90% of any program they write. Okay, maybe not that much, but it’s one of the key ingredients of writing a program.

IF condition(s)
THEN commands...
ELSE commands...

That’s usually where it begins. You see that in a programming textbook, and you’re off to the races. The hardest part of learning this is setting up the conditions, and knowing how to indicate that the commands that follow are to only be executed if the condition(s) are true. This isn’t as hard in some computer languages as in others. Well, not hard, really; just some languages are a little more tricky than others.

I know a little bit about a number of programming languages, and a lot about others….

  • COBOL – The language I used the most heavily throughout most of my career. I still think in terms of it whenever I get into a programming situation.
  • FORTRAN – The first language I learned, ergo the one I had the most trouble with. After the class I took, I never used it again.
  • ALGOL – I took a course in writing compilers (programs that turn programs written in a language into machine language that the computer can understand) where we wrote an ALGOL compiler in ALGOL. Yeah, all right. Came in handy later, because all the system software on Burroughs (now Unisys) computers is written in ALGOL.
  • PL/I – A language developed by IBM that was supposed to replace COBOL, that looked just like ALGOL. I never took a class in it, but since I knew ALGOL, I could help people who had trouble with PL/I, mostly my suitemate Tom.
  • Information Expert (IE) – A proprietary language developed by MSA, a former employer. I did all the training for MSA and its successor companies for IE, so I got to know it really well.
  • Focus – If you had people in an IE class who knew Focus, then you could count on them saying “IE is just like Focus!” Except it really wasn’t.
  • System/370 assembler (BAL) – I decided I needed to know assembler, because it made certain programming tasks easier. IBM used to show the generated assembler code when you compiled a COBOL program, and between that, the IBM yellow/pink/green card (that listed all the assembler commands) and a book I bought cheap, I learned it well enough to bluff my way through a few engagements.

And that’s just the mainframe languages. I know lots of others that get used on UNIX-like systems (Perl, Ruby, Python) and that get used on the web (PHP, HTML and CSS, mostly).

I don’t use any of these anymore. I’m retired. If I ever end up working again (and that’s doubtful), I’ll probably have to learn a whole bunch of new languages. If that day ever comes, I’ll worry about it then.



Stream of Consciousness Saturday is hosted by Linda Hill over at her blog. After this, she probably regrets choosing “if/then” as the prompt… And you will note that I started the post with “if” and ended it with “then.”

from The Sound of One Hand Typing


  1. My husband is a programmer (or at least that is part of his job). He has been in the job for 20 years now and he uses different languages.

    1. There certainly are enough of them. The standard answer to the question "Do you know (language)?" is "Yes!" Then you spend the weekend learning it. The advantage of the languages today is they're mostly alike, so if you learn the syntax for one, you have a pretty good idea how the other ones work.