This particular quote from Alan Kay made me think about how Evan is designing and building Elm and so I wanted to share it with you all.
Even if you’re designing for professional programmers, in the end your programming language is basically a user-interface design. You will get much better results regardless of what you’re trying to do if you think of it as a user-interface design. PARC is incorrectly credited with having invented the GUI. Of course, there were GUIs in the ’60s. But I think we did do one good thing that hadn’t been done before, and that was to realize the idea of change being eternal.
The entire conversation is a great read and you can find it here.
Another snippet from the article:
Perhaps it was commercialization in the 1980s that killed off the next expected new thing. Our plan and our hope was that the next generation of kids would come along and do something better than Smalltalk around 1984 or so. We all thought that the next level of programming language would be much more strategic and even policy-oriented and would have much more knowledge about what it was trying to do. But a variety of different things conspired together, and that next generation actually didn’t show up. One could actually argue—as I sometimes do—that the success of commercial personal computing and operating systems has actually led to a considerable retrogression in many, many respects.
You could think of it as putting a low-pass filter on some of the good ideas from the ’60s and ’70s, as computing spread out much, much faster than educating unsophisticated people can happen. In the last 25 years or so, we actually got something like a pop culture, similar to what happened when television came on the scene and some of its inventors thought it would be a way of getting Shakespeare to the masses. But they forgot that you have to be more sophisticated and have more perspective to understand Shakespeare. What television was able to do was to capture people as they were.
So I think the lack of a real computer science today, and the lack of real software engineering today, is partly due to this pop culture.
If you look at software today, through the lens of the history of engineering, it’s certainly engineering of a sort—but it’s the kind of engineering that people without the concept of the arch did. Most software today is very much like an Egyptian pyramid with millions of bricks piled on top of each other, with no structural integrity, but just done by brute force and thousands of slaves.
Thank you Evan for intentionally making solid long-term engineering decisions.
P.S. I shared it under the “Learn” category because I think Alan Kay had many insightful thoughts that we can all ponder and learn from even though it’s not directly related to Elm.