Authors of Esoteric Languages

Posted by Mariia Mykhailova on June 3, 2012

Esoteric programming languages are pretty weird domain of human knowledge. Most people who learn about them claim that they are completely useless. Well, there is a grain of truth in this - nobody uses an esoteric language for developing applications of practical value, otherwise this language would cease to be esoteric. However, there are people who can appreciate the use and the fun of such languages; furthermore, there are people who don't limit themselves to learning existing languages, but think out of the box and invent ones of their own. Meet the authors of the most famous esoteric programming languages.

Disclaimer: All information about the authors is gathered from public sources. I hope none of the people mentioned will be feeling stalked because of this blog post. Also some info can be not up to date.

Don Woods and James Lyon

In 1972 they invented INTERCAL - the first ever esoteric language. Of course, this first robin looks more similar to mainstream languages of that epoch than to modern esoteric ones, but the concept of an impractical language mocking other existing languages is ingenious.

INTERCAL was created a long, long time ago; both its authors have lived through long eventful lives. Don Woods worked at Sun Microsystems, Xerox and several smaller companies. The last of them, Postini (services for email and instant messaging) was acquired by Google, so that's Woods' current employer.

James Lyon has had a calmer career; he spent 10 years with Tandem Computers and now works at Microsoft.

Wouter van Oortmerssen

INTERCAL appearance was followed by two decades of lull, undisturbed until 1993. That year van Oortmerssen invented False - a Forth-like stack-oriented language with obscure syntax and a compiler which fit in 1024 bytes. This language inspired a whole generation of esolangs developers who focused on languages with single-character commands.

False is by far not the only pet project of Wouter's; he's been into programming languages design since 1987, and the list of his creations feels like a whole encyclopedia. They include not only esoteric and educational projects but also quite serious ones - for example, Amiga E which used to be one of the most popular commercial compilers for Amiga platform.

Nowadays Wouter is a co-owner of dot3 labs and teaches elements of dame development at SMU Guildhall.

Urban Muller

Muller is famous for inventing Brainfuck, the tiny esoteric language which inspired creation of hundreds of its dialects and followers, though originally it was meant just to have the smallest compiler possible.

Another thing Muller is known for is his efforts on developing Aminet - a software and files archive for Amiga platform. Nowadays he works at, Switzerland search engine.

Chris Pressey

The author of another well-known language, Befunge, which put origin to two-dimensional languages. He also invented lots of other languages less known to public.

Lode Vandevenne

The author of several languages and Brainfuck dialects, including Roco (based on the concept of coroutines), Brainloller (the program is encoded as an image) and Unary (the program is converted into a single number and written in unary using only one token). Works at Google.

Edwin Brady

Created one of my favorite languages, Whitespace, which features commands written with whitespace characters (space, tab and newline) only. He is currently an advanced research fellow at University Of St Andrews, Fife, Scotland.

Cliff L. Biffle

Invented a lovely joke language HQ9+ which allows solving three classical tasks ("Hello, World!", quine and "99 bottles of beer") in a single command but making all other tasks insolvable (a couple of less-known languages too). Nowadays the part of his web-site devoted to esoteric languages is defunct, but encyclopedias remember everything! Spent last 5 years at Google.

Of course there are much more great languages invented, and lots of authors not mentioned here. But even the listed ones are enough to stress the main idea: a person who is into esoteric language is not necessarily an asocial kind of person without a decent job :-)

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