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What's your favourite quote about programming?

One quote per answer, and please check for duplicates before posting!


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166 Answers 166

Not really about programming, but...

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
  — Jack London


There is always one more bug.
  — Lubarsky's Law of Cybernetic Entomology


Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.

-- Albert Einstein (for me, via Scott Myers). Emphasis added.

I know the question says one quote per answer, but I'm starting to think grouping similar topics (e.g. this with KISS) would be better. – Roger Pate Oct 29 '10 at 7:43

Kurzfristige Hacks tendieren dazu, langfristige Lösungen zu werden.
  — Bodo Tasche

Translated: Current hacks tend to be long-term solutions.


A language that doesn't have everything is actually easier to program in than some that do.
  — Dennis M. Ritchie

Java is getting there. – aaaaaaaaaaaa Dec 13 '10 at 12:20

“ Copy and paste is a design error. ” -- David Parnas

Could you explain what he means by that? – Mark C Mar 2 '11 at 21:48
@ Mark C -… – pramodc84 Mar 3 '11 at 4:49

I abhor a system designed for the "user," if that word is a coded pejorative meaning "stupid and unsophisticated."

Ken Thompson


Debugging is like farting — it's not so bad when it's your own code.

It's unknown who originally put forth this piece of wisdom; I took it from here. – Jonik Sep 22 '10 at 17:39

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
  — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ah, yes, the difference between plans and planning! Excellent! – Mark C Oct 21 '10 at 5:49

My favourites have already been posted, so here's something I thought of one day at work:

In Soviet Russia, exception throws YOU!!

I can almost hear the russian accent in my head. – Terence Ponce Oct 8 '10 at 15:49
In Soviet Russia, boss give orders YOU! – Mark C Oct 10 '10 at 19:53
In Soviet Russia, bug fixes you. – Arkaaito Oct 14 '10 at 7:22

Einstein argued that there must be simplified explanations of nature, because God is not capricious or arbitrary. No such faith comforts the software engineer.
  — Fred Brooks, "No Silver Bullet"


From my first programming class (FORTRAN IV):

What is a computer?
It it a box with a little man in it.
This man is blazing fast. He can do millions of instructions per second.
But he is myopic. He's so myopic that he can see only one instruction at a time.
He's also not very smart, he'll attempt to do exactly what you tell him to do.

This has become the base of my philosophy of programming and debugging.


2 + 2 = 5, for sufficiently large values of 2.

— Anon


Software is hard.

-- Donald Knuth

Let’s go typesetting! – Paul D. Waite Dec 26 '10 at 2:09

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

-My c# Teacher (not sure where he heard it from!)

I recently saw this attributed to Alan Lakein, but it is simple enough to have been around for a long time (folk reversals). – Mark C Nov 12 '10 at 0:43
I heard this all the way through secondary school. – TRiG Dec 1 '10 at 19:02

Knowledge is proud that it knows so much; wisdom is humble that it knows no more.

--William Cowper

I've heard something similar. "Knowledge is knowing what is right, wisdom is doing what is right". Not sure who said it, I think it's an old Chinese saying that has been translated. – Ali Dec 9 '10 at 21:52

Well, not my favorite but...

If it is not broken, don't fix it

also known as "don't ever refactor" – Jouke van der Maas Sep 10 '10 at 14:08
If it needs a refactor, it's broken :-) – bigown Sep 11 '10 at 8:26
My colleague has a T-shirt that says: "Engineer's motto: If it ain't broke, take it apart and fix it!" – Kaz Dragon Oct 21 '10 at 9:17

It works on my machine

Favorite to hate, of course :-) – bigown Sep 9 '10 at 14:34

/* You are not expected to understand this. */

Comment in Sixth Edition Unix.

I've witnessed that one in the original source code! (I was three at the time...) But I do treasure my copy of the annotated Version 6 Source Code from the University of New South Wales. – Randall Schulz Sep 22 '10 at 17:46
Is that a general comment or does it appear at a certain point? – Mark C Sep 28 '10 at 12:51
@Mark: It referred to a specific section of code. I forget what that section was doing. – Roger Pate Oct 11 '10 at 16:16

Fail Quickly


The perfect match for "Avoid success!" – Mark C Oct 22 '10 at 21:48

Let me re-assert that the question of whether there are limitations in principle of what problems man can make machines solve for him as compared to his own ability to solve problems, really is a technical question in recursive function theory.

— John McCarthy


In Hebrew there's a saying (mostly by army conscripted programmers):

באג בדיזיין -> זין בדיבאג

Which is an anagram, and it roughly translates to

Bugs in the design -> you're f^#ked while debugging

I don't think there's any way to translate the humor to English, but nice quote. – EpsilonVector Sep 2 '10 at 10:10
It kind of relies on the meaning of "zign". – configurator Sep 22 '10 at 0:13

If it wasn't for the last minute, nothing would get done.

—Supposedly from "Murphy's Laws"; see here

Although I can do plenty of things without any pressure (like post answers here), I need a hint of fear to do what I'm supposed to be doing (like my homework).


I don't understand why cheerleaders won't talk to me. Maybe I don't throw five touchdowns against Newport High, but let's see one of those football morons program in assembly language!
  — Chris Lipe


It's OK to figure out murder mysteries, but you shouldn't need to figure out code. You should be able to read it.

-- Steve McConnell


Profanity is the one language all programmers know best.

-- Anonymous


It should be noted that no ethically-trained software engineer would ever consent to write a DestroyBaghdad procedure. Basic professional ethics would instead require him to write a DestroyCity procedure, to which Baghdad could be given as a parameter.

Nathaniel Borenstein


It would seem that perfection is attained not when no more can be added, but when no more can be removed.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Dupe of… – Gelatin Sep 11 '10 at 22:49
to understand recursion you must first understand recursion
At first that was just corny, but later it dawned on me that the very sentence teaches recursion. – Mark C Sep 28 '10 at 12:54
To first understad mutual exclusion you must first forget everything you know about exclusive mutuality, and vice versa. – Joe D Oct 11 '10 at 17:06

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