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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

Get into a rut early: Do the same process the same way. Accumulate idioms. Standardize. The only difference(!) between Shakespeare and you was the size of his idiom list - not the size of his vocabulary.

--Alan J. Perlis


Being able to get a machine to do what you want is the closest thing we've got in technology to adolescent wish-fulfillment.
  — Guy Steele in Coders at Work


COBOL can be cured if caught early.
-- From Programming classes


In C++ it’s harder to shoot yourself in the foot, but when you do, you blow off your whole leg.
  — Bjarne Stroustrup


Linux is only free if your time has no value.

Memory is like an orgasm. It's a lot better if you don't have to fake it.
  — Seymour Cray on virtual memory

May I know why it was down-voted? – Chankey Pathak Oct 8 '10 at 14:45
Either you made some Linux user angry or someone didn't like having many quotes in one answer. – Carlos Oct 12 '10 at 19:24
Recursion was a duplicate, so I removed it. The downvote could've simply been "I don't like this quote," but it would also fit better with the other answers if you move one of the two remaining quotes. – Roger Pate Oct 29 '10 at 9:12

What you are asking me to do is like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. It doesn't work.


Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.

proverb from japan


Knowledge is knowledge. And viceversa.

From a T-shirt.


A quote on recursion and programming in general I came up with today.

Only fools believe in foolproof systems.


I'm not sure if he's the originator of this quote, but I attended a session at a conference once where Alex Pukinskis said this and I love it!

Untested code has no business value - Alex Pukinskis


I'll call him Mel, because that was his name.

From The story of Mel

"I have often felt that programming is an art form, whose real value can only be appreciated by another versed in the same arcane art; there are lovely gems and brilliant coups hidden from human view and admiration, sometimes forever, by the very nature of the process. You can learn a lot about an individual just by reading through his code, even in hexadecimal. Mel was, I think, an unsung genius. " – Mark C Sep 28 '10 at 13:13
The story is entertaining, but this isn't a good quote: it's obscure and uninteresting. – Roger Pate Oct 8 '10 at 11:39
@Roger: Well, he can use my quote and then you can upvote. – Mark C Oct 10 '10 at 20:07
@Mark: Whatever you're doing with italics on the names in your comments is screwing up comment notification. – Roger Pate Oct 22 '10 at 18:39
@Mark: Given that I use a colon and you apparently get the notifications... :P The italics probably disrupts the matching, which looks for @ and (I strongly suspect) uses the source rather than the marked-up comment. [ How do comment replies work? ]( – Roger Pate Oct 22 '10 at 21:34

"Test what you fly, fly what you test."


The required techniques of effective reasoning are pretty formal, but as long as programming is done by people that don't master them, the software crisis will remain with us and will be considered an incurable disease. And you know what incurable diseases do: they invite the quacks and charlatans in, who in this case take the form of Software Engineering gurus.

-- Dijkstra

That is interesting quote. – Mark C Mar 2 '11 at 21:52

Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability.

-- Edsger W. Dijkstra


This isn't strictly a programming quote and I don't recall where I first heard it, but I've repeated it plenty of times on the job:

If you don't test it, it doesn't work.

True. Ohh, so true – Refael Ackermann Sep 2 '10 at 7:38

Education: that which reveals to the wise, and conceals from the stupid, the vast limits of their knowledge.
  — Mark Twain


You should go home if you are thinking suicidal thoughts.
  — Robert Read, "How to be a Programmer"


I had a teacher that would tell students who were getting ahead of themselves this:

You don't know what you don't know

I can't say for sure if it's his quote or something he picked up from somewhere else.

See also: – Steve Melnikoff Oct 26 '10 at 15:28
Not necessarily. There is what you know you know, what you know you don't know (e.g. how to fly a helicopter), and what you don't know you don't know. Then for some there is what they don't know they know. – doppelgreener Dec 13 '10 at 12:10

Just use string you G-- d---ed savages!

during debate about merits of char[] vs string


Concentrate Your Effort

Don't write too much. Concentrate your sweat on one story, rather than dissipate it over a dozen.

Jack London

Somehow, I missed the (paraphrased, shorter) duplicate of this one:

Be Diligent

Don't loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don't get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it."

Part of one quote; I split them to narrow down the topic.


"That's not the way I would have done it"


By Mike Williams, one of the creators of Erlang:

  1. Find the right methods—Design by Prototyping.
  2. It is not good enough to have ideas, you must also be able to implement them and know they work.
  3. Make mistakes on a small scale, not in a production project.

OOP to me means only messaging, local retention and protection and hiding of state-process, and extreme late-binding of all things. It can be done in Smalltalk and in LISP. There are possibly other systems in which this is possible, but I’m not aware of them.

-- Alan Kay


Only wimps use tape backup: real men just upload their important stuff on ftp, and let the rest of the world mirror it ;)

-- Linus Torvalds

ftp? Doesn't he mean git? – MatrixFrog Jul 7 '11 at 19:08

You can't trust code that you did not totally create yourself. (Especially code from companies that employ people like me.)
  — Ken Thompson, "Reflections on Trusting Trust"

double value; /* or your money back! */
short changed; /* so triple your money back! */

cons.c on perl source tree


I wish I could make Lust and Gluttony helpful but Sloth, Pride and Envy are certainly great for programmers." ~ Kenneth Clowes


There is no object-oriented problem that cannot be solved by adding a layer of indirection, except, of course, too many layers of indirection.

-- From "The Art of Unit Testing" Roy Osherove (attributed to an unnamed source)

David Wheeler maybe?… – doppelgreener Nov 12 '10 at 15:06

If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.

Lord Kelvin


Don't code today what you can't debug tomorrow

from this blog's title


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