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Recently I was discussing Converge with someone, and mentioned how little time the core compiler had taken to implement (no compile-time meta-programming, limited error checking, but a functioning compiler nonetheless) - only a few days. The chap I was talking to looked at me and told me that he didn't believe me. I laughed. Actually, he really didn't believe me. Initially that surprised me, and I wondered why he might think that I was pulling his leg. But then I thought back, and only a few years ago I would probably have had the same reaction. This article is my attempt to explain his reaction, and why it's no longer the case.

When I was younger, there were three things in computing that seemed so complex that I had no idea how anyone had ever created them; certainly, I didn't think I would ever be capable of working on such things. The imposing triumvirate were hardware, operating systems, and programming languages. Although electricity has always baffled me, the hardware people have done an amazing job on interoperability of components in recent years, such that I've never felt the need to gain a low-level understanding of how electrons whizz around my systems. Operating systems were partially demystified for me as I moved into the world of open source UNIX-like operating systems (for the record, I've been an OpenBSD user for 8 years or so), where one could poke and prod virtually any aspect - although kernels retain an aura of mystery for most of us. Despite the fact that I was familiar with several languages, and had even implemented a primitive assembler language (which, to my surprise, found its way into a real system - my first large-ish programming success), real programming languages remained a mystery to me for much longer. The obvious question is: why?



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