Today in History – September 20, 1954 – the first FORTRAN program is run at IBM. The first public release of the FORTRAN programming language was not until April 19, 1957. FORTRAN is an acronym for FORmula TRANslation, named so because it was designed to allow easy translation of math formulas into code. Developed by a team of programmers at IBM led by John Backus, it is one of the oldest programming languages and the first high-level language and compiler ever developed.
My first experience with FORTRAN was carrying my mother’s box of punch cards for her computer homework assignments in the early 1970′s (she was a Civil Engineering Student at the time). The cards that she did not need, I could have to doodle on, or build “punch-card” paper airplanes.
I liked FORTRAN! Later, because little kids can be real pests, my father would give me programming assignments to keep me busy (He is a Professor of Engineering.). It started out innocently enough, with trivial assignments. However, over time, he asked his graduate students to give me more involved assignments. I soon became hooked. At the time, it was a game.
Over the years, FORTRAN has become genuine second language to me. I think in it. It has had a profound impact on how I approach solving problems in a systematic and modular way, like FORTRAN. It has been my experience that if you cannot encode your thoughts clearly, then you do not fully understand what you are doing. It is impossible to overstate the impact of FORTRAN. It changed the scientific world, and paved the way for most of the more modern programming languages in use today. In my opinion, for real large-scale number crunching, it is, in its modern incarnations, still the best.
Check out the Engineering Pathway’s educational resources on FORTRAN and programming languages or on the history of computing. For more educational resources, see our computer science education, computer engineering education and engineering mechanics education community pages. The Engineering Pathway also hosts Engineering Education communities in all ABET-accredited disciplines.
Also on this date in 1893, the First gasoline-powered automobile constructed and tested.