Advice and Admissions From Creator of C++
Written by Sue Gee   
Sunday, 27 August 2023

Bjarne Stroustrup is the creator of C++, author of many books and is currently a professor of Computer Science at Columbia University. In two short "DevBytes" from he tells how he became a computer scientist by mistake and provides  advice on having a balanced life and making the most of opportunities based on his experience.

These two short video snippets are courtesy of, a company that claims to be "Europe's largest tech-focused job platform". They are excerpts from an unreleased and refreshingly informal interview with Bjarne Stroustrup, creator of the C++ language. 

The earlier of the two videos starts with the statement:

"I got into programing basically because of a mistake."

That comes as something of a shock given Stroustrup's status as the creator of a programming language that underpins much of system programming and perhaps some background is in order.

Now 72 years old Stroustrup was born in 1950 in Aarhus, Denmark, which is where he went to school and had two favorite subjects - Math and History. Having completed his school studies he had to decide between them. Explaining in the video that while history was:

"a great thing to study but it was a lousy career and it could be good as a hobby".

he picked Math - but wanted to do something practical rather than pure math, and signed up for the course: "Mathematics with datalogi" thinking that "datalogi", the Danish word for Computer Science, was a branch of Applied Math! 

Once embarked on his studies Stroustrup discovered two things, to quote his own words:

I wasn't as good at math as I thought I was, which happens to most math students, and that programming was really fun, machine architecture was really fun and, well, took it from there.

Having graduated in 1975 from Aarhus University with a Candidatus Scientiarum, equivalent to a Master's degree in Mathematics with Computer Science he went to the University of Cambridge where his research on distributed computing was supervised by David Wheeler. He received his PHD in Computer Science in 1979.

He began his career as a member of technical staff in the Computer Science Research Center of Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, USA which is where C++, initially called "C with Classes" originated. C++ was made generally available in 1985 and in that year his book The C++ Programming Language was published a textbook for the language in 1985. It has been updated ever since and is currently in its fourth edition. 

Stroustrup was the head of AT&T Bell Labs' Large-scale Programming Research department, from its creation until late 2002. He then moved into academia and teaching. From 2002 to 2014, Stroustrup was the College of Engineering Chair Professor in Computer Science at Texas A&M University and during this time he wrote Programming: Principles and Practice Using C++, a student-oriented book aimed at the complete beginner, see our review by Mike James. 

In 2014 he became a visiting professor in computer science at Columbia University while, until 2022, also being a technical fellow and managing director in the technology division of investment bank and financial services company Morgan Stanley in New York City. Since July 2022, Stroustrup is a full professor of Computer Science at Columbia University.

In the second snippet Stroustrup is asked to give advice to today's generation of programmers. After a long, meditative sigh during which we hear  "Oh dear", he says:

It's hard to give advice. At least as hard as it is to take advice.

However he goes on to provide some very useful guidance starting with:

Don't overspecialize. Don't be too sure that you know the future. Be flexible, and remember that careers and jobs are a long-term thing. Too many young people think they can optimize something, and then they find they've spent a couple of years or more specializing in something that may not have been the right thing. And in the process they burn out, because they haven't spent enough time building up friendships and having a life outside computing. 

A second point is: 

You can't just do code. You have to do something about culture and how to express ideas. I mean, I never regretted the time I spent on history and on math. Math sharpens your mind, history gives you some idea of your limitations and what's going on in the world. And so don't be too sure. Take time to have a balanced life.

Referring to his own experience, he advocates having a broad-based skill set in order to be able to  take advantage of an opportunity when it comes along, recounting:

I've done compilers, I've done multiple languages... I think I knew two dozen at the time. And I have done machine architecture, I've done operating systems. And that skill set turned out to be useful.



If you want advice from Stroustrup on programming, see Bjarne Stroustrup On Why Learn C++ which reports on an conversation he had with Sonny Li and Mariel Frank, creators of Codecademy's Learn C++ course on which he provided feedback. See also the interview presented In Praise Of C++ - Bjarne At ICPC 2013 in which he gives his opinion of using C++ for coding competitions.

Stroustup's list of awards starts with the ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award, which recognises contribution made early in a person's career, - one of the ACM's early career awards in 1993. We reported on his winning the Dahl–Nygaard Prize in 2015, the IET Faraday Medal in 2017 and the Charles Stark Draper Prize in 2018.

Quite an impressive record for someone who had no idea of what Datalogi was!  

 stroustrup 155x207

More Information

Bjarne Stroustrup's homepage

Related Articles

Bjarne Stroustrup On Why Learn C++

In Praise Of C++ - Bjarne At ICPC 2013

Bjarne Stroustrup Defends C++ As Safe

Prestigious Prize For Bjarne Stroustrup

Bjarne Stroustrip Awarded IET Faraday Medal 

Bjarne Stroustrup Awarded Dahl-Nygaard Prize 

Bjarne Stroustrup Thinks He Has A Better Way To Do Generics

Programming: Principles and Practice Using C++, 2e (book review) 

A Tour of C++ (book review)

Towards Objects and Functions - Computer Languages In The 1980s

C++ Is TIOBE's Language Of The Year


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Last Updated ( Sunday, 27 August 2023 )