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Performance Computing: The Elements Of Style: UNIX As Literature

Jul 16, 2000, 13:19 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Thomas Scoville)

"If there's nothing different about UNIX people, how come so many were liberal-arts majors? It's the love of words that makes UNIX stand out."

"In the late 1980s, I worked in the advanced R&D arm of the Silicon Valley's regional telephone company. My lab was populated mostly by Ph.D.s and gifted hackers. It was, as you might expect, an all-UNIX shop."

"The manager of the group was an exception: no advanced degree, no technical credentials. He seemed pointedly self-conscious about it. We suspected he felt (wrongly, we agreed) underconfident of his education and intellect. One day, a story circulated through the group that confirmed our suspicions: the manager had confided he was indeed intimidated by the intelligence of the group, and was taking steps to remedy the situation. His prescription, though, was unanticipated: "I need to become more of an intellectual," he said. "I'm going to learn UNIX."

"Needless to say, we made more than a little fun out of this. I mean, come on: as if UNIX could transform him into a mastermind, like the supplicating scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz." I uncharitably imagined a variation on the old Charles Atlas ads: "Those senior engineers will never kick sand in my face again."

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