On the 1st of January, 1998, Bjarne Stroustrup gave
an interview to the IEEE's 'Computer' magazine.
Naturally, the editors thought he would be giving
a retrospective view of seven years of object-oriented
design, using the language he created. By the end of the
interview, the interviewer got more than he had
bargained for and, subsequently, the editor decided to
suppress its contents, 'for the good of the industry' but,
as with many of these things, there was a leak. Here is a
complete transcript of what was said, unedited, and
unrehearsed, so it isn't as neat as planned interviews.
You will find it interesting...
Well, it's been a few years since you changed theworld of
software design. How does it feel, looking back?
Actually, I was thinking about those days, just before you
arrived. Do you remember? Everyone was writing 'C' and,
the trouble was, they were pretty damn good at it.
Universities got pretty good at teaching it, too. They were
turning out competent - I stress the word 'competent' -
graduates at a phenomenal rate. That's what caused the
Yes, problem. Remember when everyone wrote COBOL?
Of course, I did, too.
Well, in the beginning, these guys were like
demi-gods. Their salaries were high, and they
were treated like royalty.
Those were the days, eh?
Right. So what happened? IBM got sick of it,
and invested millions in training programmers, till
they were a dime a dozen.
That's why I got out. Salaries dropped within a
year, to the point where being a journalist actually
Exactly. Well, the same happened with 'C' programmers.
Interviewer: I see, but what's the point?
Well, one day, when I was sitting in my office, I
thought of this little scheme, which would redress
the balance a little. I thought 'I wonder what
would happen, if there were a language so complicated,
so difficult to learn, that nobody would ever be able
to swamp the market with programmers?
Actually, I got some of the ideas from X10, you know,
X windows. That was such a bitch of a graphics system,
that it only just ran on those Sun 3/60 things. They
had all the ingredients for what I wanted. A really
ridiculously complex syntax, obscure functions, and
pseudo-OO structure. Even now, nobody writes raw X-windows
code. Motif is the only way to go if you want to retain
Not a bit of it. In fact, there was another problem.
Unix was written in 'C', which meant that any 'C'
programmer could very easily become a systems programmer.
Remember what a mainframe systems programmer used to earn?
You bet I do, that's what I used to do.
OK, so this new language had to divorce itself from Unix,
by hiding all the system calls that bound the two together
so nicely. This would enable guys who only knew about DOS
to earn a decent living too.
I don't believe you said that...
Well, it's been long enough, now, and I believe most people
have figured out for themselves that C++ is a waste of time but,
I must say, it's taken them a lot longer than I thought it would.
So how exactly did you do it?
It was only supposed to be a joke, I never thought people would
take the book seriously. Anyone with half a brain can see that
object-oriented programming is counter-intuitive, illogical and
And as for 're-useable code' --- when did you ever hear of a
company re-using its code?
Well, never, actually, but...
There you are then. Mind you, a few tried, in the early days.
There was this Oregon company --- Mentor Graphics, I think they
were called --- really caught a cold trying to rewrite everything
in C++ in about '90 or '91. I felt sorry for them really, but
I thought people would learn from their mistakes.
Obviously, they didn't?
Not in the slightest. Trouble is, most companies hush-up all
their major blunders, and explaining a $30 million loss to the
shareholders would have been difficult. Give them their due,
though, they made it work in the end.
They did? Well, there you are then, it proves O-O works.
Well, almost. The executable was so huge, it took five minutes
to load, on an HP workstation, with 128MB of RAM. Then it ran
like molasses. Actually, I thought this would be a major
stumbling-block, and I'd get found out within a week, but nobody
cared. Sun and HP were only too glad to sell enormously powerful
boxes, with huge resources just to run trivial programs. You
know, when we had our first C++ compiler, at AT&T, I compiled
'Hello World', and couldn't believe the size of the executable:
What? Well, compilers have come a long way, since then.
They have? Try it on the latest version of g++ - you won't get
much change out of half a megabyte. Also, there are several quite
recent examples for you, from all over the world. British Tele-
com had a major disaster on their hands but, luckily, managed to
scrap the whole thing and start again. They were luckier than
Now I hear that Siemens is building a dinosaur, and getting more
and more worried as the size of the hardware gets bigger, to
accommodate the executables. Isn't multiple inheritance a joy?
Yes, but C++ is basically a sound language.
You really believe that, don't you? Have you ever sat down and
worked on a C++ project? Here's what happens: First, I've put
in enough pitfalls to make sure that only the most trivial proj-
ects will work first time. Take operator overloading. At the
end of the project, almost every module has it, usually, because
guys feel they really should do it, as it was in their training
course. The same operator then means something totally different
in every module. Try pulling that lot together, when you have a
hundred or so modules. And as for data hiding, God, I sometimes
can't help laughing when I hear about the problems companies
have making their modules talk to each other.
I think the word 'synergistic' was specially invented to twist
the knife in a project manager's ribs.
I have to say, I'm beginning to be quite appalled at all this.
You say you did it to raise programmers' salaries? That's ob-
Not really. Everyone has a choice. I didn't expect the thing to
get so much out of hand. Anyway, I basically succeeded. C++ is
dying off now, but programmers still get high salaries, especial-
ly those poor devils who have to maintain all this crap. You do
realise, it's impossible to maintain a large C++ software module
if you didn't actually write it?
You are out of touch, aren't you? Remember the typedef?
Yes, of course.
Remember how long it took to grope through the header files only
to find that 'RoofRaised' was a double precision number? Well,
imagine how long it takes to find all the implicit typedefs in
all the Classes in a major project.
So how do you reckon you've succeeded?
The universities haven't been teaching 'C' for such a long time,
there's now a shortage of decent 'C' programmers. Especially
those who know anything about Unix systems programming. How many
guys would know what to do with 'malloc', when they've used 'new'
all these years and never bothered to check the return code. In
fact, most C++ programmers throw away their return codes. What-
ever happened to good ol' '-1'? At least you knew you had an
error, without bogging the thing down in all that 'throw' 'catch'
But, surely, inheritance does save a lot of time?
Does it? Have you ever noticed the difference between a 'C'
project plan, and a C++ project plan? The planning stage for
a C++ project is three times as long. Precisely to make sure
that everything which should be inherited is, and what shouldn't
isn't. Then, they still get it wrong. Whoever heard of memory
leaks in a 'C' program? Now finding them is a major industry.
Most companies give up, and send the product out, knowing it
leaks like a sieve, simply to avoid the expense of tracking them
There are tools....
...Most of which were written in C++.
If we publish this, you'll probably get lynched, you do realise
I doubt it. As I said, C++ is way past its peak now, and no
company in its right mind would start a C++ project without a
pilot trial. That should convince them that it's the road to
disaster. If not, they deserve all they get. You know, I tried
to convince Dennis Ritchie to rewrite Unix in C++.
Oh my God. What did he say?
Well, luckily, he has a good sense of humor. I think both he
and Brian figured out what I was doing, in the early days, but
never let on. He said he'd help me write a C++ version of DOS,
if I was interested.
Actually, I did write DOS in C++, I'll give you a demo when
we're through. I have it running on a Sparc 20 in the computer
room. Goes like a rocket on 4 CPU's, and only takes up 70 megs
What's it like on a PC?
Now you're kidding. Haven't you ever seen Windows '95? I think
of that as my biggest success. Nearly blew the game before I was
You know, that idea of a Unix++ has really got me thinking.
Somewhere out there, there's a guy going to try it.
Not after they read this interview.
I'm sorry, but I don't see us being able to publish any of this.
But it's the story of the century. I only want to be remembered
by my fellow programmers, for what I've done for them. You know
how much a C++ guy can get these days?
Last I heard, a really top guy is worth $80 - $90 an hour.
See? And I bet he earns it. Keeping track of all the gotchas I
put into C++ is no easy job. And, as I said before, every C++
programmer feels bound by some mystic promise to use every damn
element of the language on every project. Actually, that really
annoys me sometimes, even though it serves my original purpose.
I almost like the language after all this time.
You mean you didn't before?
Hated it. It even looks clumsy, don't you agree? But when the
book royalties started to come in... well, you get the picture.
Just a minute. What about references? You must admit, you
improved on 'C' pointers.
Hmm. I've always wondered about that. Originally, I thought I
had. Then, one day I was discussing this with a guy who'd written
C++ from the beginning. He said he could never remember whether
his variables were referenced or dereferenced, so he always used
pointers. He said the little asterisk always reminded him.
Well, at this point, I usually say 'thank you very much' but it
hardly seems adequate.
Promise me you'll publish this. My conscience is getting the
better of me these days.
I'll let you know, but I think I know what my editor will say.
Who'd believe it anyway? Although, can you send me a copy of that
I can do that.