debunks old C++ 'interview' hoax

In response, Bjarne Stroustrup, father of C++ and target of the hoax, merely sighs


For anyone bearing the brunt of an Internet hoax that just won't die, there's little more to hope for in terms of potential relief than a story on stating unequivocally that the hoax is indeed a hoax. After all, Snopes is the gold standard when it comes to debunking nonsense. logo

Computer scientist Bjarne Stroustrup received precisely that maximum measure of support a week ago. Yet the man who designed C++ -- first released commercially in 1985 -- remains resigned to the fact that a fictitious interview he did not give in 1998 about nefarious motivations he did not have for developing the programming language will nonetheless continue to provide him genuine irritation.

(25 more geeky happenings from 1985)

He's right, of course, and we'll get to his reasoning in a moment.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, on June 6, Snopes published its findings about the claim that: "C++ designer Bjarne Stroustrup admitted in an interview that he developed the language solely to create high-paying jobs for programmers."

The Snopes verdict: false.

Here's an example of this cockroach that Snopes unearthed from an August, 2009 email: "I just ran across a 'leaked' interview with programming language C++ author Bjarne Stroustrup where he clames (sic) to have developed C++ for the express intent of creating a demand for programmers after IBM swamped the market with C programmers in the 90's. Basically I am asking if there is any truth to this. If so this guy duped an entire industry."

There isn't and he didn't. As the bogus legend goes, Stroustrup was interviewed in 1998 by the IEEE's Computer magazine, which opted not to publish the most incendiary passages "for the good of the industry." Here's a taste of what was allegedly left out of this interview that never happened: 

Interviewer: Well, it's been a few years since you changed the world of software design, how does it feel, looking back?


Stroustrup: 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 problem.

Interviewer: Problem?

Stroustrup: Yes, problem. Remember when everyone wrote COBOL?

Interviewer: Of course. I did, too.

Stroustrup: Well, in the beginning, these guys were like demi-gods. Their salaries were high, and they were treated like royalty.

Interviewer: Those were the days, eh?

Stroustrup: Right. So what happened? IBM got sick of it, and invested millions in training programmers, till they were a dime a dozen.

Interviewer: That's why I got out. Salaries dropped within a year, to the point where being a journalist actually paid better.

Stroustrup: Exactly. Well, the same happened with 'C' programmers.

Interviewer: I see, but what's the point?

Stroustrup: 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? ...'

Interviewer: You're kidding?

Stroustrup: Not a bit of it.

Fiction, pure fiction.

So back to what Stroustrup thinks about Snopes taking up his cause. His website includes a couple of warnings to would-be correspondents that they should not hold their breath awaiting a prompt reply - "I get a lot of email ... sometimes I get overwhelmed" -- yet he needed under an hour to answer my inquiry. It's clear this indignity has gotten under his skin.

"This hoax has been doing the rounds for about a decade. It seems that several times every year someone (usually someone who dislikes C++ for some reason) finds it funny and re-posts it somewhere," Stroustrup says. "By now, I'm a bit tired of it."

I told him I found it difficult to fathom that people actually believe he said the things he didn't say.

"Yes, it is amazing," he says, "but every year I get several emails asking me to confirm it or say that it is wrong. It's a FAQ :-)"

He means that literally, too, as in it's listed among the FAQs on his website.

So does he anticipate that the Snopes debunking will do any good?

"Not really. The main effect will probably be to add one more source of the 'interview.' "

Guess that means I'm not helping either. Sorry.

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