proposal to Burroughs. I said, “I’ll write
you an ALGOL compiler for $5,000. But
I can’t implement all of ALGOL for this;
I am just one guy. Let’s leave out procedures.” Well, this is a big hole in the
language! Burroughs said, “No, you’ve
got to put in procedures.” I said, “Okay,
I will put in procedures, but you’ve got
to pay me $5,500.” That’s what happened. They paid me $5,500, which was
a fairly good salary in those days. So between graduating from Case and going
to Caltech, I worked on this compiler.
Heading out to California, I drove 100
miles each day and then sat in a motel
and wrote code.
But he rejects “compiler writer”
as a career, and decides what is
important in life.
Then a startup company came to
me and said, “Don, write compilers for us and we will take care of
finding computers to debug them.
Name your price.” I said, “Oh, okay,
$100,000,” assuming that this was
[outrageous]. The guy didn’t blink.
He agreed. I didn’t blink either. I
said, “I’m not going to do it. I just
thought that was an impossible
number.” At that point I made the
decision in my life that I wasn’t going to optimize my income.
I spent a day that summer looking at the mathematics of how fast
linear probing works. I got lucky, and
I solved the problem. I figured out
some math, and I kept two or three
sheets of paper with me and I typed