The only way in which you can see the
algorithm is as a FORTRAN program.
And what’s the answer then for our fu-
ture students to avoid the same trap?
Teach them, as soon as possible, a
decent programming language that exercises their power of abstraction. During 1968 in Garmisch I learned that in
the ears of the Americans, a “
mathematical engineer” [such as we educated in Eindhoven] was a contradiction
in terms: the American mathematician
is an impractical academic, whereas
the American engineer is practical
but hardly academically trained. You
notice that all important words carry
different, slightly different meanings.
I was disappointed in America by the
way in which it rejected ALGOL 60. I
had not expected it. I consider it a tragedy because it is a symptom of how
the United States is becoming more
and more a-mathematical, as Morris
Kline illustrates eloquently. 9 Precisely
in the century which witnesses the
emergence of computing equipment,
it pays so much to have a well-trained
In 1963 peter patton, in
Communications of the ACM, wrote that european
programmers are fiercely independent
loners whereas Americans are team
players. or is it the other way?
At the Mathematical Centre, we
used to cooperate on large projects
and apply a division of labor; it was
something of a shock when I went to
the Department of Mathematics at
Eindhoven where everybody worked
all by himself. After we had completed
the THE System, for instance, Nico
Habermann wrote a thesis about the
Banker’s Algorithm, and about scheduling, sharing, and deadlock prevention. The department did not like that
because it was not clear how much he
had done by himself. They made so
much protest that Cor Ligtmans, who
should have written his Ph.D. thesis on
another aspect of THE System, refused
to do so.
Is the outcome of the curricula differ-
ent in europe and America?
I must be very careful with answering this because during my absence,
the role of the university, the financing of the university, and the fraction
in many places,
were founded before
the shape of the
stood out clearly.
of the population it is supposed to address have changed radically. That already started in the 1970s. So whatever
I say about the [European] university
is probably idealized by memory. Yes.
But a major difference was that the
fence around the university campus
was higher. To give you an example,
when we started to design a computing science curriculum in the 1960s,
one of the firm rules was that no industrial product would be the subject
of an academic course. It’s lovely. This
immediately rules out all Java courses,
and at the time it ruled out all FORTRAN courses. We taught ALGOL 60,
it was a much greater eye-opener than
Is there a relationship between the
curriculum and the nature of funding
Yes. It has the greatest influence on
the funding of research projects. Quite
regularly I see firm XYZ proposing to
give student fellowships or something
and then, somewhere in the small
print, that preference will be given to
students who are supervised by professors who already have professional
contact with the company.
Why do computer science depart-
ments often come out of electrical
engineering in the u.s.—but not in eu-
A major reason is timing. For fi-
nancial reasons, Europe, damaged by
World War II, was later. So the Ameri-
can computing industry emerged ear-
lier. The computing industry asked
for graduates, which increased the
pressure on the universities to supply
them, even if the university did not
quite know how. In many places, de-
partments of computer science were
founded before the shape of the intel-
lectual discipline stood out clearly.
“Information” came a bit later on?
It was the French that pushed in-formatique. Today the English prefer
Information Technology, IT, and Information Systems, IS. I think the timing has forced the American departments to start too early. And they still
suffer from it. Here, at the University
of Texas, you can still observe it is the
Department of Computer Sciences. If
you start to think about it, you can only
laugh, but that time there were at least
as many computer sciences as there
1. dijkstra, e. W. a constructive approach to the problem
of program correctness. BIT 8, 3 (1968), 174–186.
2. dijkstra, e. W. a note on two problems in connection
with graphs. Numerische Mathematik 1 (1959),
3. dijkstra, e. W. Communication with an automatic
computer. Ph.d. dissertation, university of
4. dijkstra, e. W. Go to statement considered harmful,
Commun. ACM 11, 3 (Mar. 1968), 147–148.
5. dijkstra, e. W. Hierarchical ordering of sequential
processes. Acta Informatica 1 (1971), 115–138.
6. dijkstra, e. W. notes on structured programming.
In o.-J. dahl, e. W. dijkstra, and C.a.r. Hoare, eds.,
Structured Programming. academic Press, london,
7. dijkstra, e. W. over de IbM 360, e Wd 255, n.d.,
circulated privately; http://www.cs.utexas.edu/ users/
8. dijkstra, e. W. recursive programming. Numerische
Mathematik 2 (1960), 312–318.
9. Kline, M. Mathematics in Western Culture. Penguin
books ltd., Harmondsmorth, Middlesex, england,
10. Menduno, M. atlas shrugged: When it comes to online
road maps, why you can’t (always) get there from
here. Scientific American 283, 11 (nov. 2000), 20–22.
11. randell, b. and buxton, J.n., eds., Software
Engineering Techniques: A Report on a Conference
Sponsored by the NATO Science Committee (rome,
Italy, oct. 1969), nato, 1970.