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Tech History: Programming Languages

5 min read

As technologies and computer programming constantly evolve, the world of code is thrilling and diverse as never before. While older “dinosaur” programming languages still serve as a foundation, the new ones are built upon their concepts and help programmers work more easily and efficiently. And though every task heavily relies on a specific language, overall they all work as a bridge between machines and humans. 

As they say, study the past if you want to define the future. So in this article, we dig in and look over the timeline of the coding revolution by the creation of each programming language. Whether you’re an aspiring developer still considering which path to choose or already an expert mastering several languages, explore the exciting landscape of coding from the very beginning. Ready, steady, code!

1883 – Algorithm for the Analytical Engine

Most historians agree that it was an English mathematician Ada Lovelace who marked the beginning of rich history in programming. While she worked with Charles Babbage on his early mechanical computer – the Analytical Engine – computing Bernoulli numbers, Ada saw more potential in the invention. She wrote an algorithm that was the first of its kind and today is considered to be the first computer programming language. 

1957 – Fortran

Created by an IBM team led by an American computer scientist John Backus, Fortran proved to be an efficient language for scientific, mathematical, and statistical computing (as an alternative to assembly language and using English-like statements). It stood for “The IBM Mathematical Formula Translating System” and introduced assignments, nested expressions, conditionals, and loops. While at first programmers were quite skeptical that it could generate efficient code, Fortran became enormously popular and is still one of the oldest computer programming languages still used today.

1959 – Cobol

COBOL was primarily invented for business computing and stands for COmmon Business-Oriented Language. An American computer scientist Dr. Grace Murray Hopper led a team of different computer manufacturers and put the efforts into creating a language that could run on all brands and types of computers with only minimal modifications. Cobol’s creators feared the language would have no future but the language survived until today. It’s widely used in ATMs, credit card processing, telephone systems, government computers, and traffic signals.

1959 – LISP

Designed by John McCarthy (from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA), LIST in short means LISt Processor and is a list-processing language, oriented around symbols instead of numbers. While its early aim was for artificial intelligence research, today LISP is still used for mathematical notation and cases where Python or Ruby are used.

1970 – Pascal

Named after a French physicist, mathematician, and philosopher Blaise Pascal is a programming language developed for teaching structured programming and data structuring. 

A Swiss computer scientist professor Niklaus Wirth introduced Pascal aiming to develop a programming language applicable to both commercial and scientific applications. It was based on ALGOL 60 and easy to learn. In Apple’s early years Pascal was the main language used for software development and even today it’s still used to make Skype desktop applications. 

1972 – C 

Created by an American computer scientist Dennis Ritchie and his team, C is recognized as the first high-level programming language widely still used today. Based on the earlier language BCPL (Basic Combined Programming Language) C was developed so that Unix (an operating system) could be used on various types of computers. It spread swiftly and has influenced many other languages, including C#, Java, JavaScript, Perl, PHP, and Python.

1972 – C++

Now, C++ (originally “C with Classes”) is an object-oriented programming language developed by a Danish computer scientist Bjarne Stroustrup from AT&T Bell Labs. Being an extension of C with enhancements such as classes, virtual functions, and templates, today C++ is one of the most widely used languages in the world. Today it powers Google’s Chrome web browser and is used in high-performance software like Adobe Photoshop and game engines. 

1983 – Objective-C

Developed by an American computer scientist Brad Cox and his business partner Tom Love, Objective-C is the general-purpose high-level programming language. It adds Smalltalk-style object-oriented programming with the message passing to C. Objective-C is adopted and used when writing software for macOS and iOS, Apple’s operating systems. 

1987 – Perl

PERL (short for Practical Extraction and Report Language) is a general-purpose scripting language with powerful string manipulation tools. Developed by an American computer programmer Larry Wall, it was meant to ease the report processing on Unix systems but soon was adopted in every branch of computing for its high power and versatility.

Today widely used for many purposes, Perl is especially useful in making other programs work together. In fact, that’s why it has been called “the duct tape of the Internet.”

1991 – Python

Created by a Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum, Python is an incredibly useful and powerful high-level scripting language named after the British comedy group Monty Python. Developed to support a variety of programming styles and be fun to use, it has a clean design and requires fewer lines of code than many other programming languages. Instagram uses frameworks that are written in Python.

1993 – Ruby

Ruby (after the birthstone of one of the creator’s collaborators) is a general-purpose, high-level scripting language developed by a Japanese computer scientist and software programmer Yukihiro “Matz” Matsumoto for productive and enjoyable programming. He combined some of his favorite programming languages, including Perl, Ada, Lisp, Smalltalk, to form a one that can perform many programming tasks. It became especially popular in web application development in the 2000s.

1995 – Java

Java’s story begins back in 1991 when a Canadian computer scientist James Gosling (Sun Microsystems) started creating the Oak programming language. While it originally was meant for cable boxes and hand-held devices, soon Gosling took the project to the next level. This was the beginning of Java, an object-oriented programming language with automatic memory management. 

Today it’s one of the most popular programming languages and is everywhere – from computers to smartphones to parking meters!

1995 – PHP

Rasmus Lerdorf, a Danish-Canadian programmer, created PHP (originally “Personal Home Page”) to manage his own online information. Soon it turned out to be great for building dynamic web pages. Today PHP is the most widely used open-source software worldwide (including a popular web creation tool WordPress).

1995 – JavaScript

Developed by an American technologist Brendan Eich in just ten days, today JavaScript is used by almost every major website. JavaScript (other title choices were “Mocha” and “LiveScript”) is a high-level web frontend programming language created to extend web page functionality. 

2000 – C# 

Created by Microsoft, C# is an object-oriented programming language based on C++ and is similar to Java in many aspects. Developed with the initial goal of blending the computing ability of C++ with the simplicity of Visual Basic, C# is used in almost all Microsoft products.

2009 – Go

Nowadays the use of technology is way more complex than it was when such languages as C++, Java, and Python were developed. Hence, Google created the Go programming language to cope with large systems and to approach problems that occur in large software systems. Go presents simple static types, garbage collection, built-in concurrency, and fast compilation.

2009 – Rust

Though sponsored by Mozilla, Rust was started as a Graydon Hoare’s part-time side project. This multi-paradigm programming language was developed while focusing on performance, safety, and concurrency. Syntactically similar to C++, Rust was created to solve problems existing in other languages. And even though Rust is admittedly difficult, it especially stands out in security and provides a cleaner, faster, and safer code.

2014 – Swift

Being a complete newbie among other programming languages “dinosaurs”, Swift’s popularity has been enormous and is only continuing to increase. Developed by Apple as a replacement for C, C++, and Objective-C, Swift was introduced at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2014 and shortly shook the ecosystem of the existing languages. 

Though the primal reception was a mix of excitement and critique, Swift was evolving extremely fast with every new release. It already had a great number of fans when in 2015 Apple decided to make Swift an open-source language. According to the TIOBE Index, Swift officially became the fastest growing language in history. Nice.