Your Favorite Programming Quote

void foo()
auto_ptrCity Bagdad( new City );
//… some more code …
// and Bagdad destroyed as it goes out of scope

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” by William Shakespeare

is a quote I think captures some of the essens of programming…

I put together a few of my favourites last year (, my favourite being;

“The first 90% of the code accounts for the first 90% of the development time. The remaining 10% of the code accounts for the other 90% of the development time.” - Tom Cargill

“Talk is cheap. Show me the code.” - Linus Torvalds

The very first “stupid users” quote ever recorded:

“On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ‘Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?’ I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.”
– Charles Babbage (1791-1871)

One of my most productive days was throwing away 1,000 lines of code. – Ken Thompson

“Mostly, when you see programmers, they aren’t doing anything. One of the attractive things about programmers is that you cannot tell whether or not they are working simply by looking at them. Very often they’re sitting there seemingly drinking coffee and gossiping, or just staring into space. What the programmer is trying to do is get a handle on all the individual and unrelated ideas that are scampering around in his head.” - Charles M Strauss

“A great lathe operator commands several times the wage of an average lathe operator, but a great writer of software code is worth 10,000 times the price of an average software writer.” - Bill Gates

“Computer science education cannot make anybody an expert programmer any more than studying brushes and pigment can make somebody an expert painter.” - Eric Raymond

Most of my favorites have already been posted in comments, but I think the greatest source of witty programming quotations is Stan Kelly-Bootle’s “Computer Contradictionary” (

It’s now, sadly, out of print. I’ve been bugging Stan, off and on, to update it. Stan worked on the EDSAC in the late 1940’s and is the world’s first CS post-grad; he’ll be turning 80 soon, I believe.

From my list of potential siglines:

“The best programmers are not marginally better than merely good
ones. They are an order of magnitude better, measured by whatever
standard: conceptual creativity, speed, ingenuity of design, or
problem-solving ability.”
– Randall E. Stross

Programming languages should be designed not by piling feature
on top of feature, but by removing the weaknesses and
restrictions that make additional features appear necessary.
—From Revised4 Report on the Algorithmic Language Scheme

“The creation of genuinely new software has far more in
common with developing a new theory of physics than
it does with producing cars or watches on an assembly
– T. Bollinger

There are two ways of constructing a software design. One way is
to make it so simple that there are obviously no deficiencies.
And the other way is to make it so complicated that there are no
obvious deficiencies.

                                      ---C.A.R. Hoare

Premature optimization is the root of all evil in programming.

                                      ---C.A.R. Hoare

… with proper design, the features come cheaply. This
approach is arduous, but continues to succeed.

                                      ---Dennis Ritchie

Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.
– Alan Kay

Programs must be written for people to read,
and only incidentally for machines to execute.
—Abelson and Sussman

Do not lie to the programmer, for he will get his revenge.
—Chip Salzenberg

It’s hard to read through a book on the principles of
magic without glancing at the cover periodically to make
sure it isn’t a book on software design.
—Bruce Tognazzini

The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.
—Geoffrey Chaucer

"There are 10 kinds of people in the world - those who understand binary and those who don't."

Other humor in the GNU Humor Collection. Joke was submitted by Colin Sharpe

“Any configuration ‘feature’ sufficiently hidden is indistinguishable from a bug”… in reply to a rumored compile parameter to increase the nagios perf string limit higher than 500+ characters.

Upon further investigation, it was determined that editing a C header file was not, arguably, a configuration option… until now.

My personal favorite is from Michael Sinz. “Programming is like sex. One mistake and you have to support it for the rest of your life.”

Gilson, I have my own counter-quote that goes

“There are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who think the ‘binary 10 types of people’ joke is funny, and those who don’t.”

My favorite new programming-type quote is Hofstadter’s Law:

“It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

Edsger Dijkstra made some very quotable statements, including this classic:

blockquoteThe competent programmer is fully aware of the limited size of his own skull. He therefore approaches his task with full humility, and avoids clever tricks like the plague./blockquote

There’s a nice collection of Dijkstra quotes here:

GOTO is a four letter word.
Edsger W. Dijkstra

“Woh, All this computer hacking is making me thirsty. Where’s my tab?” - Homer Simpson

Kernighan’s law, quoted above, is my current mantra - perhaps b/c I have a tendency to out-clever myself.

An old favorite of mine that someone jogged my memory of before:

“Documentation is like sex. When its good, it’s oh-so-good. When its bad its better than nothing.”


I hold the following to be the “equation of life”:


Where W=wrongness, U=ugliness, and H=hardness. In English this equation means:

“if something is ugly or hard, it is wrong”

“code is poetry” I think wordpress is using it.

I ran across this one shortly after I started in IT. Printed it out and hung it up. Not “programming” per se, but still puts me in stitches.

“The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That’s where we come in; we’re computer professionals. We cause accidents.”

Nathaniel Borenstein