A conversation with Allen Wirfs-Brock about the history of Smalltalk and the future of dynamic languages

More than 25 years ago, Allen Wirfs-Brock created one of the early implementations of Smalltalk. He was working at Tektronix at the time, as was Ward Cunningham who became the first user of Tektronix Smalltalk. Allen later served as chief scientist of Digitalk-ParcPlace and CTO of Instantiations, then joined Microsoft four years ago. His original charter was to work on future strategies for Visual Studio, but recently — in light of growing interest in dynamic languages at Microsot — he’s returning to his roots.

In the latest installment of my Microsoft Conversations series we review the history of Smalltalk, and trace the evolution of the techniques that it (and Lisp) pioneered, from the early implementations to such modern descendants as Python and Ruby.

I’m always looking for ways to explain why dynamic programming techniques are so important, and a great explanation emerged from this conversation. A Smalltalk system is, among other things, a population of continuously evolving objects that communicate by passing messages. That same description applies to another kind of system: the Internet. I suggested — and Allen agreed — that this congruence is driving renewed appreciation for dynamic languages.

9 Comments

  1. “You work in the same company and have to record half of the conversation in telephone quality?”
    I was in my home office in Keene, NH, and he was in his home office in Portland, OR.

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