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The Eponymous Laws of Programming

Planted Nov 16, 2020
Last tended Jan 17, 2021
Web Development

An eponymous law is a principle or rule named after a particular person

The programming community abundantly creates and embraces Eponymous Laws. Compared to other fields, the number of "unofficial" laws, principals, and rules of thumb considered cultural gospel is overwhelming.

Each law isn't simply a piece of unique knowledge or insight. They often have a backstory – the context of when and where it was created is signficant. Many of these laws were spawned at critical turning points in the history of computer programming. Some come from inside influential companies, or innovative collectives, or touchstone books. Each feels a small story woven into the mythology and cosmology of computational history.

They come with a social connection to their creators. Their legacy and social credibility adds weight and legitimacy to the principle itself.

Atwood's law - Any software that can be written in JavaScript will eventually be written in JavaScript (Jeff Atwood)

Atwood's duck - When compiling a presentation for corporate managers, programmers should include at least one throwaway "duck" detail that's begging to be to removed or changed. This allows the corporate office to feel like they're participating, despite the change being inconsequential. (Jeff Atwood)

More on New Programming Jargon from Jeff's blog

Brandolini's law - The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it (Alberto Brandolini)

Engelbart's law - Like Moore's law, but applied to human performance. Organisations and human potential increases at an exponential rate. (Douglas Englebart)

More on The Doug Englebart Institute

Wadler's law - The emotional intensity and time spent debating a language feature increases along this sequential scale:

  1. Semantics (least intense)
  2. Syntax
  3. Lexical syntax
  4. Comments (most intense)

(Philip Wadler)

More on HaskellWiki

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Maggie Appleton © 2021