The Philosophy of Programming: Reflecting on Stroustrup’s Famous Quote

In the diverse and ever-evolving landscape of programming languages, a quote by Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of C++, offers a profound insight that resonates with both novice and experienced programmers alike. Stroustrup famously said, “There are only two kinds of languages: the ones people complain about and the ones nobody uses.” This statement, seemingly humorous at first glance, unravels deep truths about programming languages and the communities that use them.

Bjarne Stroustrup standing next to Peter Smulovics

The Universality of Criticism in Popular Languages

At the heart of Stroustrup’s observation is the notion that popular programming languages will inevitably attract criticism. This phenomenon can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Widespread Use: Languages like Java, Python, and JavaScript are used by millions of developers. This vast user base means more exposure to diverse problem sets, revealing the language’s limitations and idiosyncrasies.
  2. Legacy Code: Popular languages carry legacy features that might not align with modern programming practices, leading to frustration among developers who seek more streamlined and efficient methodologies.
  3. Community Expectations: As a language grows, so do the expectations of its user community. Developers often push for new features or changes, leading to debates and complaints about the language’s direction.

Obscurity and Lack of Use

On the other end of the spectrum are the languages that “nobody uses.” These could be languages that are:

  1. Highly Specialized: Some languages are designed for specific industries or niches, making them less known to the broader programming community.
  2. New or Experimental: Emerging languages might not have gained traction yet, or they might serve as experimental fields for new concepts in programming.
  3. Outdated: Older languages that have been superseded by more modern alternatives often fall into obscurity.

The Middle Ground

Interestingly, Stroustrup’s dichotomy hints at a middle ground. Languages that strike a balance between widespread use and manageable levels of criticism tend to evolve effectively. These languages manage to adapt over time, addressing the concerns of their user base while maintaining relevance and usability.

Reflection on Language Design

Stroustrup’s quote also serves as a commentary on language design. It suggests that perfect language design is unattainable—not because of a lack of expertise, but because of the evolving and diverse needs of users. A language that is perfect for a certain task or at a particular time may not hold the same status as new requirements emerge.


Bjarne Stroustrup’s quote encapsulates a fundamental truth in software development: the utility and popularity of a programming language are often accompanied by criticism. This criticism is not necessarily a sign of failure; rather, it indicates engagement and ongoing use. In the grand tapestry of programming, languages are constantly evolving, influenced by the communities that use and critique them. The vitality of a programming language, therefore, lies not in its perfection, but in its ability to adapt, evolve, and continue to be relevant to its users.

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