By Yelena Kensborn (@yelenakensborn), Contributor
The tech sector (with all its Valleys) is referred to as the “new gold rush”, producing more millionaires than any other industry.
With 140 000 new businesses born each day, it’s hard to imagine the world before it all started turning digital. New websites and apps produced in a few days are just as quickly deemed successes or failures. This incredible speed is based on a very unique environment that allows developers and entrepreneurs to put ideas into practice faster than ever before.
But it took a while to get here, with tens of thousands of entrepreneurs setting the ground way before the app and the mobile world. One of the key figures behind one of the most popular modern-day languages is Guido van Rossum a.k.a the author of Python, a predominant language used by technology companies such as Google, Dropbox and Netflix.
We got to speak while he was at Pycon (watch his talks here), a massive yearly conference that invites everyone from pioneers to veterans to join the discussion and participate in workshops at various levels. The number of attendees has grown from only a few hundred people to over 2500 per event! Van Rossum is still actively involved in Python development, but now carrying the title of BDFL – ‘Benevolent Dictator for Life’, making him the head of any changes and improvements suggested by other users.
“Thank God I have nothing to do with the organisation anymore!,” says Van Rossum.
He continues: “I’m very glad that this community is committed to have its own events. Every year the numbers are higher than the year before. Python is incredibly popular.”
He believes the language has become wide-spread because of its simplicity and ability to be be implemented in different projects. This is a major step from its ‘new-kid-on-the-the-block’ status.
25 years ago, Van Rossum started writing Python while working in a government research lab in the Netherlands. His job involved heavy-lifting development in C, a programming language that sometimes makes it hard to build an app from scratch.
“It took a long time to get an application written and there were a lot of annoying bugs that were difficult to track down. I wanted something that could help me write programmes much faster,” explains Van Rossum.
To make the process faster and more efficient, he decided to build a new language that anyone in the world could use as they see fit and improve as needed.
In 1991, Python was ready for its first release and amongst the first contributors to open source software (which most startups and developers code on today to create both prototypes and ready-made products). The idea of allowing any developer to change the code according to their needs was fairly new for its time but Van Rossum believes that this turned out to be a key contribution to today’s innovative environment.
“Package management and that idea of open source have been incredibly powerful ideas through the 90’s and through decades in this century. That has caused an enormous change in the way software is being developed. In the past, it was very difficult to share software. It was just physically difficult,” he begins. “I remember in the mid 80’s I would go to the United States with a large computer tape in my backpack, which I would take to various places where people were interested in using my software. That is really a non-scaling solution for sharing code. People would re-invent the wheel or not be able to write much code because they had to do everything themselves.”