John Backus Biography

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John Backus was a mathematician identified for his invention of FORTRAN & for BNF notation for describing syntax for the programming language. John developed Formulation Translator or Fortran, which was the primary high-level programming language. It was a extensively used programming language that made computer systems accessible and sensible machines for builders and scientists with none have to have in-depth data of this equipment.

Stressed as a younger man, John Backus discovered his place in arithmetic, he earned B.S. in 1949 and M.A. in 1950 from the Columbia College of NY Metropolis. He later joined Worldwide Enterprise Machines or IBM in 1950.

Drained of laborious coding by hand, he was permitted to assemble the workforce at IBM engaged on enhancing effectivity. His workforce at IBM developed the programming language FORTRAN for its numerical evaluation. FORTRAN made packages that have been fairly good as ones written by skilled builders.

Private Life

John Backus was born on third December 1924 in Philadelphia and stayed in Delaware for a very long time. Backus’s dad and mom have been Elizabeth Warner Edsall and Cecil Franklin Backus. Backus was married two instances, first to Jamison Marjorie, whom he obtained divorced in 1966, and later to Barbara Una in 1968. John had two kids, Paula and Karen. In 2004 Barbara died, whereupon John shifted to Ashland, Oregon, to remain close to Paula. John Backus died on seventeenth March 2007 in Ashland.


His household despatched him to Hill Faculty situated in Pennsylvania, although he wasn’t very studious, and obtained poor grades. Nonetheless, in 1942 he graduated and attended Virginia College. Throughout John’s freshman 12 months, he obtained expelled due to poor attendance & joined the US Military.

When within the US Military, Backus did rather well on his medical expertise and later went to Haverford School for finding out drugs. Within the meantime, he obtained handled for a mind tumor and he continued at Flower & Fifth Avenue Medical Faculty situated in NY, however after 9 months, he dropped out. Not being very profitable, he was fairly uncertain about his profession and he rented an condo in NY metropolis and constructed hi-fi set. He was then enrolled on the radio college the place he found his arithmetic expertise.

Quickly, Backus obtained admission to Columbia College and accomplished his arithmetic. In 1949, he obtained his diploma, and in 1950 IBM employed John to work with the workforce on the (SSEC) Selective Sequence Digital Calculator, which was the primary digital pc made by the corporate. For nearly 3 years, he labored on this venture. Earlier than, a part of his work was attending to the machine & fixing it when stopped working. Machine programming was powerful since there was not any organized system to do. Backus invented this system he named Speedcoding for streamlining this course of. This program included a “scaling issue” that allowed numbers of assorted sizes to be saved and manipulated simply.

Working at IBM

After his commencement, Backus joined IBM, staking territory of their upcoming area of pc science. Backus didn’t know a lot about computer systems (just a few individuals did) quickly he discovered himself on its leading edge. He led the group of researchers in 1952 who produced the Speedcoding system for IBM 701 pc, and after one he wrote what’s going to show to be the historic memo. On this, he outlined, Cuthbert Hurd, a necessity for general-purpose and high-level programming language. It was the origin of FORTRAN.

IBM accepted John’s define for the software program language for 704 in 1953. With a workforce {of professional} builders, mathematicians and programmers, he collectively designed the language and translator.

John felt a translator shall be essential in making the machine sooner and simpler to work. It doesn’t contain time-consuming and tedious hand-coding, which was fairly a typical programming. Essentially, the gadget may translate information given by language made for customers to seek out in binary language that the pc may perceive.


FORTRAN was a prototype for the fashionable compilers—packages that might translate high-level language right into a kind that the pc {hardware} will be capable of learn. Earlier than the inspiration of FORTRAN, programmers have been pressured to endure logging within the rows of ones and zeroes, the binary language of the computer systems.

FORTRAN helped programmers with larger creativity and freedom and allowed wide-ranging developments—not least as a result of, earlier than its growth, round three-quarters of the price of working a pc got here from programming and debugging. IBM 1954 printed FORTRAN I, and within the following 12 months Backus, with me. Ziller and R A. Nelson began figuring out bugs of their first model of the language.

In 1954, John printed a paper together with his teammate named “Preliminary Report, Specs that have been used for Mathematical FORmula TRANslating, FORTRAN.” Although to finish the language’s compiler supplied, it took them 2 lengthy years with each IBM 704 set up. After 50 years, Fortran now could be extensively used. With time and suggestions from the consumer, this method grew to become fairly environment friendly and even early “bugs” are eliminated.

After working with the Fortran system, John continued with Backus-Naur Type, it was a type of normal notation describing grammatical errors of high-level languages. It’s utilized in numerous programming languages at current. He continued engaged on language simplification and labored primarily for IBM’s Almaden Analysis Middle and San Jose Analysis Laboratory. In 1963 he was named the primary IBM Fellows.

Founding of FORTRAN

When John and his small workforce of IBM colleagues began their hunt for a programming system in 1954 that enabled computer systems to provide their very own language packages, they weren’t at all times very certain what they’ll give you. Backus remembered in 1967: when he began to unravel an issue, it obtained cut up up into others we had not foreseen. In 1955, they’d lower than one 12 months. However, they lastly did in 1957.

What John and his employees had made was FORTRAN, generally known as the daddy of the programming methods. Many individuals, “assume FORTRAN’s key contribution was enabling the programmer to jot down down packages within the algebraic formulation quite than machine language. Nonetheless, it isn’t. FORTRAN can really mechanize the group of loops. The loop, extremely utilized in scientific work and computing payrolls, is the collection of directions that have been repeated many instances till the precise consequence arrived.

FORTRAN did enhance programmer creativity and productiveness. What had earlier taken over 1,000 machine directions might be written now in simply 47 statements. As supposed, many engineers and scientists discovered to do their very own programming. Nonetheless, language was very sluggish, initially, in catching on. However, customers simply discovered this powerful to imagine that machines can write probably the most environment friendly program.

By 1958, over half of those machine directions of 704 have been getting generated by FORTRAN. This was quickly used on numerous different machines too. “In the best way, FORTRAN was a giant boon to opponents, “as a result of, with the packages tied up over machine language, IBM customers weren’t about to reprogram one other pc. Nonetheless, if a competitor can give you this system that may translate FORTRAN program within the language of his personal machine, he had the promoting level.”


The achievement received John Backus W. W. McDowell Award in 1967 for his excellent contributions to the pc area from the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers.

He obtained the Nationwide Medal of Science in 1975 for pioneering contributions to pc programming languages.

In 1976, John was awarded the Nationwide Medal of Science and the distinguished Turing Award. He was the 1993 recipient of the Charles Stark Draper Award. In 1991, he retired to Ashland, Oregon, the place he died on seventeenth March 2007.

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