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The world's top C++ programmer. And what he does at Morgan Stanley

There is a God-like being working for more Morgan Stanley in New York City. He's not a top trader. He's not a big dealmaker. He's a technologist, and Morgan Stanley has started showing him off. 

Morgan Stanley hired Bjarne Stroustrup, the inventor of C++, in 2014. Even then he was a big catch: Stroustrup had spent almost entirely in academia - mostly at Texas A&M University. Despite a lack of banking experience, Morgan Stanley hired him as a technical fellow and managing director; Stroustrup also became a visiting professor at Columbia University alongside his banking job. 

In a newly posted 'Morgan Stanley minute,' Morgan Stanley reminds the world of the icon in its ranks. C++ should be thought of as the "foundation of things, or the engine of things that you use," says Stroustrup in a video posted by the bank last week.  When he began working on C, the language that evolved into C++, in 1979, Stroustrup says he had to "design something that could do things I couldn't imagine." By 1998 C++ was already one of the most widely used programming languages in the world - and although it's notoriously difficult to master, it retains that position today, with a user population of around 4.5m.

Now aged 69, Stroustrup has picked-up a host of accolades during his life, including an honorary professorship at Churchill College, Cambridge University. When he received the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering honors in 2018 (for conceptualizing and developing the C++ programming language) Stroustrup highlighted the extent to which his career was based on serendipity. - No one in Stroustrup's Danish family had been to university: "My father and all my uncles left school at seventh grade to work with their hands," said Stroustrup. When he applied to university, he therefore intended to apply to study engineering, but he decided against applying for the engineering course at Copenhagen in favor of the University of Aarhus, where he could live at home due to a lack of money. There, he signed up for mathematics and computer science, and his course in life was determined.

Stroustrup hasn't just been talking to Morgan Stanley's in-house journalists. He also appeared in an interview last month with TechRepublic, where - in the unedited notes - he explained what he does at the investment bank. "At Morgan Stanley, I’m a Technical Fellow," said Stroustrup, suggesting that he doesn't have much managerial responsibility. "There, I mostly deal with distributed systems, programming techniques, and teaching. My work with the ISO C++ standard and on the C++ Core Guidelines are considered part of my job there."

Stroustrup said he combines his job at the bank with his academic job(s) because the latter aren't too onerous: "My Carlos III doctorate is honorary, so there are no formal obligations, though if it wasn’t for the virus, I would have visited them this year to give a talk and meet with people, just as I did last year. Every year, I give software design course using C++ at Columbia University in New York City."

In the notes to his TechRepublic Interview, Stroustrup said most people misunderstand that that the catch-all term "coding jobs" covers incredibly different roles. "There really is a vast difference between setting up a simple web site and building the infrastructure for a service on which lives or livelihoods critically depends. I am primarily interested in the latter," said Stroustrup. "How it is done, what tools are used, and how the experts are educated..."  

Stroustrup added that he himself is suffering from a "bit of burnout" during the pandemic and that informal virtual interactions without formal meetings are a good way of trying to tackle it. Work on C++ 20 and C++ 23 has been delayed by the pandemic, said Stroustrup but he expects to get library support for coroutines, networking and executors plus maybe a modular standard library (or at least two of those things) in the 2023 standard.

For downtime, Stroustrup likes "light literature," including the Plague by Albert Camus.

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Photo by D A V I D S O N L U N A on Unsplash

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • Pa
    Pablo Esteban Camacho
    2 February 2022

    BS joined MS in 2012 (or sometime in last months of 2011), not in 2014. During 2012, and only that year, I was working for MS. I remember I reviewed (as I did and do) BS's Webpage and found it had been modified: he had started working for MS. My first email interchange with Dr BS was using the MS's chat and our MS's email accounts.

  • Pa
    Pablo Esteban Camacho
    2 February 2022

    BS joined MS in 2012 (or sometime in last months of 2011), not in 2014. During 2012that year, and only that year, I was working for MS. I remember I reviewed (as I did and do) BS's Webpage and found it had been changed: he had started working for MS. at and had the honor to contact BS using the MS's chat and our MS's email accounts.

  • Ia
    Ian Joyner
    1 February 2022

    The real history of and truth about C.

    Too often I see these kinds of statements that Ritchie designed this ‘brilliant’ language in a vacuum. Two things wrong with that.

    1. C is not a brilliant language. It is full of flaws and compromises. It compromised on compiler technology, forever forcing programmers to take care of detail that should easily be done by a compiler. Will C get new features in the future? (https://www.quora.com/Will-...

    2. C was based on B, which was based on Martin Richards’ BCPL, which itself was a cut down on Christopher Strachey’s CPL which was too ambitions to be implemented at the time. It is Strachey who is the real genius here. But CPL came out of ALGOL, which set the standard for structured programming.

    If you are asking why can’t we master C in a few years – it is because of the flaws. If you are asking why can’t we master programming language design, it is because designing a language is very difficult, and in fact we can do much better than C for both systems and application programming which are two very separate things that C tries to combine – and that is part of the problem. C Is Not a Low-Level Language (https://cacm.acm.org/magazi...

    I’ve found out a little more since writing this answer. Really Ritchie did a few days worth of compiler engineering adding int, char, float to typeless B, which I noted is just a syntactic variant of BCPL. But where was Boolean? C makes a mess of Boolean which is the simplest type.

    Ritchie also reinstated structures which B had removed from BCPL.

    https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~m...

    The years of development on C were previously done at Cambridge and London Universities. CPL was a project that ran for around five years, then BCPL, which was implemented at MIT. Ken Thompson picked up BCPL from MULTICS, made a few adjustments (oversimplifying BCPL). I don’t know how long Thompson spent on it, but it could not have been more than two to six months. Ritchie as I said did some very small ‘enhancements’ to B. The years of work on C were done well before B and C on the other side of the Atlantic.

    A few other things to clear up. C was not the first ‘high-level’ (although it is a language with structured syntax and not high level) language used for system software. That was Burroughs Extended ALGOL. In fact, the Burroughs languages are so good, no assembler is needed at all, not even in 1963, and still not today. Note, I said ‘languages’ — that is because it is several languages ensuring separation of concerns between system layers, whereas C is poor at separation of concerns and abstraction.

    ALGOL Manual

    Please click through the Unisys legal garbage:

    https://public.support.unis... Manual**

    https://public.support.unis...

    So C was predated by almost a decade in using a structured language for the basis of system programming, and Burroughs ALGOL is a far better set of languages. That influenced MULTICS out of which the Unix project came.

    Then there is the other notable thing about C — the preprocessor. Invented for C. Nope Burroughs ALGOL again which had again a better and more powerful implementation, but used the # character as a terminator, not introducer so Burroughs defines were less line bound. The credit for Burroughs defines is due to Don Knuth who suggested it. However, defines were controversial in Burroughs because some felt they were a cheap and nasty way of languages extension. Quite right.

    Christopher Strachey (CPL) also was influential in macro-processing since he introduced GPM used to do initial implementations of CPL.

    So there is some real history to set any ‘accomplishments’ of Dennis Ritchie in their true context.

  • Ia
    Ian Joyner
    1 February 2022

    "There is a God-like being working for more Morgan Stanley in New York City"

    Oh, now Stroustrup is God. And people wonder why I say C and C++ have become cults. Like Ritchie before him Stroustrup takes most of the credit for things he really did not do. Ritchie did a few days compiler work on B to make it C, and B was mostly BCPL with some syntax tweaks. The real people behind those languages are Christopher Strachey and Martin Richards. They were real language designers and did not expect accolades. Who has heard these names?

    Stroustrup hacked OO into C which was never a good base. C++ has done more damage to OO and good programming than anything else. Alan Kay who coined OO said bluntly that he did not have C++ in mind. Who invented OO in the first place? Dahl and Nygaard. Who knows their names? Then where did C++ get most of its advanced features from? Eiffel, designed by Bertrand Meyer. Only C++ is an ersatz copy.

    It really is time we got not only balance in who has invented this stuff, but got the history right and stopped ignoring those who really did things and stop praising these false gods.

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