Programming for the Millions:
The BASIC Story from Dartmouth
to Visual Basic
IN 1957, THOMAS KURTZ WAS A YOUNG PROFESSOR at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, but also a frequent commuter to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he could get his hands on a big IBM computer. His first taste of computing had come six years earlier as a graduate student, when he got a summer job at a government research center in Los Angeles. That early experience, Kurtz recalled, caused him to drift toward computing, even though he went on to get his Ph.D. in statistics from Princeton University and Dartmouth had hired him to teach statistics. In those days, computing was a new, uncharted field whose potential significance - economically, socially and culturally — was just beginning to be appreciated. But Kurtz had a simpler motivation as well. "For people who program, programming is fun," he explained more than four decades later, speaking of the rigorous, intellectually-consuming pleasure of talking to the machine - often to the "consternation of those around you who might want a minute of your attention."
The early programming Kurtz did was in assembly language, a separate one for each different machine. At the MIT center the computer was an IBM 704, and he learned its assembly language, SAP, for Share Assembly Language. In 1957, FORTRAN arrived, though there was a prejudice against the so-called