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Programming languages are now driven by corporations: Should we be worried?

There once was a time when a starving PhD student could improvise a new programming language and within a few years the entire world was using it. That time is gone. Today, as evidenced by the rising popularity of languages like Kotlin and Go, seemingly the only way a new programming language hits the big time is with the generous backing of a megacorp.

The question is whether this is an inherently bad thing.

The 1990s: the era of the freewheeling hacker

It wasn’t always thus. As Hacker One CEO Marten Mickos related, “The end of the 1990s was an unusual period with an exceptional number of grassroots and small projects that then became huge.” Not only programming languages, but all sorts of technology upstarts like MySQL and Linux also boomed during this fecund period.Perry Ismangil concurred, saying, “It was the beginning of the internet plus web reaching the masses.” Ismangil goes on, arguing, “People were scrambling to build web apps that [were] not CGI running C, for example—PHP and JavaScript.”

From PHP (Rasmus Lerdorf) to Python (Guido van Rossum), much of the early web’s languages were written by individual hackers. If they were helped by an organization, as was the case of Brendan Eich (JavaScript) at Netscape, it was a comparative startup helping to shape the industry around it.

While this happened outside the web world, usually there was a big company lurking in the shadows. Bjarne Stroustrup, for example, started his work on C++ while a PhD student. By 1983, however, Stroustrup was using C++ at AT&T. As he recalled:

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