A Brief History of “Hello, World!”

It’s a time-honored tradition among computer science and programming students alike-writing that first program, “Hello, World!” A few weeks, or even days into learning a programming language, a look back at our first accomplishment makes us laugh at its simplicity. It’s also one of my favorite programs I’ve written because it gave me confidence. It was the one that made me think, “Hey, maybe I can do this.”

A “Hello, World!” program is often used to illustrate the basic syntax of a programming language for a working program, and as such is often the very first program people write. It is also traditionally used in a sanity test to make sure that a computer language is correctly installed, and that the operator understands how to use it.

The tradition of using the phrase “Hello, world!” as a test message was influenced by an example program in the seminal book The C Programming Language. The example program from that book prints “hello, world” (without capital letters or exclamation mark), and was inherited from a 1974 Bell Laboratories internal memorandum by Brian Kernighan, Programming in C: A Tutorial.

There are variations of the program from no capitalization, all capitalization, no punctuation, etc. No matter the language, no matter the future programmer, we all usually begin with that simple greeting to the world.

When I graduated, I knew I wanted to customize my graduation cap. I scoured the internet for ideas, but didn’t find anything that felt quite right. Then I remembered that first program and knew right then what I should do. A quick trip to the craft store and few hours later, I had this:

This is before I got carried away with the glue gun and flowers

I’m not the craftiest person around, but I’m happy with how it turned out. When I went to graduation, I was surprised to find I was only 1 of 2 computer science graduates walking! So I had this clever little hat and no one to understand the joke!

While waiting outside the auditorium, my computer science instructor walked up and chatted with all 2 CS majors. He asked what my hat said and his reaction was worth the effort. He absolutely loved it and took a picture to send the other CS instructor. So in total, there were 3 of us in on the joke, but I’m very happy being a part of that group.


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