Electronic Design

John Backus

Backus (2002)

Working at IBM in 1949, Backus invented "speedcoding," the first program to include a scaling factor. This enabled the easy storage and manipulation of both large and small numbers. In late 1953, he was given the go-ahead to design a programming language for IBM's new 704, which had a built-in scaling factor, also called a floating point, and an indexer, which significantly reduced run time. For Backus and his team of programmers and mathematicians, the real challenge was coming up with a way to translate that language into something the computer could understand while eliminating the laborious hand-coding that had hampered programming. They came up with the IBM Mathematical FORmula TRANslating System, or FORTRAN. Designed for mathematicians and scientists, FORTRAN remains the pre-eminent programming language in those fields.

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