Python programming language creator retires, saying: 'It's been an amazing ride'

The creator of the world's most popular programming language goes into retirement.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Guido van Rossum, the creator of the hugely popular Python programming language, is leaving cloud file storage firm Dropbox and heading into retirement. 

That ends his six and half years with the company, which hired in him in 2013 because so much of its functionality was built on Python. And, after last year stepping down from his leadership role over Python decision making, that means the Python creator is officially retiring.   

His recruitment at Dropbox made sense for the tech company. Dropbox has about four million lines of Python code and it's the most heavily used language for its back-end services and desktop app.

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According to Dropbox, in 2011, when van Rossum first met Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, the Dropbox server and desktop client were written "almost exclusively in Python". 

Today, Dropbox also relies on Go, TypeScript, and Rust, as well as the open source Mypy static type checker that Dropbox develops to manage Python code at scale. Mypy helps developers overcome the challenge of understanding dynamically typed Python code written by other developers in the past.    

Python is now nearly 30 years old and, depending on which ranking index you read, it's the most widely used programming language in the world and underpins some of the biggest apps in the world, such as Instagram, which has also been working to tame Python at scale

Dropbox said van Rossum has had a major impact on its engineering culture. 

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"There was a small number of really smart, really young coders who produced a lot of very clever code that only they could understand," said van Rossum. "That is probably the right attitude to have when you're a really small startup."

However, as Dropbox notes, when the company grew, new engineers could not understand the clever but 'short and cryptic' code written by and for earlier developers. 

Van Rossum called this "cowboy coding culture" and educated the company about the value of maintainable code. 

"When asked, I would give people my opinion that maintainable code is more important than clever code," he said. 

"If I encountered clever code that was particularly cryptic, and I had to do some maintenance on it, I would probably rewrite it. So I led by example, and also by talking to other people."

SEE: Dropbox launches Spaces, new desktop experience that aims to declutter digital workspaces

Dropbox also credits van Rossum with sharpening the company's testing processes for its continuous integration program and helping engineers understand why tests were broken. 

After that he started work on the Mypy static checker, which was written by Dropbox employee Jukka Lehtosalo, who van Rossum introduced to Dropbox. Van Rossum formed the mypy team in 2015 to help clean up Dropbox's massive Python codebase. 

He also worked to make the engineer culture at Dropbox and in the Python community more inclusive for women, according to Dropbox. 

"It's been an amazing ride to see this little hack of mine affect so many people in their lives," said van Rossum


Van Rossum: "Maintainable code is more important than clever code."

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