Want to learn some programming? You can go right now to this website, where you can run code in the programming language Python. Now type this single line …
print (“Hello, World!”)
… and hit the big green “RUN” button near the top of the page.
Presto: You’ll see the computer execute your bidding and say Hello, World! It’ll even be in white-on-black monospaced text so you’ll feel like a proper hacker.
Congratulations: You’ve just partaken in one of the oldest traditions in software. Nearly every time a neophyte starts to code—or even when a seasoned programmer decides to learn a new language—the first thing they do is get the computer to say “Hello, World.” Every craft has its lore, and “Hello, World” is a key part of the cultural canon in software. Indeed, I’d argue it illuminates some core aspects of coding culture—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Nobody really knows who first ordered a computer to say “Hello, World!” But it began its ascent to nerd fame back in 1972, when the computer scientist Brian Kernighan was writing a manual for the language B. He wanted to demo B’s ability to take little scraps of text and assemble them.