Hello World!

Hello World! is the first post on any new install of WordPress. Although I always end up deleting it (as one should), I cannot help but still be charmed when I read the words. It’s just a placeholder for any content that is to follow, but is at the same time much more than that.

History of Hello World

Hello World program on paper by Kernighan (1978; wikimedia) 

For those who have already done even a tiny bit of programming, printing “Hello World” as output of a bit of script is likely the first thing they learned. Indeed, Hellow World is quite literally one of the building blocks of programming. It can be quite fun and insightful to see how various programming languages differ from each other in as simple a script as “Hello World.” In fact, helloworld.org is a website that will let you do just that.

The root of this first lesson can be traced to The C Programming Language, a textbook in C programming. Its example taught people to print “hello, world” to the standard output.

#include <stdio.h>

main( )
        printf("hello, world\n");

Because C became (and its evolution C++ still is) one of the most popular  languages, the textbook and its sample script became a stock part of the rapidly developing computer science field. Interestingly, writer of the textbook and C’s creator, Brian Kernighan does not seem to remember how he came up with the idea for the hello, world script (via hackerrank) :

Memory is dim now. What I do remember is that I had seen a cartoon that showed an egg and a chick and the chick was saying, “Hello, world”

Brian Kernighan in an interview with Forbes India (Nov 3, 2011)

A Greeting with a Message

Hello World has risen quite a bit beyond its  chicken and egg origins. As I mentioned above, I find the greeting quite charming. The WordPress variant of it is happily and boldly proclaiming its blog existence to the world. What is more, for me as a non-computer scientist who only learned how to code quite recently, it also represents an invitation to become part of a complex but surprisingly hospitable world behind this and other digital media technology.

It seems silly, but the first time I successfully executed a line of code in Python, I felt welcomed, as if the ghost in my laptop machine was reaching out to me. In this sense, Hello World is a beautiful tradition, arising from the core of the computer science, that showcases the potential inclusiveness of the digital world.