Python creator Guido van Rossum sys.exit()s as language overlord

‘Benevolent dictator for life’ tired of the hate, leaves behind no successor or governance


Guido van Rossum – who created the Python programming language in 1989, was jokingly styled as its “benevolent dictator for life”, and ushered it to global ubiquity – has stepped down, and won’t appoint a successor.

In a mailing list post on Thursday titled, “Transfer of Power,” he wrote: “Now that PEP 572 is done, I don't ever want to have to fight so hard for a PEP and find that so many people despise my decisions.”

A PEP is a Python Enhancement Proposal, and it’s the process by which Python evolves with new features or adjacent standards.

In his friendly dictatorial role, Van Rossum signed off on each of proposal personally, an approach that contrasts strongly with comparable projects, such as PHP, that put such matters to a vote.

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PEP 572 proposed “a way to assign to variables within an expression using the notation NAME := expr” to tidy up subexpressions, and make Python neater and faster. As is evident in threads such as this, some developers felt PEP 572 was a poor approach that reflected van Rossum’s opinions more than best practice.

Settling the matter was clearly a slog. On July 6, van Rossum posted: “I have been overwhelmed by the amount of feedback I've received on PEP 572.”

And that was three days after the PEP was accepted.

The experience was clearly draining, as van Rossum’s said: “I'm tired, and need a very long break.” Hence the decision “to remove myself entirely from the decision process.”

“I'll still be there for a while as an ordinary core dev, and I'll still be available to mentor people – possibly more available," he added. "But I'm basically giving myself a permanent vacation from being BDFL, and you all will be on your own.”

He’s left behind no governing principles or a successor, but said a debate on those issues was coming anyway, citing the potential for him to be hit by a bus and the fact that “I'm not getting younger... (I'll spare you the list of medical issues.)”

“So what are you all going to do?” he asked the python-committers mailing list. “Create a democracy? Anarchy? A dictatorship? A federation? We may be able to write up processes for these things as PEPs (maybe those PEPs will form a kind of constitution). But here's the catch. I'm going to try and let you all (the current committers) figure it out for yourselves.

“I'll still be here, but I'm trying to let you all figure something out for yourselves.”

Van Rossum’s achievements are hard to overstate: Python is among the most-used languages in the world. It’s advanced as an ideal beginners’ language, and has also been used in heavyweight enterprise apps. The likes of YouTube, Instagram, and Dropbox (van Rossum’s day job) all use it.

CodingDojo recently rated it the second-most-in-demand skill in job ads for developers. Stack Overflow’s 2018 developer survey ranked Python as the seventh-most popular “Programming, Scripting, and Markup Language”, ahead of C#, Ruby and PHP.

From us here at The Register: good luck, Guido. We know that plenty of our readers enjoy and profit from your work. Thanks for your labours and a language that’s made a big difference. ®

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