256 is the Magic Number for Programmers
It can often seem that every day is some form of ‘International Day of…’ celebration. They range from the interesting to the frankly ridiculous. We have ‘Fight Procrastination Day’ (September 6th -though it may be postponed till the 7th), ‘Leave the Office Early Day’ (June 2nd), and even ‘National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day’ (March 24th). A lot of these holidays are designed to raise awareness of worthy causes or subjects, some are merely marketing gimmicks, and others seek to recognise the unsung heroes of the modern world.
Given our reliance on technology, and in particular computers and the internet, it would be fair to say that International Programmers Day perhaps fits into the latter of those categories.
Back in 2002, two Russian programmers, Valentin Balt and Michael Cherviakov, came up with the idea of starting a petition to get their usually unrecognised profession officially recognised by the Russian government. They first sent a draft appeal to the government, then launched the vote online.
The news about the petition was also sent to some online programmers and news sites and within five days, the petition had already garnered just under 10,000 votes.
Part of the text in the original appeal to the government read: “… The work of programmers has fully contributed to the use of many achievements of modern science, but there is still no official professional holiday reflecting the high importance of this profession.”
Despite that early work and enthusiastic reception, it wasn’t until May of 2000 that a draft presidential decree finally reached the desk of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for approval. The decree was approved and it was announced that September 13th of each year (September 12th in leap years) would henceforth be known as ‘Day of the Programmers’.
Why That Date?
There were already a number of dates both celebrated informally and suggested as a formal date.
February 14th – To commemorate the launch of the ENIAC electronic computer in 1946.
December 4th – The date the digital electronic computer was first registered in the USSR and seen as the ‘birth date’ of Soviet computer science.
December 10th – Birthday of Ada Lovelace, viewed as the first ever programmer.
Also, since 2006, May 17th was established by the UN as a day for the information community worldwide. It has now been named World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.
Balt and Cherviakov chose their date, the 256th day of the year, as the number 256 is… “As computer scientists and programmers might know, 256 is the number of distinct values represented by an eight-bit byte. It’s also the highest power of two that is still less than 365 — the number of days in a normal year.”
Valentin Balt is now based in Cyprus and works as Product Manager for financial services company, FxPro. Michael Cherviakov is in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he works as Senior Software Engineer for another financial services company, ChartIQ.