Van Rossum was born and grew up in the Netherlands. He received a master degree from the University of Amsterdam in 1982, and later worked for various research institutes, including the Dutch National Research Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science (CWI) (Amsterdam), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) (Gaithersburg, Maryland), and the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) (Reston, Virginia). He worked on the development of the ABC programming language, a descendant of the Simula language.
Over the origin of Python, Van Rossum wrote in 1996:
Over six years ago, in December 1989, I was looking for a "hobby" programming project that would keep me occupied during the week around Christmas. My office ... would be closed, but I had a home computer, and not much else on my hands. I decided to write an interpreter for the new scripting language I had been thinking about lately: a descendant of ABC that would appeal to Unix/C hackers. I chose Python as a working title for the project, being in a slightly irreverent mood (and a big fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus). (Introduction to Programming Python, by Mark Lutz, published by O'Reilly)
In 1999, Van Rossum submitted a funding proposal to DARPA called Computer Programming for Everybody, in which he further defined his goals for Python:
- an easy and intuitive language while being just as powerful as major competitors
- open source, so anyone can contribute to its development
- code that is as understandable as plain English
- suitability for everyday tasks, allowing for short development times