Monday, January 07, 2008

Who Considers These Folks the Elite Again?

I just read David Megginson's "Programming languages of distinction" in the context of Jeff Atwood's great post on The Shiny. The Scala cartoon cracked me up. But in real life, what truly "elite" programmers are going to move from Megginson's "Step 1" (too many riff-raff using their current language) to "Step 2" (look for a new, little-known language with fewer annoyances)?

At the end of the day, all of these trends/fads/fashions fall somewhere between two well known poles:

  • Assembly language, as specified for typical mass-produced hardware (x86, 680x0, ARM, etc.)
  • Lisp, and in particular Scheme

If you start with Assembly as your deck of cards (stacks and registers and jumps), and start shuffling and doing slight-of-hand tricks, you can get C, C++, Java, et al. If you start with a Scheme deck (lambda expressions), you can shuffle to get Haskell and Erlang.

If you throw all the cards on the floor and mix-and-match from both decks, you get your Ruby and your Scala and your "JavaScript 2/ES4" (well, maybe).

The reasons for religiously sticking to one pole or the other are not compelling for coding at the "application level." That's a fairly trivial statement. Once we specify the sort of typical end-user or business application that makes up the bulk of development, we evade the issue of whether a primitive imperative language (C/Assembler, close to the metal as far as specifying instructions) or a functional one (Haskell/Erlang/etc., potentially easier to parallelize on multi-core hardware) will perform better.

In the application world, we have hybrids like C#/Java/Ruby/ECMAScript. Sure, Scala. At that point, all sorts of other considerations come into play, from design to cost to maintainability to security, which have more bearing than whether a curly brace is a bad thing or /: is evil as an operator.

And guess what? With ANTLR and some open source code you can go make your own half-a-cup of Assembler-half-a-cup-of-Scheme language quite easily. You can use Kanji for the keywords, Roman numerals, a keyboard with a special key that generates Unicode chars above 0xFFFF for declarations, and maybe change the text direction to indicate which way functions are evaluated. What a niche! You'll be the leading authority! You can write a book. You can entice mediocre engineers and terrorize bad ones. You can entice mediocre engineering managers and terrorize bad ones. Or you can work on software that solves real problems for real people.

No comments: