[nSLUG] Re programming language choice

George N. White III gnwiii at gmail.com
Sat Mar 1 13:10:47 AST 2014

On Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 10:54 PM, Oliver Doepner <odoepner at gmail.com> wrote:

> Polyglot, not sure. I am only bilingual. I can do bash and Java. :o)
> I had to do a little Ruby/Rails in the recent past and a little Perl in
> the distant past.
> Polyglot can also mean: Knows a little bit of many languages, but isn't
> expert in any. I prefer working with experts and it is ok with me if
> developers have to be specialists to maintain expert level in a few areas.
> :o)
> Each of the programming "ecospheres" (Java/JEE, HTML5/web/mobile, LAMP,
> Unix shell, DotNet, C/C++, etc.) is so full of sub-technologes, libraries,
> cool new frameworks that I find it hard or impossible to maintain expert
> status in more than one of them.

The systems I work with use C, C++, java, python, perl, sh, fortran, IDL (a
specialized image processing language), R, and matlab.   I'm not expert any
of these, but can generally get stuff done by choosing the language that
best fits the problem and getting help from language specialists when I
encounter a roadblock.   Much of the IDL, C, and fortran
code is being rewritten (by space agencies) in Java, python, and C++, so I
get to compare the original fortran (IV and ratfor) with C++ versions. I
have also made lab reference docs for a number of basic calculations using
multiple languages for use in teaching (so students from diverse
backgrounds can start with code in a language they know).  Reimplementing
an existing system in a difference language has been very effective at
revealing long hidden bugs as well as introducing new ones.

In computing, there are fundamental ideas that are used in many languages,
and fundamental problems (networking, ipc, resource management, etc.) that
need to be addressed in many projects.  Someone with sound understanding of
the fundamentals can pick up a new language fairly quickly, and use good
judgment in evaluating approaches to the problems that are relevant to a
particular project.   There are many "expert" programmers who are weak on
the fundamentals but get by because they have lots of technical detail
knowledge in a particular environment.  Such people often use a cookbook
approach where they follow detailed recipes without actually understanding
the process.

LIbraries and frameworks change rapidly, so long immersion in a language is
only a short term advantage.  Cookbook approaches can work well if the next
project involves relatively minor incremental changes from last project.
are usually excellent frameworks and libraries for tasks that occur often
enough, but to some expert hammer users, every problem looks like a nail.
If you a building a conventional shed, hire a hammer user, but if your shed
isn't conventional you may need to find someone who can match the tool to
the problem.

> On Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 12:48 PM, Ben Armstrong <
> synrg at sanctuary.nslug.ns.ca> wrote:
>> On 28/02/14 12:32 PM, Jim Haliburton wrote:
>> > If the "newbie" was hired for his skill in the particular language that
>> they knew, then
>> > management should listen to their views.  If it was for a generic skill
>> set management has to
>> > consider if the new outsider is going to try and change the company to
>> his way of doing things.
>> As for the rest of your wisdom learned through experience, I can't
>> disagree. However, so far as it is possible, management should strive to
>> hire polyglots instead, who tend to be smarter anyway. Then decide which
>> language to use based on longer term factors than who you happen to have
>> on your staff at this point in time. Surely that will change over time ...
>> Ben
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> --
> Oliver Doepner
> http://doepner.net/
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> nSLUG at nslug.ns.ca
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George N. White III <aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca>
Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia
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