The Insecurities of Software Development
July 8th, 2012 by ravi

Warning: this post is not about the merits and demerits of programming languages. It’s a polemic about periodic outbreaks of hating on this or that programming language and what might motivate it.

If you frequent popular tech watering holes like Hacker News, sooner or later you are bound to witness a discussion of the differences between some subset of the terms coder, programmer, software developer and software engineer. There really is none. The discussion nevertheless is unsurprising considering that the urge to construct complex theories and artificial hierarchies has been a reliable constant in human history. Software development (like economics), a craft in search of a science, is particularly vulnerable to insecure navel-gazing. All that energy piled up from sophisticated coursework on compiler design, the lambda calculus and finite automata theory has to be expended somewhere, if not in the making of things. And like economics, that energy finds its outlet in punditry.

On that front, these days, par for the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing course, perhaps its 18th hole, is ado over programming languages. There has been recently a rash of new programming languages and interest in old ones. Don’t like Java or JavaScript. There’s CoffeeScript. And Clojure. Not arcane enough? How about Haskell, Scala, Erlang. Not low level enough? Try Go. Need more cruft? Possibly Java or Microsoft’s C#. Coolness? Definitely Ruby. And then you have Python which, visually, seems to be the COBOL of modern scripting languages. There’s also Lua, Rhino, Limbo‚Ķ the list goes on. Makes you yearn for the days when all “scripting” languages were dismissed as beneath serious use. Each language has its adherents and deep theory to encourage wider adoption. The cries abound from each corner: mine’s expressive, but mine’s functional, it’s reflective, I got some fine functions as first-class objects right here, check out my concurrency and lazy evaluation, let’s go prototypal‚Ķ someone more talented could mix an impressive rap song out of this jargon soup.

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