alan little’s weblog

yegge on programming

10th March 2006 permanent link

Everybody (ok, Bill de HÓra and Tim Bray) is suddenly linking to Steve Yegge’s excellent series of essays on programming, why and how as currently practiced it is grotesquely inadequate for the challenges facing large-scale systems development, and how few people are actually thinking seriously about realistic ways of making it better. Bill thinks he could be “the next Greenspun|Spolsky|Graham”, and could be right, although he seems rather less full of himself than Greenspun or Graham – which is a good thing in itself, but also handicap in rising to fame’n’stardom. [UPDATE: Steve’s currrent blog]

Tour de Babel, the essay Bill links to, is one of the better comparative programming languages essays I’ve ever read, and there’s lots of other good stuff there too about just how primitive the state of our art really still is.

Full disclosure: I make my living managing a team that develops a large suite of software that does [useful things] for [several] million customers of a large telco, at a yearly cost of [somewhat fewer] million euros. (Hey, well under a buck per year per customer. I never thought of it that way before – what excellent value we are!) Anybody who thought that what language the whole lot is written in – mostly Java, as it happens, with odd bits of C++ here and there – is even on my list of Things To Worry About would be sorely mistaken. I’m far more taken up with guessing what marketing might want to do next year, and trying to design this year’s four releases in ways don’t make (a reasonable guess at) next year’s requirements impossibly expensive.

I still enjoy writing code in my spare time, although it’s several years since anybody last gave me money for doing so.

Python is currently the language in which I can sit and type working code without having to worry aobut syntax or reference manuals. My previous experience ranges from the sublime (Smalltalk) to the ridiculous (Cobol), via points in between including C, perl, most major commercial SQL dialects, bits of Visual Basic and a quickly-reached decision that C++ wasn’t going to be worth all the hassle and pain. I’ve never made my living as full time Java developer, but I’ve done enough to know I’m glad I don’t have to. In my moments of python frustration I find ruby the language quite appealing, but I’m put off by its obvious immaturity as a development environment: the laughably slow XML parser, the attitude of Unicode denial. But Steve may have talked me into having another look at it.

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