Java, Programming

Depressing times for Java programmers

Joshua Bloch of Effective Java and Collections fame has given a powerful and in many ways depressing talk. He has probably nailed the coffin shut on BGGA with this almost clinical dissection of the flaws of grafting Closures into Java. However he has also indicated how Java is effectively at the end of the line. Sun, for perfectly good reasons, wants to maintain backwards compatibility and not throw the kitchen sink into the language. The JCP does not have to stick with that approach but this talk does effectively say that there is a limit to what can be done while keeping the language recognisably Java.

The mention of Scala is significant because a lot of the things that people want in Java are available there and other features are in JRuby. Trying to create one language with universal appeal is going to be impossible. The reason I feel depressed about all of this is because I have working with Java for years now. I really had to fight to switch to 100% Java and now its time to move on again!

It would be easier to do that if there was something that was obviously better but currently all of the candidates for a potential successor have lacked that Eureka factor where you see something that is going to make programming easierĀ  and better and your working life a whole lot more fun. So far only Scala has really come close.

Software, Work

The cruel young men and their DSLs

When faced with the question about how people are meant to learn more and more languages some pundits say that perhaps people shouldn’t be programmers if they cannot learn new languages. When you’re young, bright and brilliant that may seem a reasonable answer. However the truth is that no matter how high you try to set the bar on programming, the amount of programming to be done is far in excess of the capacity of the relatively small number of brilliant people in the world who are inclined to do it. Telling the people who make a living trying to answer this demand, with less stellar qualifications perhaps, that they should shape up or ship out isn’t going to win any friends.

It’s also pointlessly antagonistic. Getting to learn many languages should be seen as a chance to broaden and enhance skills. However that is not going to be attractive if organisations continue to provide incentives in terms of pay and opportunities to specialists. To respond negatively to the suggestion that you discard your hard-won investment in your language of choice is both natural and rational if you run the risk of earning less than the single-focus individual. DSLs will die a death unless they can be incorporated within the scope of an existing big beast language or employers adopt a capability rather than knowledge-based metric for pay rewards.

I also think that DSL aficionados often fail to point out to the broader audience of programmers that learning a DSL or even a variety of languages (most probably meaning at least one functional, dynamic and object-orientated language) will not be the same experience as the current depth learning of languages. Since a DSL should be for a specific purpose and have a small syntax or grammar customised to a particular problem or domain it will not be the same as being able to answer trivia such as what the problems with the Date API are in Java and what the Calendar class sets out to address and whether it succeeds or not. Interview questions may have to revolve around applying a new syntax for dealing with a particular problem instead of the usual language pop quiz.

Advocating languages as solutions should also involve advocating changes in employer priorities. If you don’t link the two then threatening someone’s livelihood actually makes it harder to achieve the DSL’ers joyful Babel of languages that matches tool to problem.