Sunday, August 16, 2009

5 Reasons why you should learn a new language NOW!

There have been quite a few murmers in the web sphere today regarding the ways Java programming paradigms have changed since its inception in the late 90s. A clear mandate and recommendation towards immutable abstractions, DSL like interfaces, actor based concurrency models indicate a positive movement towards a trend that nicely aligns with all the language research that has been going on in the community since quite some time. Language platforms are also improving by the day, efforts have been on for making the platforms a better host for multi-paradigm languages. Time is now for you to learn a new language - here are some of my thoughts of why you should invest in learning a new language of your choice .. NOW!


Language barriers are going down - polyglot programming is on the way up. Two of the big enablers towards this movement are:

  • Middleware inter-operability using document formats like JSON. You can implement persistent actors in Scala or Java that use MongoDB or CouchDB as the storage of JSON documents, which interoperate nicely with your payment gateway system hosted on MochiWeb, developed on an Erlang stack.

  • Easier language inter-operability using DSLs. While you are on a specific platform like the Java Virtual Machine you can design better APIs in an alternative language that interoperates with the core language of your application. Here's how I got hooked on to Scala in an attempt to make my Java objects smarter and publish better APIs to my clients. Even Google, known for their selective set of languages to use in production applications, have been using s-expressions as an intermediate language expressed as a set of Scheme macros for their Android platform.


Learning a different language helps you look at a problem in a different way. Maybe, the new way models your domain more expressively and succinctly. And you will need to write and maintain lesser amount of code in the new language. Once you're familiar with the paradigms of the new language, idiomatic code will look more expressive to you, and you will never complain about the snippet in defence of the average programmer. What you flaunt today as design patterns will come as natural idiomatic expressions in your new language - you will be programming at a higher level of abstraction.


Playing on the strengths that the new language offers. Long back I blogged on Erlang becoming mainstream as a middleware language. You do not have to use Erlang for the chores of application development that you do in your day job. Nor you will have to be an Erlang expert to use Erlang based solutions like RabbitMQ or CouchDB. But look at the spurt of development that have been going on using the strengths of Erlang's concurrency, distribution and fault tolerance capabilities. As of today, Erlang is unmatched in this regard. And Erlang has the momentum both as a language and as the platform that delivers robust middlware. Learning Erlang will give you more insights into the platform's capabilities and will give you the edge to make a rational decision when your client asks you to select Webmachine as the REST based platform for your next Web application talking to the Riak datastore.


The Java Virtual Machine is now the cynosure of performance optimization and language research. Initially being touted as the platform for hosting statically typed languages, the JVM is now adding capabilities to make itself a better host for dynamically typed languages as well. Anything that runs on the JVM is now a candidate for being integrated into your enterprise application architecture tomorrow. Learning a new JVM language will give you a head start. And it will safeguard your so long acquired Java expertise too. JRuby is a classic example. From a really humble beginning, JRuby today offers you the best of dynamic language capabilities by virtue of being a 100% compatible Ruby interpreter and a solid player in the JVM. JRuby looks to be the future of Ruby in the enterprise application space. Groovy has acquired the mindshare of lots of Java professionals by virtue of its solid integration with the Java platform. Clojure is bringing in the revival of Lisp on the JVM. And the list continues .. Amongst the statically typed ones, Scala is fast emerging as the next mainstream language for the JVM (after Java) and can match the performance of Java as of today. And the best part is that your erstwhile investment on Java will only continue to grow - you will be able to freely interoperate any of these languages with your Java application.


This is my favorite. Learn a language for the fun of it. Learn something which is radically different from what you do in your day job. Maybe Factor, maybe some other concatenative language like Forth or Joy. Or Lua, that's coming up fast as a scripting language to extend your database or application. A couple of days ago I discovered JKat, a dynamically typed, stack-based (concatenative) language similar to Forth but implemented as an interpreter on top of the JVM. You can write neat DSLs and embed the JKat interpreter very much like Lua with your application. Indulge to the sinful feeling that programming in such languages offer - you will never regret it.


Itay Maman said...

I couldn't agree more. Learning a new language has always been something that serious developers should do, and now even more so.

Also, #4 reminded me I once wanted to blog about why the JVM bytecode language is the best assembly ever. Never got it, though.

AJ said...

Great post.

I had the fortunate pleasure of being in America while we ( were hosting an Erlang tutorial by Kevin Smith.

Since then my Ruby (primary lang.) has been crisper, cleaner, faster and ultimately more functional. I tackle problems in different ways, and solve them more easily.

Now, if only I could work out how to make these days a little longer..

Travis Dunn said...

And if learning a language in a vacuum doesn't suit you, doing the same in the form of code katas, puzzles, and thought experiments might. Here's a good resource that lists a few of the better kata/practice lists.

Mukesh Kothiyal said...

gud one!!
an eye opener for those who r quite inflexible on technology paradigm. I workd wid couch n erland for sum time (as a part of fun though) n really impressd by its fault tolerence and RESTful compatibilty...