In the classic text The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master Andrew Hunt and David Thomas make a very convincing case for practicing software developers to pick up a new programming language each year as a part of a deliberate knowledge investment plan. The software industry can be a pretty fast-moving place sometimes, and keeping on top of (or even ahead of) the latest trends can be a pretty smart thing career-wise, particularly so in a recession. Also, new languages broadens ones horizons, and analogous with picking up new natural languages can further proficiency in ones mother tongue (bread-and-butter programming language).
The language of 2009 was Groovy for me. As a (primarily) Java developer you simply gotta love the groovy! I would like to describe the language as a super charged version of Java that shares most of Java syntax, but requires far less boiler plate code, supports dynamic typing and the closures Sun successfully has been able to keep out of the Java programming language up til now¹. Groovy is extremely interoperable with Java: groovy source code compiles to Java bytecode and calling Java code from Groovy or vice verse is trivial. The Groovy take on the famous Ruby-On-Rails web application framework, Grails, is an impressive invention even if it has its problems.
The Programmatic Programmer argues that one should, just in conventional investing, diversify ones portfolio. For 2010 I’m ready to take on a language that shares far fewer traits with my current personal, as well and most of the industry’s, primary bread-and-butter language Java than Groovy does. Maybe even a functional programming language. I decided on short listing Scala, Erlang and Clojure.
The short list
Scala appears to enjoy tremendous momentum for the moment. If Groovy is Java on steroids, Scala is Java 2.0. Founder of the Groovy programming language James Strachan has openly stated that if Scala had been around in 2003, Groovy would probably never has seen the light of day. Scala supports a mixed imperative/functional programming model and is a statically typed language with an advanced type system. Scala compiles to JVM bytecode and is Java interoperable on the same level as Groovy. Unfortunately Scala appears be be a quite complex language – the “authoritative tutorial” on the language, Programming in Scala by language founder Martin Odersky, contains more than 750 pages.
Erlang is a functional language with its origin within the telecommunication industry. Erlang has a strong focus on efficient concurrent execution and fault tolerance. Erlang is of Swedish origin, fully functional and has a syntax very different compared to C syntax language. On the down side, Java interoperability is very weak as Erlang compiles to a none-JVM bytecode. Also, Erlang momentum appears to currently be rather diminutive.
Clojure is a LISP and thus both homoiconic and very functional in nature. The syntax is completely dissimilar to C languages, being much smaller and relying on liberal usage of lots and lots of nice parentheses. Clojure is fully JVM-interoperable and appears to have some traction within the developer community, perhaps not on the level of Scala but there’s definitely some momentum out there.
What investment option did you go with for this year?
¹) Late 2009, Sun finally – obviously much overdue – announced that we can expect closures to be included in Java 1.7 after all.