Monday, February 23, 2009

Programming Abstractions

Great post by Brian Hurt: Programming Doesn't Suck! Or At Least It Shouldn't.

Abstraction helps up the percentage of interesting code vr.s boring grunt work code, by minimizing the amount of boring grunt work code. If you can turn five lines of code, replicated ten thousand times, into one line of code, replicated ten thousand times, you’ve just turned a 50 KLOC project into a 10KLOC project, doable at least 5 times faster (and probably more like 25 times faster). Get the crap work out of the way fast, so you can get on to the more interesting stuff.

I’m not even talking about leaving your language of choice, I’m talking about thinking outside the box, or even just thinking. But learning new languages is an advantage in making programming not suck, because if nothing else, it gives you new tools for your tool box, new ways to consider abstracting the code. And some languages are better than others, and the more you know, the more likely you are to know a good one. And if you don’t know the better language, you can’t use it.

My initial response to the DailyWTF post was that it was another classic example of the starving child in Africa syndrome. You’ve seen the pictures. A child in some hell-hole of a third world, generally Africa but parts of Asia and South America qualify as well. The child is hungry, maybe starving, disease ridden, bug infested, and destined for a life that was nasty, brutish, and short. But they’re smiling away, happy as can be, simply because they don’t know any better. Everyone they’ve ever known, seen, or even heard of has been in exactly the same boat they are. That’s just what life is like. I often times think that many programmers are just like that staving child. They put up with, indeed don’t even see anything wrong with, having to write half a dozen lines of code just to set some UI properties, because they’ve never known any better. Bug ridden, virus invested, bloated, slow, impossible to maintain, that’s just what programming is.

The second post is convincing me that the situation is much, much worse than that. That it’s not just ignorance is the problem. It’s not just that many programmers don’t know any better, it’s that many programmers don’t want to know any better, and are looking for an excuse, any excuse, to stay ignorant. It’s as if that starving child doesn’t want food, and would reject food if offered.

The reason that post is causing to me think this is because I’ve heard this argument before. All of them. See, I lived through the last great paradigm shift, when the industry moved from Procedural to Object Oriented- and heard the dying remnants of the one before that, from unstructured to procedural programming. I’ve heard all these arguments, or should I say excuses, before- from people trying to avoid learning C++ and Java.

Slightly related: Erik Meijer @ JAOO2008: 'Why Functional Programming (Still) Matters'

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