Being a CS student means that I will be forced to code in a variety of languages. A lot of our code will be written in Java or C++, but we’ll necessarily get in touch with many other languages, spanning over multiple paradigms.
By no means am I a good programmer yet, but the exposure to the different ways
of crafting code has led me to think about what I value (as a novice
programmer) in a language. It’s, after all, my main tool of expression.
Is it the brevity of the code? What the community surrounding the language is like? Paradigm or strong vs. weak typing? Or could it be that I need the language to be as “simple” as possible for me to be able to formulate ideas?
My roots, or the lack of them
My first language I got to code in was actually Borland Delphi. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just followed a guide that let me create a “guess what number I’m thinking of”-application with a GUI that I got to draw. I was probably about ten years old at that time, and it wasn’t until late elementary that I got acquainted with Java, in a programming course.
Since a bit of Delphi was all I had under my belt at the time, Java was quite the challenge at first. I didn’t like the notion of there being things that I had to write that I didn’t fully understand the purpose of (the concept of “static” was a prime example). Also, while I understood the necessity of getters and setters, it felt weird that I had to write them everywhere; I already had something against boilerplate.
Java has been with me for more than a decade, so I’ve gotten used to its intricacies, but it wasn’t the language that got me really interested in programming.
Inspiration and motivation
While I tried borrowing introductory books for both Java and C++, neither of the languages really interested me. I felt that there was so much to learn, just to accomplish the simplest of things. That’s when a friend of mine introduced me to Python.
The thing I immediately liked about Python was the brevity. To this day I find that there’s something special about seeing text no longer than a screen full (very reminiscent of pseudo code, one might add) execute and work its magic. It’s empowering in a way, to so easily make so much happen. To let ideas transform into code at such a quick rate becomes not only a tool, but a motivation; when scraping together an application gets easier, the imagination takes over.
Another thing that I hadn’t experienced up until my encounter with Python was easily readable code. I didn’t know of the expression at that time, but “self-documenting code” was something I really enjoyed; whether the names got longer or the code had to be restructured, it was worth it for the readability.
Today it so happens that I code more Ruby than I do Python, but I still love the language. Python both motivated and influenced me, but not to the extent that Haskell did.
A different way of doing things
Haskell is special to me because it showed me a totally different way of crafting code while still keeping it short and expressive. Once I got past the peculiarity of functional programming it made me re-evaluate what I’d consider “comfortable” when I write code.
As soon as I got the taste for higher order functions, currying, lazy evaluation and all of the other facilities that Haskell offers, I started to think about why other languages hadn’t introduced me to these concepts.
The thing I love the most about the language is that solving problems in it is a satisfying experience. When the recursive thinking became more natural, and I devoted the time to expand my vocabulary of functions that Haskell offered, magic happened. A friend jokingly referred to Haskell as a “set of glorified one-liners”, and while there’s more to it than that, there’s joy in crafting those one-liners.
Learning one’s preferences
A language that doesn’t affect the way you think about programming, is not worth knowing.
I can’t say that I had the greatest time during my struggles with Prolog, or that fighting with all the details one has to keep in his head when writing Assembly was a pleasure, but it made me see things differently.
I guess it’s a “coming of age” thing for a programmer to realize not what you want to code, but how you want to do it.