Be Multi-Lingual And Learn A New Language

October 22, 2008

How many programming languages do you know? Hopefully the answer is more than one or two. How many languages have you learned this year? Knowing multiple programming languages is a practical skill for several reasons. Each language brings its own specialities which can broaden your toolset. It can also make you more proficient in your preferred language by demonstrating other possibilities. I’m a believer in learning multiple languages and also in using the right tool for the job.


Multi-Lingual Inspirations

Languages have been borrowing and building on each others features for decades. Just look at the functional parts of Python or Ruby as an example of this. Is it coincidence than Haskell and Erlang share almost identical syntax for list comprehensions? The borrowing doesn’t stop there. Many developers have been inspired by features from one language or a language’s well known toolkit and re-implemented them elsewhere. Here are some examples of that.

Twisted is one of the most well known Python libraries, right up there with Zope and Django. One of Twisted’s best features is deferreds. These have been re-implemented in JavaScript via MochiKit and now in C++.

An example from my own work is Strophe. The JavaScript code in Strophe is inspired by bound methods, which JavaScript does not have. In a large application like Chesspark, state is kept in various objects, and so it is important to have Strophe use bound method callbacks. The original version of Strophe implemented this by passing the instance objects along with string method names; the current version uses Function.bind() to create a bound method via a closure.

In both of these cases, the solutions might never have been encountered had we not experimented with many languages.

Some Suggested Reading

Learning a new language doesn’t have to be arduous or boring. Here are some books that make it extremely fun.

There are excellent books for many programming languages, but these are ones I have enjoyed over the past few years. If you know of other good ones I’d love to hear about them! Perhaps I’ll have time to learn and play with another new language before the year is up.

Be Multi-Lingual And Learn A New Language - October 22, 2008 - Jack Moffitt