Languages and the theocracy of programming

on Apr 7, 09 • by Gwyn Fisher • with No Comments

Just returned from ESC San Jose, where I spent a very enjoyable few days surrounded by the “real men” of the programming world. Forget your managed language environments, forget abstractions or object oriented fantasies of design, forget processes like Agile, these guys spend their days down at board level working...

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Just returned from ESC San Jose, where I spent a very enjoyable few days surrounded by the “real men” of the programming world. Forget your managed language environments, forget abstractions or object oriented fantasies of design, forget processes like Agile, these guys spend their days down at board level working in assembler and occasionally sticking their heads up into the rarified world of C (but only, you know, for stuff that doesn’t really matter…).

Hell, most of the time the hardware they’re programming is custom built just for that project, sans O/S because, you know, why would you want that crap to get in your way. One guy that stands out in the procession of awesomeness was describing his ASIC to me, asking if we could help with stack overflow problems, and launched into a necessarily abstracted description of the fact that their (classified) device didn’t really have a stack, actually, but it was kind of a well known address range that they normally treated like a stack, although not always because, you know, stuff sometimes gets in the way, so if he, like, stuck something in there that was too big, could we tell him?

God, I love these guys…

Now I began programming on boards in Z80 assembler, so trust me that I do actually know what the heck they’re doing and why, but over time I’ve followed what has felt like a fairly natural migration away from the kind of “if I want to light up that LED I have to store 0x2d in address ‘x’” programming to C, then C++, and more recently to Java and C#. Of them all, I think C++ is probably my favorite, simply because it’s low-level enough to be useful, and high-level enough to let me express myself without having to think too much about it. Frankly, in my opinion while good developers are good in any language, really good developers find their own way and then excel at it. So yes, I can probably program in any language given a few days of spin-up time, but frankly I’m too old and too cranky to get all fired up over the latest innovation of hiding-the-useful-stuff-from-me just so I can do it a bit faster.

Note that I’m not espousing any kind of intelligentsia-sponsored BS argument over the “value” of OO languages over procedural or vice versa (for more vitriol than typically fits on one page, check out this beauty from Torvalds…). And no, I don’t use STL so just shoot me, but it sucks so get over it. And if you get your rocks off over Python or Ruby or Haskell or whatever new lambda calculus-based micro language you’ve just stumbled over, have fun and get your job done, there’s enough of them for everybody, after all.

But don’t try to convert me. Proselytizing is always ugly, so just step away from the bong and let’s all be friends here. The Urban Dictionary nicely summarizes things:

The men who program in C++ are Real Men. The women who program in C++ are Real Men too.

Substitute the name of your favorite language in there in place of C++ and you’ve got the way most developers think about their own language of choice. How about you? Any favorites out there you’re willing to get boiled in the pot for?

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