29.6.20

Go Karma Schizophrenia

Today, I tried to busy myself with doing some programming exercise in go. Not the board game, the language. Here are some idle thoughts on programming languages.

I had forgotten how good I can be at procrastination. I drank about a dozen cups of tea (soar throat), checked Twitter and mail... it was terrible.

If you studied programming languages, there are many things that seem off about golang. I could even understand if the lack of generics had been justifed as: "we value type inference and structural subtyping higher than having generics." but no, they are on the record as "we never needed them". ok... Opinions on programming language design are a dime a dozen.

I do not aspire to exercise my golang skills because it is a "great programming language", or the appeal to simplicity. Following a change of role at work, I simply expect to be dealing with a lot of go code in my job. That, and "modern C++". It's as simple as that. And sure enough, you can get used to anything.

When I was a grad student working on a certain programming language, I remember how convinced we were that we'd be changing the world. And indeed we have, but then a whole bunch of others have, too. Golang did not exist back then, and neither did "modern C++". I did have some experience in C++ programming, from peeking at programming courses for math students during uni (absolutely nothing related to actual C++ in my informatics curriculum, though there was a lecture on object-oriented programming) and my two internships. And also learned some C from a friend, one seminar and then many hours of toying around. This changed with my job of course, but the point is I perceived this dichotomy betwen programming as taught and research in academia and programming as done in industry or applied research contexts "with an industrial flavor". As grad students working on a language, we were convinced we have the best language, and determined to make it bestest, but I had seen "the other side".

I continued to dabble in C++ in those times, because I was sure I'd need it someday, it's the reality that cannot be ignored when studying programming languages. I described this as "professional schizophrenia": you split yourself into the part of you that accepts the "industry" programming languages, and the part that supports progress based on research which mostly gets ignored. I was then quite surprised when C# 2.0 got generics and Java 1.5 quickly followed suit. It looks like pattern matching makes it into the mainstream, too.

Another way to view this discrepancy is pragmatism: you use what's there, things are the way they are due to path dependence, economic pressure or some other reason that was of concern to somebody. Languages are tools, no need for judgment, just move towards the objective. This is my modus operandi, but it feels good to know that a domain-specific language that is using elements of an advanced type system is sometimes the thing that moves you towards that objective. Still, I am surprised how much one can be stuck in "my programming language is my identity", at myself in hindsight but also all the fan discussion.

Today, after procrastination, I think there might also be some karma. While I had not been too vocal, I'm sure in a weak moment, I must have said something like "golang is not a good language" aloud. I remember looking at source code that I considered to be looking like line noise (the inline & turned me off), surely I must have expressed my disaffection a few times. After a whole day of pain-avoidance behavior – the other name for procrastination – I realize now that maybe this is what has been hunting me. I have been paying for my remarks, dearly. Wake up, Burak, it's time to do your exercise and show how much of a pragmatic you really are.

On the bright side, after all this suffering, I am hoping to be born again as a happy gopher tomorrow.

1 comment:

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