Friday, 5 August 2011

An Introduction of Sorts, Part 3

The next step of our journey takes us through the second to last leg of my introduction.

So, in my escapades with C, I have learned the following:

1) C is not the best language for every task. Naively, I thought that if I started with C not only would I be able to write any kind of program (which you can) a person can conceive of but that it would act as the basis for learning any future languages (which it doesn't) should I so desire.

2) There are many cool languages to learn, too many in fact. In working through Beginning Linux Programming I came across Tcl/Tk, Perl and shell scripting (Bash specifically). Through other sources I came across Java, Python, LISP and Go. And from there things explode. There are literally hundreds of languages out there!

3) Learning a language doesn't teach you to program, at least, not well. As it turns out, knowing a language doesn't help you much. Algorithms and structure go a lot further in teaching programming. Understanding how to implement a linked list, the best method to store persistent data or the most efficient method of manipulating data is far more essential than knowing where to place a semi-colon or bracket.

4) A compiled language is not the end-all be-all. The JVM, for example, is very cool and Java has all kinds of implementations. You don't need to write Java to use the JVM. Clojure or Jython are examples of languages which are compiled to Java bytecode for execution on the JVM and can take advantage of everything it can provide.

5) Interpreted languages like Perl, Tcl or Python are not slow. First thing to remember, is that over the years things improve and a lot of information on the Internet is old. Really old. A post from 2002 ranting on how slow Python is, is no longer relevant. A heck of a lot has changed in 9 years. With the way technology changes these days, a matter of months can make all the difference. It also has to do with writing idiomatic code and implementing good/quick algorithms which complement the language. While yes, in certain instances, a C implementation of a specific task is faster than the equivalent in Python. However, compare parsing lines of text with C or C++ to Perl. Write an application with a GUI in C and compare that with Tcl/Tk, Java or Python. It's all about matching the tool with the job. You don't bring a hammer to tighten a screw.

6) There is no one way to do something. Quicksort or Bubble Sort are not the only ways to sort data. Not only that but often language implementations may be faster than anything you come up with on your own. You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the language you're working in to get the most out of it.

7) Dynamic Linking is not necessarily superior to Static Linking. It is also not to be confused with Dynamic Loading. Google's Go language taught me that.

8) Skills aren't necessarily transferable. Knowing how to manipulate pointers, manage memory and use pre-processor directives doesn't usually apply outside the C world. Many languages don't have pointers (or are at least not the headache they are in C), use garbage collection and have no need of  pre-processor directives. That doesn't mean that C, or any other language (read: all), with non-transferable skills don't have something to teach. It just means that everything you learn won't be transferable to another language.

9) There is a trade-off between writing a fast program and writing a program quickly. No one wants a slow and sluggish application. On the other hand, a couple seconds overall is likely not even noticeable in most situations. Now, compare that with how quickly a program can be written in Python or Go to C or C++. There's no comparison.

10) Design is where you should spend 90% of your time. I can't stress this enough. An excellent programmer following poor design will create a mediocre application. A poor programmer implementing an excellent design will create a good program. If you can combine the two, a good design with a good programmer, and you'll make an awesome application.

11) Benchmarks mean little to nothing. Look no further than this example. Any language can be optimized in such a way but I can't think of a better example.

It's funny that, reading back, I haven't even scratched the surface of what there is to learn but this certainly is a foundation for describing how much I know.

In the end, not much.

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