Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Software Cultures

I think every programming language (and frameworks too) generates a dominant culture. It might be implicit in the language/tool itself, or it might happen more gradually through self selection. For example, here's how I distinguish three cultures (the boundaries are inherently fuzzy, and I'm aware that this is totally personal opinion, so people are bound to disagree by either raising counter-examples or saying they don't agree, and that's fine). I also have my tongue firmly in my cheek, but I believe there's an element of truth in each statement.

Java - a fascination with flexibility, generally achieved through complexity (and a healthy(?) does of XML). Ten years ago I would have said Java was focussed on solidity and reliability (in the meeting expectations sense), but I think this has changed over time. New functionality is implemented by adding new options. If it doesn't work, it's because you didn't configure it properly.

Rails - a fascination with bright, shiny new toys. Encourages the image of the developer as a person young enough to live in the code, who can deal with either new tools or tools that fundamentally change every three months or so. New functionality is achieved by implementing a new plugin/gem which needs to be compared to all existing alternatives. No solutions is 100% complete because people lose interest first. If it doesn't work, get in there and change the code yourself. [note - I don't comment on Ruby itself as I don't have enough exposure to the non-Rails community]

Seaside - I'm an old-hand in Smalltalk, just learning Seaside. So far I see a fascination with having something that just frackin' works (though it might be heavily engineered). The documentation sucks though, so get into the code. Changes are generally transparent and backwardly compatible. If it doesn't work, you did something wrong - the community is the documentation.

Each of these cultures has strengths and weaknesses. I'm 46 years old (shit, when did that happen), my raw memory isn't as strong as it was, and I don't think as quickly as I used to. But I have a load of experience in developing design models and applications - I want tools that get out of my way and let me build things. Given my Smalltalk experience, Seaside is a great match for me - much better than Rails. If there was the equivalent of "Agile Web Development Using Rails" then it would rock!

In an age when everyone needs to use portfolio theory to manage their software investments, starting low-cost initiatives by the dozen then abandoning the ones that don't work out, Rails is a clear winner over Java. It lets me experiment at low cost, it lets me get something out-the-door quickly. In that environment Java is a set of leg-irons. But the Rails culture thrives when people have enough time and energy to deal with a firehose of changes and alternatives - as an entrepreneur a lot of this is simply waste. One solution might be to standardise on a particular configuration - that seems like a false.optimisation.

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