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Searching for the Best Programming Language

Posted by Gigi Sayfan on Aug 14, 2015

What is the best programming language across the board? There is no such thing, of course. Each programming language has different strengths and weaknesses, different design goals and an entire ecosystem surrounding it that includes community, libraries, tools, and documentation — all of which are partially dependent on how long the language has been around.

Alright, so there isn't a best programming language. Let's just use the old adage and pick the best tool for the job. I'm sorry to disappoint you again. There isn't a "best tool for the job" either. It is very easy for each particular project to rule out a lot of languages, and sometimes you'll end up with just a single choice. But more often than not, your choice (or your short list of choices) will be dictated by external constraints and not by the "superiority" of the language you end up with.

Most large software development organizations have a limited number of programming languages with which they work (sometimes just one). Sure, for some standalone tools you may use whatever you want, but we're talking here about your bread and butter. The big enterprise systems, your cash cow.



Those systems often have tens, if not hundreds, of man years invested in them. They have special processes, tools, build systems, test systems, deployment systems and operational experience. Introducing a new programming language into the mix will have so much upfront cost that it is pretty much out of the question. This is especially true when the upside is that you'll be able to use a cool new language and get to experience all its rough edges first hand.

But, even if you were able to combat all that and you've hypnotized everyone and persuaded upper management to let you rewrite the organization's system from scratch using the "best" language ever. Cool, what now?

Am I against trying new languages? Quite the contrary. The recent trend towards SOA and microservices provides a great escape hatch. Those services depend on each other at the API level only. If your architecture is already service-oriented you can easily experiment with implementing small new services in whatever language you choose or you can migrate a small existing service. It may still be a lot of effort because you'll still need to put the necessary infrastructure in place, but it may be acceptable for a small non-critical service to not have the best initial infrastructure.

The other case for trying new languages is of course starting a greenfield project or a whole new company, where you really start from scratch.

I will not discuss specific languages today, but here is a short list of some relatively new and very promising languages I have my eye on:

  • Go
  • Rust
  • Elm
  • Julia
  • Scala
  • Clojure

A special mention goes to C#, which is not new, but seems to be the only language that manages to add new features and capabilities and push the envelope of mainstream programming languages without becoming bloated, inconsistent and confusing.

TAGS:

Project management, infrastructure, programming languages


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