On how knowledge turns to Snobbery

Wednesday, March 17, 2010 :: Tagged under: pablolife. ⏰ 3 minutes.

Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄

I used to read A List Apart religiously, back when I was a lamer-than-lame "web developer.*" I've slacked off on reading it because I haven't touched much web dev recently, but it's still an amazing online magazine, an example of well-published content on the web.

One of their articles is on the "Cold War" between Flash and HTML5 proponents, reignited by the iPad lacking Flash support. He describes the pointlessness of the fighting effectively, and it generalizes to programming language fanboy-ism:

The problem with rallying behind a technology is that it traps us within the confines of its constraints. We easily shift "don’t know" and "not sure" into "can’t" and "won’t." Creativity is dictated by programming languages. How sad.

Technologies aren’t inherently bad or good. They’re only appropriate or inappropriate for certain circumstances. They’re a means to an end, not solutions within themselves. Each one is powerful in its own right to accomplish a certain goal. The responsibility to use an appropriate technology lies with the one who made the choice. Unfortunately, we’ve misinterpreted irresponsible development as inadequate technology.

I usually avoid using Java, but this doesn't mean that I hate it, and I'll never state that it is simply bad. I simply usually note that it's not the best tool for me to use on whatever job I happen to be avoiding it for (and I don't always avoid it; rarely but sometimes it's the best tool for job).

I referred to this in the post on my vim use: flame wars on personal choices of technology are pointless.

My favorite part of the above passage is the line We easily shift "don’t know" and "not sure" into "can’t" and "won’t." Usually, that's what's happening in a flame war; the opponent of language X doesn't know X or even familiar with the paradigm, but trashes it because they're perfectly fine without it. (The logic being: I know programming. I don't know X. X is not real programming). I get this a lot from people not versed in functional or declarative languages should I start talking about one.

Similarly, even if you know about and just know better than to use X (many functional kids like me on C++, Java), flaming is unconstructive, and these "smarter people" somehow forget a basic fact: great software is written in these languages. Many people are plenty effective in these languages. So let them have it.

Last semester I was a real language snob. I still have strong opinions, and treat language choice like the director of a play treats casting (its the most important part). But hating on a language "just because" is like looking at an actor and saying there is no role he/she is fit to play, which only shows you're limited knowledge of plays and lack of imagination for new ones.

* = When I say web developer, I mean it in the lamest sense possible. About 3 years ago, when I first started programming on my own, the motivation was to make sweet websites. Unfortunately, I wasn't much of a programmer. I'll take the snippet on "web programmer" from evolution of a Python Programmer to demonstrate the kind of code I wrote for an old theatre board website (since destroyed):

    #Web designer

    def factorial(x):
        #--- Code snippet from The Math Vault ---
        #--- Calculate factorial (C) Arthur Smith 1999 ---
        result = str(1)
        i = 1 #Thanks Adam
        while i <= x:
            #result = result * i #It's faster to use *=
            #result = str(result * result + i)
                #result = int(result *= i) #??????
            result str(int(result) * i)
            #result = int(str(result) * i)
            i = i + 1
        return result
    print factorial(6)

(shudder...) So glad those days are behind me. Also see evolution of a Haskell programmer ^_^.

Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to join my mailing list, drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄