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What Programming Languages Should You Learn Next? 759

Posted by Zonk
from the anything-but-haskell dept.
simoniker writes "Over at Dobbs Code Talk, Chris Diggins has been discussing programming languages beyond C++ or Java, suggesting options such as Ruby ('does a great job of showing how powerful a dynamic language can be, and leverages powerful ideas from Smalltalk, Perl, and Lisp') but suggesting Scala as a first choice ('Very accessible to programmers from different backgrounds.') What would your choice be for programmers extending beyond their normal boundaries?"
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What Programming Languages Should You Learn Next?

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  • Wrong Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) * on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:24PM (#22785064)
    The question is flawed. Anyone worth their weight as a programmer doesn't care what language they
    program in but. But Programing Methodoligy should they work with. Assuming that you use to
    Object Orianted Languages (C++, Java, .NET) which are a deveation of Procedural Based Languges (C,
    Pascal, FORTRAN). So after knowing those methodoligies perhaps you should study functional languages
    (LISP, SCHEME, HASCAL) or Logic Based Languges (Prolog).

    Procedural and Object Orianted languges tend to have the most programmers and is widly used

    Functional comes next used in some Sciencetific applications as well handling a lot of AI type stuff.

    Logical Lanagues are used less frequently because it is very tight sometimes too tight to expand into
    a full application.

    But most good programmers with experience in these languge classes are not normally worried about what
    to program in. They may have their personal favorates but, can code sucessfully in any language
    even if they never coded in it before. Because once you understand the classes the rest is just a
    google search from finding the right command and syntax of the languge.

    For example some differences between procedural Languges

            FORTRAN
                    IF (X .EQ. 1) THEN
                    END IF

            VB
                    If (x = 1) then
                    end if

            C
                    if (x==1) {
                    }

            Python
                    if x == 1: ... ...
            BASIC
                    IF ($X = 1) THEN
                    END

    Wow there are 5 different languges and they all look simular almost anyone would be able to figure it out
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      ouch, still using f77.

      Fortran90\95:

      if (x == 1) then
      *stuff*
      end if
      • by jellomizer (103300) * on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:39PM (#22785294)

        PRINT *, 'What is wrong with using FORTRAN 77? It is a perfectly fine lan'//
            1 'guage that offers the flexiblity for all generations.'
            PRINT *, 'Where else can I write code that will run on todays system and '//
            1 'still be able to back it up on punch cards for safe keeping that wil'//
            2 'l last for decades'
    • You're right that if you know one C-style language you know them all, and in order to expand your development skills you should learn other styles of languages. However, a major problem is that there aren't so many references for non-C-style languages as there are for C(++), Java, Python, and Ruby. Though Lisp is something all developers should encounter, most Lisp books on the market are antiquated. (However, thank goodness for the relatively modern Practical Common Lisp [amazon.com] by Seibel.) I wish there were more tutorials out there for the exotic languages that might really teach you new tricks.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by nuzak (959558)
        > Thank goodness for the relatively modern Practical Common Lisp by Seibel

        PCL is also free at http://gigamonkeys.com/book [gigamonkeys.com] -- I hate to deprive the authors of their royalties, but hey, it's their choice, and helps in making lisp more popular.

        Unfortunately, I really can't stand CL's OBNOXIOUSLY-LONG-IDENTIFIERS that other languages often do with syntax. The purported lack of syntax is not a feature when you end up looking like COBOL with more parenthesis (yes that's hyperbole). There are CLOS workalik
        • by grammar fascist (239789) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @03:06PM (#22786496) Homepage

          About the only really unique thing that CL brings to the table these days is conditions and restarts.

          And a powerful macro system. Scheme's is interesting, and you can do most anything with it, but certain things require a great deal of hoop-jumping.

          Aside from conditions and restarts, macros seem like the last thing that hasn't sneaked into popular languages yet. For the uninitiated: imagine being able to write a function that, at compile time, takes and returns entire syntax trees. Or imagine if the C preprocessor let you write #defines that were full-fledged functions that had the entire language and runtime available during expansion.

          Imagine if C let you hook into the tokenizer and the parser! Why, you could invent your own language for solving your problem, and then solve your problem in that language!

          It's worth learning Common Lisp just to play with this stuff.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by WittyName (615844)
        Lisp is the mother of all languages. It can do everything. Even things just now becoming mainstream, like lambdas. Back in the day to get a CS degree you had to write a compiler in LISP. A bit of Asm so you know what the computer actually does.

        For productivity, any high level language (.Net, Java, whatever has a lot of libraries)

        At the command line, Msft PowerShell is powerful.

        The libraries available are really the big thing for high productivity.

      • by Serious Callers Only (1022605) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:32PM (#22786040)
        If you're looking for books on LISP, another book to consider is On Lisp. It's free to download from the following link as it's inexplicably out of print.

        http://www.paulgraham.com/onlisptext.html [paulgraham.com]
    • Excellent comment. I'm currently looking at expanding into functional languages. I fail to understand the difference between functional languages and logic languages. Would you help enable my laziness by expounding a bit more on that?

      Also, if you have a sciency-type application, could someone recommend a functional language to represent laws of physics (for example) in?

      • Re:Wrong Question (Score:5, Informative)

        by krog (25663) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:02PM (#22785572) Homepage
        Functional languages seek to express all operations as a chain of functions which operate on data and return other data. "Function" is used in its mathematical sense here. Purely functional languages discourage state, and don't allow mutable variables. The lack of state and mutability give rise to some power; effortless parallelizability, for instance.

        Logic languages are something different altogether. They provide a framework for defining the rules of a system, then searching for answers which fit the given rules. Logic programming is not useful for general-purpose tasks, but can hugely reduce programming time in tasks which are difficult to solve any other way.

      • Re:Wrong Question (Score:4, Informative)

        by jellomizer (103300) * on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:08PM (#22785664)
        In general the difference between Logic based and functional is that in Logic Based you setup a relationship Say a Family Tree Structure and you can ask the program is Billy the Son of Robert. and it Will return a true of false. So the bulk of your work is setting up the logical rules. While in functional and procedural languages say for the family tree structure you will need to code methods of traversing the tree to get the answer.

        Functional Languages such as LISP are like using one Line programs with calling functions for the parameters to get the data.

        For Example (ADD(ADD(1,2),3) would return 6
        vs
        x=1+2
        x=x+3
        return x

        Functional Languages are actually good with AI where you need to make a Tree (using Lists) relitivly easy to try to figure out all the possibilities that you can do.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by redhog (15207)
        Functional languages are just like procedural languages (Like C, Java etc), but with the important difference that everything is a function/works like a function, and returns a value. That is (in pseudo-code), you could write y = fie(if(x == 1, foo(), bar())) to assign either fie(foo()) or fie(bar()) to y depending on if x is equal to 1. You can usually create unnamed functions, assign functions to variables, returtn functions and pass functions as parameters to other functions too. It is also common for co
    • Re:Wrong Question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ucblockhead (63650) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:32PM (#22785180) Homepage Journal
      Well...programmers usually care what languages they know when it comes to writing their resume. So while in one sense, you are current, in the career advancement sense, I'd go by what they want on Monster.com: (Java, Javascript, C, C++, Python, Perl, PHP.) True, any good programmer could pick any of those up in a few months (except maybe C++) but HR drones don't know that.

      When I went to school, we were taught all these methodologies. (Though in my case I'm so old that OO programming was too new to be well taught.) I'd hope your average programmer would know them all before getting that first job. Sadly, I get the feeling I am mistaken.

      But in general, I'd say, for instance, to use Javascript rather than Lisp as a functional language...not because it is better...not hardly...but because it is very marketable. (And sadly, most people with Javascript on their resumes have no clue it is anything but a Java clone.)
    • Re:Wrong Question (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MrEkted (764569) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:34PM (#22785210)
      If you've never checked out Erlang [wikipedia.org], I recommend it. I've programmed seriously in at least a dozen languages, but this one really made me think. It has sophistication in concurrent programming [wikipedia.org] that I've not seen before. Plus, there's a great movie [google.com]!
      • Re:Wrong Question (Score:5, Interesting)

        by abigor (540274) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:41PM (#22785308)
        Yup, I'll second this. Parallel programming is going to be a HUGE deal in coming years, and current languages don't handle it well - threading is complicated and prone to errors, leading to product delays. Erlang handles parallelism very elegantly and in a low-fault manner, as it must as it's used in critical telecoms applications. Unfortunately, the language also has a high barrier to entry as it is not Algol-based (like C, C++, Java, etc. are).
        • Re:Wrong Question (Score:4, Informative)

          by LarsWestergren (9033) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:36PM (#22786098) Homepage Journal
          Parallel programming is going to be a HUGE deal in coming years, and current languages don't handle it well - threading is complicated and prone to errors, leading to product delays. Erlang handles parallelism very elegantly and in a low-fault manner, as it must as it's used in critical telecoms applications. Unfortunately, the language also has a high barrier to entry as it is not Algol-based (like C, C++, Java, etc. are).

          That might be why they recommend Scala. It is pretty easy to pick up if you know (for instance) Java, you have an "actors" library that is similar to Erlang concurrency, you gain some knowledge of functional programming (though not as much as from a pure functional language such as Lisp or ML, or so I'm told), you can deploy it on the JVM and interoperate with the huge number of existing Java libraries, and you can use existing IDEs such as Netbeans.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dargaud (518470)
          I agree with you about Erlang and really wanted to get into it. I spent a few days toying with it. Then I noticed that you can't produce an executable file, although it's compiled: it has to run within its environment application. Big no-no. Then it's excruciatingly slow. Then it has virtually no useful libraries. Within one year of existence, Python or Ruby had 50 times more libraries available. In other words I couldn't figure out what to do with it, just like with Logo's turtle after you've taken it arou
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by gnalre (323830)
            Check out HiPe(High Performance Erlang), part of the erlang OTP which compiles erlang to native code
    • Scala is a functional language,which is part of why it was recommended.
    • by tknd (979052)

      True, but now let's say you agreed that you are going to program in the OO methodology. Which language do you choose?

      There are different reasons for choosing one language over another once you get past the classification of a language (procedural, functional, oo, logical). You will also often find that the industry will gravitate toward what has the cheapest cost for their task.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Learn LISP!

      It has a funny name, and carries the mystique and credibility you seek. Nothing says "way old school" and "MIT Wizard" like piles of LISP with your tag on them. Of course, you'll have to leave vim behind - there is only one, true tool [gnu.org] for the LISPer, now that dedicated machines like Symbolics are all in the museums.

      The opportunities here are boundless - there are whole categories of libraries for HTTP and HTML that simple don't exist yet! If that seems to trivial a challenge, why not look into
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by whtmarker (1060730)
      First,
      learn to spell (or install firefox2 which underlines textarea typos in red)
      methodoligy => methodology
      orianted=> oriented
      deveation => deviation
      languges => languages
      widly => widely
      sciencetific => scientific
      favorates => favorites
      sucessfully => successfully
      simular => similar

      Second,
      Never misspell when you code (not comments). Those of us who do know how to spell have to remember which constants, database field names, class names, file names, functions are spelled incorrectly and
    • Re:Wrong Question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by EWIPlayer (881908) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:51PM (#22785454)

      I'm sorry, but the parent comment is a bit "out there". If you had said something like, "Programmers don't care what language they program in, so long as they only want to be coding in one language just like they're coding in any other language", then maybe. But come on... It's talk like that which makes completely mediocre programmers. Do you know how long it takes to become truly proficient in C++ and OOP? Do you honestly want to tell me that you can come from Java (which doesn't destructors, for example) and simply apply your OO Java programming to C++ and be "good"?

      Different languages exist because language A does not do what language B does. And, yes, they can contain a ton of the same kind of idea, which is exactly the reason you need to become highly proficient in them to get anything real out of them. You need to explore the differences not the similarities. I have worked with enough mediocre programmers and enough non-designers in my life, thanks very much. I want people to get deeper, very very deep into alternate languages so that they can broaden their thinking, not just their basic language skill set.

      Learning a new language has little to do with that language and more to do with learning new ways of thinking. When I interview people that say that have any OO language, I grill them on OO more than I do on the intricacies of Java interfaces or C++ memory management. How you think is much more important to me than how many times it takes you to successfully compile a file.

    • Re:Wrong Question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rijrunner (263757) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:09PM (#22785680)

      There is another aspect to this.

      Just learning a language is somewhat pointless. What are you learning the language for? Some languages do some things better than others. Some languages have entire corners of uses that many people never use.

      If you are just going out and writing the same app in a different language, who cares? A lot of web stuff, it is irrelevant whether you use php, java, or whatever.

      My first answer to the question "What would your choice be for programmers extending beyond their normal boundaries?" would be "quit writing the same crap".

      If you've been writing cgi scripts, write a device driver. And use a language appropriate for it. If you're been writing the newest game that will blow everyone's socks off, write a Database app. Push your goals out there and the rest will follow. Stretch your goals into looking at the end goal and weighing the options in languages to get there. If all you are doing is jumping language to language at the same playground level, you're wasting your time. Languages are just a tool to build something, so build something. Something you have never done before. Unless your compiler is less than 20k in size, odds are you haven't explored a fraction of the versatility of the language you are using.

      Bite off more than you can chew.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jack9 (11421)

      The question is flawed. Anyone worth their weight as a programmer doesn't care what language they
      program in.

      Really? What kind of idiot programmers do you work with? My life is finite and my time is valuable. If you don't care what language you program in, you don't care what language you learn, and you must not care what framework you learn either. Heck, all languages and frameworks must be worth learning! Reality check: What kind of languages you spend time to learn, matters.

      Much discussion goes into what

  • I'm sure I've already answered that question [informit.com]. I'd probably add FORTH and Self to that list now (Self is particularly important if you want to ever fully understand JavaScript).
  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:24PM (#22785068) Journal
    I seem to be at odds here with this mentality.

    Stepping outside your comfort zone is a great thing if you have the time or need to do it. Me, I learned scheme & lisp, prolog, a number of instruction set languages and various scripting languages in my undergrad. Because I needed to see what it was like in realms other than Java & C++.

    However, these days, I spend my free time looking at frameworks for the latter two languages. Do I want to know Ruby? Sure. But it's not going to make me better at my job. My employer has me jumping from JBoss to Weblogic to Websphere to Jetty to Glassfish to ... whatever's under the sun for application container and all the while I'm trying to be an expert at Maven (which seems limitless) and Ant so I can do a decent job building. Not to mention the UI aspects: JSF, Tiles, Javascript, AJAX, DHTML, JSPs, JSeamless, Flex, GWT ... they just go on and on.

    I hate to say it but this specialization programming and time spent with other people's frameworks and libraries seems to make me more valuable in my own realm. You're right, it's a good idea for me to pick up Ruby (or whatever I'm supposed to learn next) because Java is not going to be around forever. But honestly, I feel a lot of people around me could stop re-inventing the wheel week after week at work and just take a couple days to tweak someone else's solution to work.

    That said, Lisp & Prolog were my most favorite and least practical languages I've learned (I think Lisp stands for Lost In Stupid Parentheses).

    I guess my answer to your question just another question: "What is your motive for learning a new language?" If it's to broaden your view of the world, go with something out of left field. If it's to be more valuable or better at what you do in Java, C++, Pearl, etc then I would actually tell you to start learning how everyone uses those languages.

    Honestly, a lot of the older coders I know just don't have the time. The company will both pay for and tell them what they need to learn next or they ain't learning anything at all.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mckinnsb (984522)

      The interesting part about specializing in libraries or frameworks for a language you already know is that it often shows you how to use the language in ways you never thought of, or thought impossible.

      Lately I've been doing a lot of stuff with JavaScript, and mooTools has been a framework I've invested a lot of time into. The first time I remember reading the tutorials, I asked myself "The hell? This is javascript?". After a while, I realized that with mooTools and a little creativity, I could create many

    • by Z-MaxX (712880) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @05:56PM (#22788660) Journal

      Do I want to know Ruby? Sure. But it's not going to make me better at my job. My employer has me jumping from JBoss to Weblogic to Websphere to Jetty to Glassfish to ... whatever's under the sun for application container and all the while I'm trying to be an expert at Maven (which seems limitless) and Ant so I can do a decent job building. Not to mention the UI aspects: JSF, Tiles, Javascript, AJAX, DHTML, JSPs, JSeamless, Flex, GWT ... they just go on and on.
      ...
      Honestly, a lot of the older coders I know just don't have the time. The company will both pay for and tell them what they need to learn next or they ain't learning anything at all.
      This sounds like a case of picking a tool and then trying to apply it to your problem--and switching to another tool one whenever something "new" and "cool" comes out--which is totally bass-ackwards.

      By having a breadth of knowledge and skills, you can make informed, smart choices about what language, framework, technology, etc. is best suited to solving your problem. Should your current problem be solved with a "Web 2.0" interface, a rich client application, etc. In your case, you should know what the benefits and downsides of the various J2EE containers are, and in fact, you need to know what using J2EE in the first place is buying you. Make informed decisions that help you solve your problem.

      JSP, Servlet, PHP, and Rails programmers should have experience with Java Swing, Java Web Start, and other technologies in order to decide what the optimal solution is -- or at least, the lead developer or senior software engineer needs to have an exceptionally wide range of skills in order to make these kinds of decisions.

      My team was stuck for years on a project that was forced into a web application mold (using Java servlets, JSP, Apache Struts, etc.) which caused us relentless headaches for most of the time. It should have been a regular application! A rich client. For many reasons. Unfortunately, at the inception of the project, the project lead had firmly decided that it had to be a web application.

      At my employer, I'm constantly learning new technologies to find new and better ways to solve problems. You need to be proactive and take the lead, and solve problems! I had previously been focused mostly on graphics programming, Java application and web programming, but when my project needed it, I learned about embedded programming, embedded operating systems, electronic design, microcontroller programming, etc., on my own. I learned how to do things that no one at the company has done yet, and I have found ways to make our product orders of magnitude better (10x smaller, 10x more battery life, 10x better performance). Since many of my colleagues are focused on their more specialized areas of expertise (e.g., Java application programming, or Java web programming, or functional testing, or database programming, or electronic circuit design), I actually am often frustrated because I have no one to consult with when I have a problem to solve.

      You express concern about learning technologies you will never use, but the fact is, that unless you acquire some other areas of expertise, you will never know what is the best tool for the job!

  • 10100001010 (Score:2, Funny)

    by midianus (727997)
    01000101012
  • by Naughty Bob (1004174) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:25PM (#22785078)
    We really have some obscurity-loving masochists among our ranks.
  • no Ps (Score:2, Interesting)

    by whtmarker (1060730)
    php, perl, and python are not even included in the list.
  • Python? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by freshman_a (136603) * on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:28PM (#22785122) Homepage Journal
    I'm surprised there was no mention of Python. I think Python is a good language to know. It seems to be used a number of places [wikipedia.org] and forces people to write easily readable (and therefore maintainable) code. And I thought it was pretty easy to learn, especially if you have OOP experience.
    • Re:Python? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Otter (3800) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:22PM (#22785900) Journal
      I love Python, but it doesn't really serve as a good example for this discussion because of what another commenter refers to as "half-arsed support for a load of different paradigms". If you want to stretch your mind with immersion in a different way of doing things, Python's collection of diverse best practices isn't an efficient way to do it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by steveha (103154)
      I agree that Python is a good language to know. It's my favorite language.

      I won't claim it's perfect, but IMHO it comes closest of any language I have tried to just letting me code up my thoughts. In any language, there is a certain amount of stuff you need to do to satisfy the syntax of the language; for example, in most languages you cannot do anything with a variable without declaring it first. Fans of Python sometimes claim that Python code looks like pseudocode, but with the extra advantage that it
  • SQL is next for me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:28PM (#22785124) Homepage Journal
    I learned BASIC back in the days of the C64. I then learned Perl when I decided to try my hand at bioinformatics. I picked up C++ at the same time. But there was one language that was used regularly there that always made me feel like a fool.

    SQL.

    Everything about it seemed backwards and inside out to me. I had a hard time wrapping my mind around "accountant-speak" and "normal forms" (still not sure WTF that means). Yet i know it will likely be in my future. Too much data resides in tables now, and too much data interpretation comes down to data(base) mining. Even the perl::sql modules couldn't save me completely.

    So I would say, if you plan for a career that is data-driven, learn SQL if you haven't already. It certainly doesn't seem to get easier to pick up as you wait longer - or at least it hasn't for me.
    • by skrolle2 (844387) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:13PM (#22785734)
      The only important thing to know about SQL is that it is a declarative language, i.e. in the same family as Prolog. Common to them is that you state how you would want the world to look like, and let the language runtime figure out how to actually do it. This is totally contrary to imperative languages which is a series of explicit instructions, i.e. "first do this, then do that." In SQL you simply state "I wish to have the data that satisfies these criteria. Give it to me. Now."
      • by mooingyak (720677)
        Give it to me. Now.

        That depends on the size of your data, and the quality of your hardware and/or indexes. It frequently comes much closer to "Give it to me. When you have a moment."
  • by PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:28PM (#22785134) Journal
    I hear that COBOL is a pretty good language to learn. It isn't new, but it is old enough to make a comeback (like disco, aviator glasses and big hair)...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kellyb9 (954229)

      I hear that COBOL is a pretty good language to learn. It isn't new, but it is old enough to make a comeback (like disco, aviator glasses and big hair)...
      The above actually looks like a syntactically correct COBOL statement.
  • by Ckwop (707653) <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:31PM (#22785166) Homepage

    My advice would be to learn formal verification techniques. These can be applied across languages and across platforms. If you deploy them properly you can reduce your defect rate from 50 per 1,000 statements to 2 per 1,000 before the first test case is run.

    That will save you far more time than the latest over-hyped platform. While everyone else is fixing bugs in their application, you've already moved on to greener pastures. It will increase your capacity to build really good quality software and not get in to flame wars over nonsense. Nothing quite ends an argument over style more than saying: "Yes, but can you prove that your approach is correct? I can."

    Simon

    • by Coryoth (254751) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @03:13PM (#22786576) Homepage Journal
      Just to make this a little more clear for the practical minded: the end result can be learning JML [jmlspecs.org], a language that allows for annotations to Java (such as pre- and post-conditions for methods, assignability clauses for private variables, etc.). What benefit does that get you? Well you can use ESC/Java2 [kind.ucd.ie] to run a theorem prover over those assertions about how things are supposed to work to verify that you code will actually meet all the claims you make of it (which is great for catching subtle unlooked for conrner cases). You can use the jmlunit tool from JML itself to create an automated set of unit tests to exercise you code against your annotations, and you also get (via jmldoc) to have your requirement annotations automatically included in your javadoc api documentation. When you consider that, for a lot of code, you ought to be writing those methods requirements up in api documentation anyway, all the extra extremely rigorous (and static/compile time) checking is just gravy. So there is plenty of practical benefit that's easy to get. To make best use of it, of course, you do need to have some grounding in how this sort of thing works so you can write your specifications well (no different, in many ways, than having some grounding in how CPUs work so you can write more efficient code).
    • by epine (68316) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:34PM (#22787622)

      My advice would be to learn formal verification techniques.

      Over my career, I wouldn't say that languages as such have been a major influence. Developing language-independent formal coding strategies has proven far more important. I've benefited from the writings of Dijkstra (immeasurably), Stroustrup, Iverson, Backus, Knuth, Plaugher, Stepanov, Brooks, Bertrand Meyer (with reservations), and not a lot else. I haven't learned anything profound from Wall, but thanks for all the Onions.

      Machine code gave me a good underlying model of the machine. Essential for many debugging situations, esp. back in the day when compilers would often generate faulty code.

      APL taught me the value and power of carefully reasoned primitives, the power *and* risk of concision.

      C taught me how easy it is to write a loop that's impossible to validate mentally (and then I taught myself how *not* to write such code).

      C++ taught me most of what I know about software engineering: programming in the large. C++ manages to be simultaneously better and worse than almost any other language one cares to name. There is a deep truth there that hardly anybody in the industry wishes to accept.

      SNOBOL and PL/1 taught me that kitchen sinks are best used for washing dishes.

      Perl taught me that it isn't at all difficult to write a complex regular expression that's harder to read than any APL program I ever wrote. I once had to program in APL on a teletype that lacked the APL character set, so every APL symbol was mapped to its ASCII counterpart based on key location. Reading APL code on this teletype was comparable to reading a particularly hairy Perl regex.

      PHP taught me that useful code can be written in a language with no coherent center whatsoever.

      LISP taught me that the human brain is not a stack machine. I grew up with Mechano. I don't understand the Lego people while all those identical bricks, and I don't understand the LISP people with all those identical cricks.

      COBOL taught me separation of concerns: code should be code, comments should be comments.

      Python taught me nothing at all. To me Python is just the metric version of PHP, which spares you the headache of guessing which functions calls are in Imperial or American units (roughly as arbitrary as whether a Wikipedia page uses British or American spellings). To be honest, I learned more from playing around with ChipWits many years ago. But I find Python enjoyable for some reason as much as I've used it.

      Pascal taught me that the evolution of a complex program occurs along more than a single dimension. I never enjoyed a single minute of Pascal programming.

      By far, I learned the most simply from reading Dijkstra (set aside an hour per page) and practicing the art of coding an algorithm in such a way that by the time you are done, your code couldn't possibly be wrong in any profound way, because you have captured the undiluted purity of essence.

      Plaugher helped to convince me that computers are *especially* fast at doing nothing. Whenever possible, when a precondition is not met, I just let the code continue, mostly doing nothing (if every statement is coded not to execute in the absence of its precondition, this is an automatic consequence). When the routine completes, I check state variables to see whether the desired actions were accomplished.

      I hate exceptions and have never conclusively demonstrated to myself why exceptions are necessary. I suppose to permit integration with code that *doesn't* rigorously guard every statement. I feel confident about my C++ code until the moment I enable exceptions in the compiler. Then I think to myself: this program could potentially fail in 1000 different ways depending on which exception paths are taken. It took the wizards of STL *years* to make the STL fully exception safe. That troubles me. A lot. More than all the other complaints about C++ piled to the moon and back.

      Knuth was wrong about premature opt

  • assembly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by petes_PoV (912422) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:33PM (#22785184)
    if you have only ever programmed in a high-level language, you should really learn a low level one. This will give you an appreciation of what actually goes on inside a processor.

    Even if you never use it commercially, the background it gives you in terms of hardware will improve your ability to write efficient code.

    Personally, I think this should be the first language that future programmers (as opposed to CS graduates) should learn.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by muridae (966931)
      Let me second that idea, and then add to it. Assembly programing will give you a better idea of what your hardware is actually capable of doing, instead of abstracting everything behind objects and function calls.

      My suggestion, if you know C++ or Java, is to learn something that isn't slightly object oriented. Pick up Lisp, Haskell, Prolog, any of them. Learn to think in a different direction. Learn straight C. If you really want a challange, hit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programming_paradigm [wikipedia.org] and learn o
  • None (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the computer guy nex (916959) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:33PM (#22785196)
    A good programmer would study design patterns in their downtime rather than a new language. Learning the right way to solve common programming problems is far more useful than learning mindless syntax.
    • by shyberfoptik (1177855) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:43PM (#22785352)
      The fact that you think "mindless syntax" is the only difference between lisp, haskell, and c shows that you should probably learn one of these languages.
      • by grammar fascist (239789) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @03:33PM (#22786842) Homepage
        Also, while some design patterns seem to be universal (structural patterns like facade, adapter and proxy, in particular, are necessary to make independent systems play well together), others indicate that the language you employ them in is lacking in features.

        Visitor? If you have first-class closures, it's the most natural thing in the world to pass a function to a traversal function. You don't need a name for it or a specialized set of trigger terms so that maintainers can see easily divine your intentions. You don't name your closure "visit", you name it after what it does.

        Singleton? Whatever for, if you can create object literals, or your classes are as first-class and polymorphic as instances?

        Factory? In Python, you override __new__...

        Learning other languages lets you determine the difference between unification and duct tape.
  • Anything But Perl (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Perl-Pusher (555592)
    Python would be my choice. Perl isn't bad, just not my first choice for a beginner. Its way too easy to fall into bad habits. I started out in perl and looking back 5-7 years at some of my stuff, ouch! Its way too easy to find really bad, insecure examples on the internet code by using google. I've seen some really horrid stuff end up in production settings because a programmer found a few tid bits on the internet. Not that you can't find crappy python code. It just doesn't seem to come up as readily in a s
    • by notque (636838) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:41PM (#22785318) Homepage Journal
      So don't use code snippets without understanding them. Just because you can find fewer doesn't mean perl is bad language to learn first.

      I have only learned perl, and am quite content with it as it does the jobs I need it to. I haven't been using it for 5-7 years, but I look back on code from 3 years ago and it's no less secure than anything I write now. I decided to understand any code snippet I used.

      I think Perl is a fine first language as long as you start simply, and expand giving yourself time to take in the concepts. Enjoy the exploration.

      I can't speak in comparison to any other languages obviously, but it worked for me.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by merc (115854)
        I must echo the sentiments of the OP; although my experience has been a bit different. I came from a heavy UNIX/C background, which I enjoyed for many years. I began to experiment with Perl when perl5 was released (must confess I was not a big fan of perl4). One of the aspects of Perl that I always found delightful was the fact that it seemed to literally be a wrapper to C, or at least C-like. Not only does it supports system calls, and similiar C library API functions such as sprintf, et al, but withou
    • I can think of several good reasons why a beginner should learn Perl:

      * It is easy to learn. Don't listen to what the Python advocates tell you. There are lots of good tutorials out there on the web.

      * It introduces you to syntax which is similar to other well-used languages such as C and Java. If you're going to do Perl, you're probably doing CGI, and then moving over to Java and J2EE isn't as hard as learning it from the start.

      * If you learn Perl first, then classic shell languages such as bourne shell, kor
  • Whitespace (Score:5, Funny)

    by ookabooka (731013) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:37PM (#22785270)
    I think Whitespace [wikipedia.org] is worth learning, if only to be a smartass on exams where the prof specifies you may use "any" programming language. Just leave it blank, then after the exam spend a few hours figuring out how the hell you would solve the problem in whitespace, and bring a proof of concept on a USB flashdrive to fight the inevitable incorrect grade you receive for the problem.

    I have yet to find the courage to actually attempt this. . .
  • Wow, that's like, coming from a very narrow range...

    But my suggestions are:

    Python - go learn why strong-typing doesn't mean a lot in practice (except for headaches).

    Lisp / Haskell / whatever - go learn ' a different way' of programming things. Trust me, it rocks.

    Ruby / ECMAScript - it's the future baby.

  • Malbologe (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Urger (817972)
    Malbologe [esolangs.org], a language so painful it took two years just to write a "Hello World" for it:

    (=<`:9876Z4321UT.-Q+*)M'&%$H"!~}|Bzy?=|{z]KwZY44Eq0/{mlk**
    hKs_dG5[m_BA{?-Y;;Vb'rR5431M}/.zHGwEDCBA@98\6543W10/.R,+O<
  • by burris (122191) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @01:55PM (#22785492)
    Like a lot of people have commented on this thread, it's past time for you to learn a functional language. I'm not sure if it is true, but new CS students at MIT used to have to learn Scheme as their first language. Learning a functional language will transform your programming ability.

    I recommend the book The Little Schemer [neu.edu] This book is like no other programming book you have ever used. It is a socratic dialog between you and the interpreter. Questions on the left, answers on the right. It is meant to be used with an interpreter.

    Once you make it through this book you'll be a much, much better programmer. You'll also have an easy time learning languages like Haskell, which is used quite a bit in academia and is useful for real world software.

    So buy a copy of the Little Schemer and download an interpreter, Dr. Scheme is pretty good, and get cracking.

  • It depends (Score:3, Insightful)

    by natoochtoniket (763630) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:06PM (#22785634)

    The right answer to most such questions is, "It depends."

    What sort of tools will be useful in your future career? Or, what sort of knowledge will be interesting to learn?

    If you are concerned with serious engineering issues, such as safety and correctness, you might want to learn something about "formal methods". Languages to look at include Z and B. And, of course, there's a little field called "computational logic."

    If you are concerned with commercial byte-pushing, you obviously need to be conversant in SQL and an assortment of scripting languages. And, of course, there's a little field called "accounting" that might be useful.

    I don't think there is any one right answer. The choice of intellectual tools that you will need really depends on the choice of what kinds of work you want to do.

  • by Avenel (603755) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:10PM (#22785686)
    This seems to be the future. Are there any languages that are more efficient for multithreaded programing?
    • Are there any languages that are more efficient for multithreaded programing?

      Well, if you are happy programming in a functional style, Haskell has fairly nice parallel capabilities. (However, the difference between Haskell and C++ or Java is so large that you probably oughtn't learn it if you aren't interested in the language for its own sake.)

      The basic idea is this: in Haskell (or most other functional languages), you know that different function calls will not interfere with each other (everything is thread safe out of the box), so they can be evaluated in parallel. Function eval

  • by Kartoffel (30238) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:15PM (#22785772)
    I've been spending the better part of today refactoring some ugly C++ that was written by a crusty old Fortran engineer. It might as well have been Fortran.

    Please please please learn a functional programming language. Even if you don't use it in your daily work, your brain will be improved.
  • Screw them all. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by God of Lemmings (455435) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:16PM (#22785782)
    Write your own language... it's certainly more educational.
  • MATLAB (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:22PM (#22785882) Journal
    It's great for handling matrices, vectors, plotting and umm... well, that's all it's good for.
  • Don't laugh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DA_MAN_DA_MYTH (182037) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @03:00PM (#22786412) Homepage Journal
    But I think a really good language to learn is ECMAScript or to the layman, Javascript.

    Javascript is the language of the future. It's such a powerful language and so underrated. It's far beyond the whole switching images thing. It's an interpreted langauge deployed on more computers than any other programming language. (think web browser.) It's light, it's fast, it's dynamic. For a scripting language it offers you an extremely familiar syntax, C like. It's becoming the backbone of other environments, and other compiled / interpreted languages are being extended for scripting support.
  • Arc (Score:3, Informative)

    by dido (9125) <dido@NOsPAm.imperium.ph> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @11:12PM (#22791502)

    Arc [arclanguage.com] looks like a promising new programming language that goes back to the roots of what Lisp should be. It's managed to build a reasonable community in a very short amount of time and there's a lot of buzz.

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