A new way to use the web to compare programming languages
I won’t pretend this means anything too significant, but consider this possible experiment: You know how people do quasi-statistical studies by counting web pages with words in them? For example, counting how many blog posts mention the word “Ruby” and seeing if it’s going up or down?
So here’s my simple experiment. First, start with two programming languages. For example—you thought I was going to say Ruby and Java, didn’t you?
—Python and Lisp.
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Using some sort of semantic search algorithm, or perhaps by employing thousands of people to search by hand, or even just relying on our infinitely reliable “gut instincts” to make an estimate, let’s find all of the What I learned from Python that makes me a better programmer when I use Lisp
posts, (and of course all the What I Learned from Lisp…
posts as well). If there are a lot more Python -> Lisp posts than Lisp -> Python posts, what does that tell us?
I think if a lot of people write that Python teaches them stuff that makes them better Lisp programmers, it tells us that in some sense, Python is greater than Lisp. It might be the language. It might be the culture. It might be the benevolent dictator. And if the reverse were to be true, that more people write about how learning Lisp makes them better Python programmers… Doesn’t that tell us something about why Lisp is greater than Python in some deep sense?
I think this hypothetical experiment would tell us something about the value of a language for making you a better programmer. I consider that a very important characteristic of a programming language. Popularity comes and goes. Jobs using a particular language come and go. But being a better programmer is forever.
Okay, I know you’re dying to apply this to whatever language flame war is raging at the moment. Fine. The very next time someone complains that language X sucks compared to Language Y… Fire up your blog search engine and see which language has the most to teach you about being a better programmer.