Switch to another programming language?

First and foremost I consider myself a software architect and engineer. My professional carreer let me focus, from a programming point of view, on web technologies, mostly the common PHP-JS stack (including obviously HTML and CSS). At least here in Italy most of the startups live on PHP and NodeJS, while other structured companies prefere Java and .NET technologies, which I all tried in my professional experience. Today I’m going to write a couple of lines on why I’d really like to go straight with Golang, or better why I’m seriosuly considering to switch to a new programming language for my personal projects and possibly affecting my job applications.

The reasons

There is no simple reason behind this idea I cultivated since an year now. My skills obviously focus on object oriented PHP programming, and I’m able to through-put a high quantity of good quality code, knowing the common coding styles, most of the common PHP functions, frameworks, typical service infrastructures etc. PHP is my confort zone, and I consider myself a PHP professional. So why should I ever want to switch to another, way less known technology?

Generally speaking everyone that want to jump into another boat should have this clear in mind: no programming language is perfect, and is the developer who always shows the most weaknesses.

First of all, I think that the PHP language is awesome for prototyping and, working in the big data industry, I know for sure it’s more than capable of sorting out most of the tasks of any complexity order, specially from version 7 and up, which includes an awesome core rewriting, allowing blazing fast performances. I know and I’m aware of the PHP pros and cons. Generally speaking everyone that want to jump into another boat should have this clear in mind: no programming language is perfect, and is the developer who always shows the most weaknesses.

That said, I started feeling unconfortable with the code written by myself and my collegues, something that I totally ignored when I first read about in online blogs and magazines years ago, something that I found on the opposite good and powerful: something called type hierarchy.

A class hierarchy or inheritance tree in computer science is a classification of object types, denoting objects as the instantiations of classes (class is like a blueprint, the object is what is built from that blueprint) inter-relating the various classes by relationships such as “inherits”, “extends”, “is an abstraction of”, “an interface definition”.[1] In object-oriented programming, a class is a template that defines the state and behavior common to objects of a certain kind. A class can be defined in terms of other classes

- Wikipedia

The page also states that class hierarchy (or generally type hierarchy in our case), is very similar to taxonomy. From a human’s point of view is thus quite natural: an apple is a fruit, which is a vegetable, which is a living thing.

But programmers are evil…

[…] what happens when the team starts to create type hierarchies on the services? That’s the point, […], where you should start doubting about your coding skills, […] where you start loosing the grasp on the software’s logics.

If you’re a PHP programmer, how many times have you ever wanted PHP had the possibility to inherit a class from multiple ones? Oh wait, traits are there for this! And how many times have you found you were sub-classing a tree of classes that God only knows what is the mother of them all? This is what happens in (poorly?) structured programs when you have to add a new functionality on top of another one. And that’s fine, until this kind of hierarchy is passive only: you’re just adding new attributes and new methods to access them. But what happens when the team starts to create class hierarchies on the services? That’s the point, my friend who’s still reading, where you should start doubting about your coding skills. That’s the point where you start loosing the grasp on the software’s logics.

Now that’s too late, you start thinking about a refactoring, but it’s huge and difficult because even if the input and the final output should be the same, you have to also change all your “inner” tests to match the deep overhaul of the system, and for sure your boss won’t allocate any time for this task.

But wasn’t the OOP designed to avoid, in some sort, spaghetti code? How is it possible that it failed so hard?

Again, it’s not OOP that failed, but the people (ab)using it (for lack of time, juniority, little thinking etc).

So how can we avoid this bad coding habits?

There are several ways, from static code analysis (but evil programmers usually bypass the rules adding exceptions because of course their architecture is always perfect for the purpose) to peer review (which I tried to introduce in my team from time to time with no interest at all, because I think they all thought about being put under a spotlight every time - yeah still talking about evil programmers).

Another solution may be to avoid using programming languages that let the developer be so free.

Not being a golang post, I won’t list the benefints of this particular language or talk about my new language choice: golang.

Take the decision to stop using your main programming language and force yourself using a new one

The most difficult task, at least for me, is to exit my confort zone and take the risk to seriously start programming with the language of choice that you really can’t know like the old one, because well… it’s not that they’re shooting you, if you decide not to do that, right? But as a self-tought software engineer, I think this is the most straight way, even if maybe not the easiest one, to learn: by making mistakes. That’s how I started programming back when I was just a teenage willing to write some logics for videogames. Otherwise you’ll probably end up with thinking about writing in another language, but not doing so, and eventually postpone it indefinitely.

And this is what I’m going to do: my next big project I’m going to write will be written in Go. I will for sure slow down the development at the beginning, I’ll have troubles finding Go programmers (or people willing to learn it) in my country, and probably I’ll have to rewrite it at some point in the future, but still… I’ve started programming in go one year ago, but I think my journey has just began today, writing this very same post.

And if you feel like me, you should do the same.

Giacomo Furlan Written by:

Giacomo Furlan is a software engineer focused on complex backend architectures written in PHP and Golang.

His aim is to succesfully manage a team of collegues in order to achieve the company's goals in synergy, maximising the efforts.

comments powered by Disqus