Sunday, April 20, 2014

How to become in polyglot in 5 hard steps.

With today’s world of programming languages where many languages are better at certain tasks than other’s you’ll find it useful to learn multiple languages over the course of your career (as well as keeping your skill sets current).
Here are some tips I’ve had to learn the hard way:

Step 1: Your second language should be similar to your first

Your brain will confuse a lot of language decisions with computational necessities. Warts from your first language will show more, and syntax will make your head explode.

Step 2: Compare and contrast common task based libraries to get a gist of the differences.

Namely, ORMs, Web Frameworks, Unit testing libraries, Xml reading/writing, Csv reading/writing, Http/REST clients, templating languages, email sending, and I’m sure a few more I’m forgetting. Doing this will not only teach you language specific idioms quickly, it’ll also give your brain a chance to see the similarities and what bits of data are really necessary to do task X or Y.

Step 3: Get involved with the community

Get on mailing lists or better still go to user groups in your area. See what the programmers in that community are obsessed with (I’m looking at you Python and your giant PEP 8 discussion about style), ask foolish questions. Learning a language is a lot about fitting into a community. You may be the determined to bring some concepts from your mother language in, but first learn how to treat your new language as a second mother first.

Step 4: Write several simplistic projects that replace the common big frameworks.

This is an extension of the last couple steps.  Write a unit test library, an ORM, a web framework, rest library, etc, make them simple enough to just work barely, but focus on what you think is a good client API heavily. They will suck, have someone who’s good at that language tell you why it sucks.

Step 5: Learn a third language and a fourth, fifth…

The third should be totally earth shatteringly different and ideally solve some task for you that is hard otherwise in your other languages (this is a great time to learn functional programming). You’ll learn a lot more about programming in general this way. Repeat steps 2 through 4.

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