Posted by editor
on September 16, 2009 at 8:54 PM PDT
On the Artima Developer site, Andy Dent recently posted today's lead Java Today item, "Why Learn New Languages? Being Outlived by C++"...
On the Artima Developer site, Andy Dent recently posted today's lead Java Today item, Why Learn New Languages? Being Outlived by C++ . Andy is 46 years old, considers himself to have about 20-25 years of full-time work remaining in his career, plans to remain in software engineering, and says "I'm seriously contemplating giving up learning new languages."
Would this be a good plan in the case of C++? In the case of Java?
I'm a bit older than Andy, and though right now I'm doing more work in the journalistic realm than in direct software engineering, I do still keep my hand in software engineering on a part-time basis. And as recently as six months ago, my work was almost entirely software engineering.
At Andy's age, I was working close to full-time on Java development. I had learned Java in the preceding several years, applying it whenever I had the freedom to do so in my daily work. I certainly wasn't anything near being a Java guru, but I was able to get a lot done at the team/project lead level. In my part time, I was editing Java books (which were big sellers at the time). Obviously, today I think it was a very good decision for me to devote lots of time at that point to bring Java into the list of languages for which I could claim a fairly high level of proficiency.
Andy's conclusion implies that his mind is made up (he probably won't focus on learning new languages in the future):
I guess the only threat to this retirement plan as a legacy C++ guru is the hordes of bright young games programmers. But seriously, if you're looking to maintain some really old code in 2020, won't you want to hire a consultant with an authentically grey beard?
Well, 2020 is only 11 years from now, not 20-25 years (Andy's estimated full-time work term). That's a long time, in my opinion, to rely on something that was at its peak importance (perhaps) in the 1990s. I mean, in my opinion, the creation of Java was in part a response to some of the problems and deficiencies inherent in C++.
So, let's ask this question: what languages were at their peak 30-35 years ago, in the mid/late 1970s? Is there any work in those languages today? What would those languages be? COBOL? FORTRAN? BASIC? Would you want to be at the end of a long software engineering career today, trying to pay off remaining debt and bolster your retirement savings, as a COBOL, FORTRAN, or BASIC guru? I wouldn't!
Now, it so happens that I do a fair amount of work involving Fortran. But, I don't do much work on the Fortran itself. I'm working with legacy mathematical modeling and simulation libraries, and bringing those libraries into modern applications that interact with an Oracle database and load the results into web pages. If I didn't know Perl and something about HTML, CSS, and web services, along with multithreaded development (so I can make the old Fortran code utilize modern multi-processor / multi-core systems), even "guru" status with respect to Fortran wouldn't make me sufficiently valuable to work on that project (IMO).
I guess my conclusion is that even "gurus" need to keep up with the times. A real lot is happening in the Java world, today. As I write this, the JVM Language Summit is under way at Sun's Santa Clara, California campus. The agenda includes everything from the JDK7 to Scala to JRuby to Invokedynamic to Ioke to Clojure to Groovy to Jython to Hotswap... I think you get the idea.
I don't think the threat to a successful career in trying to be a "guru" in a given language for the last decades of a software engineering career comes from much younger developers. Rather, I'd say the real threat would be competing gurus in your language who have also taken the time to stay up to date at a fairly advanced level of proficiency with some of the critical new languages that complement the legacy language.
So -- is there any point in a software engineering career when it makes sense professionally to stop learning new languages -- aside from like months or a few years before you retire? I don't think so. What do you think?
In Java Today , Andy Dent asks Why Learn New Languages? Being Outlived by C++ . The question seems relevant for Java developers as well, and there have been lots of interesting comments posted in response to Andy's question. Here's Andy's introduction:
Can a focus on C++ get me through the next twenty-odd years? Is it time to stop chasing bright, shiny new languages and consolidate as a guru? A few thoughts on "legacy languages" and the later stages of a coding career...
The JVM Language Summit is under way in , and will continue through Friday:
The 2009 JVM Language Summit is an open technical collaboration among language designers, compiler writers, tool builders, runtime engineers, and VM architects.
We are sharing our experiences as creators of programming languages for the JVM, and of the JVM itself. We also welcome non-JVM developers on similar technologies to attend or speak on their runtime, VM, or language of choice.
See the JVM Language Summit Agenda for details on the presentations.
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Our Feature Articles include Jeff Lowery's new article A Finite State Machine Supporting Concurrent States , which demonstrates how Java enums and EnumSets can be used as a basis to define and validate application states and state transitions. We're also featuring Jeff Friesen's article Introducing Custom Paints to JavaFX , which shows how you can leverage undocumented JavaFX capabilities to support custom paints in JavaFX Version 1.2.
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