Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Untouchables

There are some technologies that have such strong "street cred", they are effectively untouchable. Anyone who dares imply that they are deficient in any way is instantly labelled an uneducated moron. It is impossible to have a realistic conversation about these technologies, and it's not very common for enthusiasts of these technologies to admit their failings. Let me give some examples:

  • Linux is the best operating system.
  • Common Lisp is the best programming language ever invented.
  • Haskell code is shorter, more elegant, and more correct than code written in any other language.
  • Emacs is the best editor for real programmers.
  • Apple creates the most user friendly user-interfaces.
  • Tiling window managers lead to the highest degree of user productivity.
  • Ruby on Rails is the best web framework written in any language.
  • The only way to write good software that meets its users needs and is delivered on time is to embrace agile software development and use test-driven development.

Of course, there are problems with each of these things:

  • It can be very difficult to get hardware accelerated 3D, wireless drivers, and suspend working reliably in Linux depending on the hardware you have and which version of which distro you are using.
  • Common Lisp has a lot of historical baggage, and it lacks the breadth of community library support that some languages such as Python, Ruby, and C have.
  • Haskell code can be very terse, and advanced Haskell code can be difficult for even intermediate Haskell programmers to understand.
  • IntelliJ has many advantages over Emacs when it comes to editing Java.
  • Not everyone prefers Apple user interfaces. My wife always complains when I make her use OS X.
  • Many of the tiling window manager fans that I know spend an inordinate amount of time configuring and tweaking their window manager, presumably because it doesn't yet do exactly what they want.
  • Ruby on Rails isn't the best approach for real-time applications or applications that must have very, very low latency.
  • Agile software development is not a good fit when it is impossible to iterate, such as when you're building software that must be completely done and completely correct the first time it is used (e.g. pacemakers and satellite software).

There are also some technologies that have such negative street cred that it's difficult to praise them in certain circles. For instance:

  • It can be hard for a Linux advocate to admit that Microsoft has ever done anything good or innovative.
  • It can be difficult for a Python or Ruby enthusiast to admit that Java has any advantages whatsoever.

Linux, Common Lisp, Haskell, Emacs, Apple, tiling window managers, Ruby on Rails, agile, and TDD each have amazing amounts of street cred, and I've spent a lot of time learning playing with all of them. What I discovered is that the world isn't always so black-and-white. It's really helpful when people can honestly admit the weaknesses in technologies they like as well as the strengths in technologies they don't like. I'm not saying that all technologies are equally good. I'm just saying that it would help if we could be more realistic.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

tl;dr: don't listen to fanboys, don't feed the trolls.

Shannon Behrens said...

Yep, exactly :)

Moandji Ezana said...

It'snot impossible to iterate on pacemakers or satellites. It's just that those iterations aren't "released". But every failing prototype is aniteration

Shannon Behrens said...

> It'snot impossible to iterate on pacemakers or satellites. It's just that those iterations aren't "released". But every failing prototype is aniteration

I think life is different when you really only get one shot. For instance, the designs used for the most recent Mars Rover landing systems were completely different that what they used before. If every iteration involves a completely new design done by completely new teams, it's not really agile.

I think doing pace makers is different too. We like to say "release early and often". With pace makers, you really don't want to release until you're damn sure it's not going to kill somebody ;)

Anonymous said...

Saw this via DZone via CodeProject Daily and really enjoyed it! As an example, I really like Agile and have been involved in several projects using this method.

However I was recently involved in an Agile project on a legacy application. Ugh. All I can say is Agile works great for new development but is basically just a goal-oriented task coordinator when you're working on a legacy project. It often gives product owners the opportunity to skip the business analysis that's needed to avoid problems later in the project. And when a delivery date's looming, the process deteriorates rapidly.

Oh, and QA STILL gets squeezed at the end. So what else is new?