I’ve listened to a lot of Bob Payne’s agile toolkit podcasts and I think Bob is pretty poor at interviewing people, although he does interview some very interesting people.
Bob clearly doesn’t plan his interviews or think in advance about what questions to ask. He just seems to sit down and chat with people as if he were in a bar somewhere and happened to have a microphone on the table. He often assumes his listeners know the background of the person and what is being discussed, and doesn’t ask people to elaborate. Bob also tends to interrupt the person he interviews and presents his own opinions rather than getting them to elaborate on their views.
Anyway, as I said, Bob Payne does interview some interesting people. I listened to this podcast today, where he was talking to Dave (Smalltalk) Thomas. They rambled on at some length about different programming languages and platforms, and Dave started talking about what he called “boutique” languages, APL being a case in point. What he said about this community totally corroborated what I discovered when I met a couple of APL programmers recently. There aren’t that many of them, they mostly work for financial institutions, and they collaborate very heavily with their business users/domain experts. This article by Stephen Taylor gives a flavour of how this community works, and talks about a kind of pair programming between an APL expert and an end user. It sounds really cool, actually, and highly productive.
Bob Payne is clearly a Ruby community member, and Dave (Smalltalk) Thomas is in the Smalltalk community. I mostly count myself part of the Python community these days. Each programming language community seems to have its quirks and personalities. Of the communities I’ve hung out with to any extent, I’ve noticed that the Ruby community seems to be really friendly and welcoming to newcomers, whereas the python community can often seem very aloof and somehow intimidating. The Java community is so enormous it doesn’t seem to notice other communities exist, or have anything useful to offer, although it’s a few years now since I’ve hung out with them, and they may be moving on.
I think these “community personalities” arise partly because people move between language communities slowly and infrequently. Once you get good at a particular language it is always easier to stick to it than learn a new one. In their first book the Pragmatic Programmers advise you learn a new language every year, but I’m sure only a vanishingly small proportion of programmers manage this, and even fewer go on to get involved in more than one language community.
I am really interested to see what will happen with all this talk of Polyglot programming that (amongst others) Neal Ford has been talking about – they predict that in future your average system will be built from a number of parts written in different languages, each suited to the task in hand, running on one of the major Virtual Machines – .Net or the JVM.
If this does indeed happen, I think it should result in a major shakeup of the way programming language communities operate and interact, and I believe this will be really positive for the industry. At the moment I feel like their are pearls of wisdom hidden in each separate community, and not enough people are moving around to pick up the pearls and distribute them to the others. Dave Thomas must be one of the few who has insight into more than just one. Maybe one day more programmers will be pairing with end users just like the APL guys have been doing for years.