Monday, December 17, 2007

Job hunting is like dating

Paul Buchheit posted an interesting analysis of social networking products, their similarities and differences. In there he has hidden a rare gem:

10. Jobs. Job hunting and hiring are essentially the "professional" analog of dating and seem to work in somewhat similar ways.
Shaking Hands, by Aidan Jones

If you ponder it a bit, it sounds about right, doesn't it? People look for jobs they like and hiring managers look for candidates they like. When there is a match, there is a hire. The parallels are many:
  • Dumping/seduction: an employee will dump his current job for a better one, often due to seducing promises from their hiring manager.
  • Bachelorhood/marriage: some people change jobs like crazy (especially in the States), while others stick to one for life (quite common in Japan).
  • Stagnation: employment relationships, like sexual ones, tend to stagnate after a long period of time, when people lose interest in it.
  • We might as well admit it, women and work are the two dominant discussion subjects with one's friends, after midnight.
  • When one gets caught cheating on his wife/company, they go to court.
  • Girls have breasts, jobs have salaries. The bigger, the better.
  • People get jealous of their friends who make more money than they do.
Now, what does that mean for us? Are you happy with your current girlfr..., er, job? If not, could you perhaps find some new project / technology / tool / sexual position to stimulate your interest? Or is it perhaps time to be on the market again?

Sunday, December 9, 2007

How programming languages grow

Q: How do programming languages grow?
A: With pain.

Unless you were lost on a deserted island far away from civilization, you must have heard something about the ECMAScript v4 shenanigans. ECMAScript 4 is the future standard specification for what most people will undoubtedly refer to as JavaScript 2. This forthcoming specification brings a whole slew of features into the JavaScript language, about a decade after the current ECMAScript 3 standard came out. Many of the new features are about facilitating the creation of large programs in the language and improving their safety and robustness. As an intentional side-effect, they maintain and improve the syntactic similarity between JavaScript and Java, so that most young programmers will find it easy to learn and use (in case you didn't know, Java is one of the languages students learn in almost every CS curriculum nowadays).

The breadth of the changes as well as the increased similarity to Java has led some people to protest against them, while they portray the future of their beloved language with gloom and doom. Some members of the ECMAScript standardization committee decided to get off the standardization effort and pursue an ECMAScript v3.1, that is much less ambitious in scope, though still quite vague. These members are Microsoft and Douglas Crockford and while Redmond's move has set off the (usually correct) conspiracy reflexes of the community, Crockford's objections carry more weight to those who pay attention.

Doug Crockford has been known for many things in the JavaScript community, but what I respect most is his simplified JavaScript parser, which is itself written in the same simplified JavaScript. This is the second JavaScript parser in JavaScript that I'm aware of, the first being Brendan Eich's Narcissus. This subset of JavaScript that Crockford advocates for (and is still available in the ECMAScript 4 specification) prefers a more functional style of programming with heavy use of prototypal inheritance, compared to the traditional object-oriented style used in Java and proposed for ECMAScript 4. To cut a long story short, the creator of JavaScript convincingly makes the point that JavaScript must evolve if it is to keep up with the needs of its users, otherwise they will pick something else, like Silverlight or Flex.

In that presentation, Brendan Eich makes a reference to a talk given by Guy Steele in 1998, titled "Growing a Language". It was about the time that the Java community was having a debate about adding generics, operator overloading, complex numbers and other features. In the end some of the proposed changes made it to the standard, like generics, while others like operator overloading, did not. Today another debate is raging in the Java community, about adding closures to the language. Though perhaps less emotional than the JavaScript debate, it is still highly divisive and the reactions are occasionally overboard. It seems changing a language always involves fear, anxiety and pain. Guy Steele's talk provides some insights.

Its been about a decade since that talk, and it shows. No Powerpoint/Keynote slides, just hand-written ones manually placed on the projector. Even the haircut is out of fashion. However the actual presentation is sheer genius. Steele uses the form of his talk to illustrate the point of his argument. In order to demonstrate the difference between small languages and big languages in terms of the programs they can create and the difficulty of their use, he picks a subset of English as a given, all words with one syllable, and every time he needs to use another word he provides a definition. In the same way you provide a class definition of a Person in Java and then go on talking about that person in your business code as if it was a language primitive, Steele makes a talk sound like a computer program and as he confesses in the end, creating that talk was a lot like writing a program.

It may seem weird at first, but as you get the hang of it, it's an eye-opener. Not suitable for computer-language illiterate people of course. Your girlfriend definitely ain't gonna like it. Even the jokes are kinda geeky. Just watch it when you have an hour to spare and nobody is watching you. Then perhaps you might be able to understand Brendan Eich's passion. And do the right thing: use Firefox.

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