Strong opinions, weakly held

Programmer pecking order

I once had a conversation with a coworker who had once done some kind of forestry work in Montana. He indicated that one nice thing about living in Montana was that you were at the top of the pecking order when it comes to western states, with the exception of Alaska. Alaskans were considered more manly than Montanans, but Montanans looked down on everybody else.

What I’m looking for is the Alaska of programming languages. I’ve done projects in Java, Perl, PHP, ColdFusion, TCL, and probably some other languages I’ve forgotten, and at this point in my career, I’m looking for a language that will cement my status at the top of the programming heap. I just can’t figure out which one it is.

I could take the advice of James Robertson and program in Smalltalk. Or I could be like Paul Graham and program in Lisp. I could follow the advice of the guys at lesscode.org and give up on Java since it’s not Web-centric enough, but I’m not sure where they’d have me turn instead. PHP, Perl, and Python clearly don’t have what it takes because they’re not obscure enough. Visual Basic is utterly disqualified for obvious reasons, and C#, its fans not withstanding, is from Microsoft and too much like Java. Ruby is the flavor of the month, and its unusual type system certainly gives it credibility, but I’m not sure what kind of legs it has. It’s earning a lot of notoriety for making it really easy to write Web applications. Does that sound macho to you? To me it sounds like the original use case for ColdFusion, a language which nobody respects.

Maybe the key to really getting the respect I deserve is getting closer to the machine. There are plenty of C dead-enders out there, but I think the answer has to be assembly. At least that’s what Steve Gibson would tell you.


  1. Haskell, man. Go for Haskell glory.

  2. How manly can you be if you’re coding for a system with native support for lower-case letters? If they ever let you near a real computer, bare-silicon machine code is the only way to go. Assemblers are for pussies.

    (One semester of labs looking up opcodes for 68000-series microprocessors will for damn sure broaden your appreciation for higher-level languages.)

  3. Just had a flashback to the 68000 opcode reference card. Thanks Brennan, I’ll be drinking tonight.

    But seriously it’s C, Assembly gets you street cred but it’s hard core C mucking that gets you respect:

    Assembly is sitting around the fire telling people all about bears. C is dragging a grizzly back into camp.

  4. I agree that assembly (preferably x86 or something similarly unsimple) is the manliest, but there are languages I find harder to comprehend. Forth breaks my brain.

  5. Laf, I guess if you want to do things the painful way to prove your manhood there’s some punchcard machines around somewhere, right?

    I think Lisp programmers seem to be have the largest egos. That being said I’m learning Lisp.

    I write a lot of assembly at and some C at work, it’s boring. I also write a lot of Pike (which is like LPC). I think the top of the Programming language heap is probably straddled by Lisp, Smalltalk, and their kind, with Java and C# falling somewhat below that.

    Anyways, I think this is the argument: 1) A good Lisp programmer will outproduce a good programmer in language X (True or not?) 2) Lisp can be compiled, or not. (True) 3) Lisp contains all the higher level programming paradigms (OOP, Lists, sets, what have you). (True)

    So I guess you have to find a language that has both 2 and 3, then argue about 1 to find your winner 😉

  6. Clearly, the correct answer is: write your own.

  7. i would say Erlang is pretty close to the Alaska of programming languages. all sorts of fancy theoretical functional programming goodness to make the academics approve plus insane performance that even C programmers have to respect. you get to boast about five nines uptime, failover systems, serious concurrency support, and distributed in-memory databases (Mnesia). the only books on erlang available all seem to be either out of print (and really expensive on the used market), or not in english so it’s not in too much danger of becoming popular right away.

  8. I think building and routing your own transistors/logic gates has to win.

  9. This is joke, right?

    What’s cool is the problem you are working on. Not the language. Real programmers use Fortran!

  10. I would say that the manliest of programming languages would be that of the halftime locker room speech. You use high level heuristics to program 11 stochastic machines to work in parallel.

  11. It was intended to be a wry commentary on all of the overblown programming language advocacy that I see everywhere lately, but I seem to have missed the target.

  12. …but I seem to have missed the target.

    Happens to me all the time! All the time, I swear! Thank God I’m not the Only One!

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