Objects, messages, users, people

One of the highlights for me at JAOO Sydney 2009 was Dave Thomas’ talk on Cloud computing. Among other things, he talked about the vast dinosaur swamp of OO middleware that Java developers will be having fun maintaining for the next thirty years.

As somebody whose programming time is mostly either UI related in JavaScript or hobby coding in whatever takes my fancy in a given week (this week it’s factor) I was in a good position to laugh in a “it’s funny because it’s not happening to me” way at the humorous insights from Dave, the self confessed former Pied Piper of Objects. Actually, I found it especially amusing because my recollection of computer science at university in the late 90’s was that almost every student at the time was begging, demanding, wailing and gnashing their teeth… to be trained as a member of this army of average Java middleware programmers.

Of course, opting to code UI in JavaScript long ago revoked my membership to the fraternity of real programmers so my hyperbole on these things can freely be dismissed as nonsense by that part of the world shepherding business objects for a living.

I was raised on objects. I like objects. I do not like what we did with them.

In particular, I don’t like that I can sit in a meeting of non-programmers who once walked past a Computer Science 101 lecture and hear somebody saying that “we should take an object-oriented approach” to the problem.

I don’t like that anybody doing architecture ever talked in terms of UML class diagrams where all the business objects were drawn and detailed and then all the messages, you know the actual stuff going on was reduced to zero. It’s all interface, all objects and nothing happening. That’s not designing a living system for code, it’s designing a pyramid to bury people in.

All objects with no messages, no configurability, no data. Everything else got moved or obliterated until finally, finally when somebody turned around and realised “Hey, we need ways to do a bunch of this other stuff” the answer that came forth was XML. So now there’s this whole universe of people programming all the important parts of their software in XML. I don’t care to take a guess at how that is going to work out.

Of course, that was all too hard for many people and instead of following the musical pipe they went off to use PHP, broke every single principle of good, bad and ugly software design - including some that weren’t invented yet, and still managed to get things done. That said, I’ve done enough work with things such as the Wordpress template system to be reasonably confident that something has gone horribly awry and that there’s a good chance that a whole community of programmers will also be keeping themselves in jobs maintaining the mess they’ve created in PHP.

Back to JAOO though, it was good to see a strong representation for dynamic languages, DSL’s, functional programming and on top of all that, it was good to hear all types of people with a good sense of history and architects talking about service oriented architectures and composition.

Now, at this point I would assume that any lispers still paying attention to current trends can only be wondering why it took so many dances around the prickly-pear tree before more people started to “get it.” The lispers may have questions such as “Did it really take fifty years for lambda to even start entering mainstream consciousness?” and “Is XML really what you made of s-expressions?” and those would be just warm up questions… what happened?

The shift to DSL’s is encouraging… I can only hope that this time we can actually get them right as almost everything that has come before has been an abomination. That goes double for most of the 4GL’s around, I’m looking at you CSS. The problem with most 4GL’s is that they were designed to suit the problem, not the people who had to solve the problem. I think one of the big challenges going forward will be how to design languages, or design the space around which languages can develop, that work better for users… while still maintaining conceptual purity and elegance.

CoffeeScript in Action

CoffeeScript in Action book cover

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