Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Finally some news on PLINQ

It's here (almost)! PLINQ is a technology that allows developers to parallelize their LINQ queries. Check it out at MSDN. Competing platforms are so far behind .NET in this area it's laughable. They're still debating whether to add first-class closures to Java and Ruby still doesn't support native threads. By coaxing developers into writing functional code with LINQ Microsoft has done something truly brilliant. New programs written in .NET 3.5 will be ready to be parallelized just as Moore's law squeezes processing power in its icy grip. Imagine adding a single query operator to your query and seeing speed increases of 30% and more! Also see PTasks, a library for parallelizing procedural code. I can't wait for .NET 3.5!!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Luddite Developer

Throughout the short history of commercial software development we see the same dynamic repeat itself again and again: 1. New abstractions are introduced which increase developer productivity. 2. Developers resist these abstractions because they a) legitimately need to maintain low-level control to satisfy requirements OR b) they don't want to learn the new abstractions and tools required to use them 3. The developers that resist for reason b either suffer or eventually capitulate because of competitive pressure. When C was created many assembly developers resisted using it even though the benefits were obvious. Many C++ developers still resist writing client applications in Java and C#. Many Java developers still resist using slower, more powerful languages for writing web applications where performance is far less important. In some cases these decisions are justifiable (see reason a) but they are edge cases.

When a developer chooses, all other things being equal, to use a low-level abstraction instead of a high one it’s worth asking them why. If they attempt to justify their decision on the grounds of “simplicity” chances are that they are motivated by reason b). High-level abstractions are simpler than low-level ones by definition. They reduce code size and increase code clarity. Most of the time what the developer is really saying is “I didn’t want to learn anything new.” So why do some software developers resist learning new things? It’s not laziness. A developer who manually writes the same code with slight variations a hundred times and spend countless hours maintaining it can hardly be accused of being lazy. The real reason is that they are afraid of new technology.

So how can a software developer possibly be afraid of technology? Two words: cognitive dissonance. These individuals spend their lives creating technology to improve the productivity of accountants, managers, and housewives but insist on coding GUI’s by hand. They use REST instead of web services because they don’t want to learn how to generate a proxy. They’ll write reams and reams of repetitive code instead of learning a new domain-specific language and every argument they’ll use to justify it can also be used to argue that they should get rid of their compiler and write bytecode by hand.

It’s easy to understand why software developers can be afraid of new technologies. Software development is extremely challenging for many reasons. Once having successfully developed software using one set of abstractions a developer would be wise to consider carefully the decision to learn new ones. This is why it’s so important to familiarize yourself with a variety of different platforms, technologies, and development approaches before you are put on a deadline. Once you understand the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of development paradigms, platforms, libraries, and tools you can stop wasting time fearing the unknown and start fearing the known.

Do you know any luddite software developers?

About Me

My photo
I'm a software developer who started programming at age 16 and never saw any reason to stop. I'm working on the Presentation Platform Controls team at Microsoft. My primary interests are functional programming, and Rich Internet Applications.