Escaping Java but not its thinking

Kevin Dangoor is getting out of J2EE development after four years of legacy mud and fear-driven technology choices. He has picked to start his new businesses on a dynamic language with Python. Unfortunately, he’s still stuck in Java-skewed thinking on the difficulties of learning a new dynamic language or framework:

Ruby looks nice and Rails is attracting a lot of attention for good reason. Seaside on Squeak should be attracting attention, because it looks like a very productive way to put together apps. There are two problems with both of these: 1) I don’t know them, and 2) they are less mature and have smaller communities than Python or Java.

I can certainly overcome (1), but that would slow me down initially. The clock is ticking, because I need to generate money to pay my mortgage and all that… The second point also means slower velocity: there are fewer places to turn for help. There are fewer prepackaged modules, and those modules may be less-tested.

I guess its natural to think that you must stay in the competency trap when exiting one of the deepest and most alive in the tech world today. But it needs not be this way. Very much unlike Java, it doesn’t take months and months to gather hard-won experiences with application servers or climb mountain-high framework stacks when starting out with Rails (or Seaside+Persistance for that matter). You can try it out in a day or two and have a pretty darn good idea of what’s going on. So the cost of escaping the competency trap is at an all time low.

So let’s address the charge “less mature and have smaller communities”. I’ve found that while a language community at large is a nice backup, the real importance for productivity is having a strong community around the frameworks that you pick. When people have problems with Ruby on Rails, it’s very rarely the general ruby-talk mailing list that hears their pleas. It’s the Rails-specific outlets.

Speaking of those, the Rails mailing list is buzzing with activity averaging 26 mails per day in December. The Rails IRC channel is ever so alive filled with between 100 and 120 developers every single day. This is a uniquely vibrant force that’s able to provide end-to-end help and advice. Unlike the scattered search for assistance that’s necessary when trying to combine template, web-flow, and persistance frameworks from separate communities.

This is not a charge against Python for not having a complete on Rails solution, but rather just a dissimal of the claim that the Ruby sub-community of interest should be less mature or vibrant than a comparable stack in Python. It’s simply not the case.

So. Blue Sky Development woes to persue “technology choices [that] can be made on technical (and business) merit without politics getting in the way”. I’d say you owe that statement at the very least a day or two outside your most immediate comfort zone. I’m pretty sure you’ll find that the competency trap is not inescapable and that the fears of a missing community are expelled instantly.

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