Programming languages aren’t a zero sum game

Stop me if you’ve heard these before when people get to talking about programming languages…

“These features are copied this from <superior language>.”
“Nothing new here. <superior language> has done this for years.”
“This language has nothing on <superior language>, but nobody realizes it.”
<superior language> does the same thing, but better.”

I bring it up because I’ve been reading and writing a lot about Kotlin lately. And invariably someone posts a snarky comment like one those above, carrying with it a clear innuendo: my preferred programming language is better than yours.

And every time I see those I leave with the same reaction. Who gives a shit?

Now I’m not talking about people who are having constructive conversations or even just poking fun. Hell, I may have been known to take a jab at Java every once in a while. 👊

I’m talking about a subset of programmers who treat languages like it’s a zero sum game — that for one language to succeed, another (or all others) must fail. It’s like they’re on some strange crusade to prove how they were first and best at everything.

But why does it matter if a language takes the best ideas from another language and implements them? Why does it matter if another language had some feature for years and your favorite just got it? What the hell does “better” even mean when everyone has different preferences and styles?

To me programming languages are simply about doing good work, building success, and if you’re lucky, finding happiness. Many people have achieved those with Ruby, Swift, Javascript, Java, C#, Python, Go, and dozens of other languages.

I’ve been lucky enough to find that with Kotlin. It makes my work genuinely enjoyable. I find it fun and exciting to work with, and that makes me happy. But I’m no programming linguist — for all I know, every other programming language is technically “superior” to Kotlin.

But who cares? There can be many different languages that make many different people happy in many different ways. If I’m happy and having fun with a language, why do others feel the need to shit on it? Are we so insecure and unhappy that we need to tear down another language to make our favorite look better? It’s a negative, petty stance to take that has a disheartening effect on others.

Just because a language doesn’t do something brand new conceptually doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist. If a language takes ideas and inspiration from another language, that’s a wonderful compliment to the earlier architects. And if your favorite language is “better” than mine, believe it or not, I’m super happy for you — it’s awesome that you’ve found something great!

Programming can be hard. Finding joy in work can be hard. If people can achieve success and find joy in any programming language, that’s a wonderful thing. Why not celebrate every language that can help people achieve great things (especially their own happiness!) instead of making everything a showdown?

If you really believe in your favorite programming language, focus on its merits, not the demerits of others. Avoid the temptation to make snarky comments or tear down another language. Instead, keep it positive. Spread the word on why your language is awesome. Compare and contrast fairly. Have strong opinions and challenge each other respectfully.

Trust me, there’s plenty of room for all our favorite programming languages — even Java. 😜

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