to type or not to type…

that is the question.  Rather than a Shakespeare reference, I’m here referring to a term in software development which determines how a language deals with variables, for example.

Define: type

When you create a variable in a computer language, it’s usually something like this:

var someVarName = 1;

In a case like this, we might infer that someVarName stores a number (an integer).  We might say that the someVarName‘s type is integer.  Using a pet-ownership metaphor, it’s like purchasing a dog house first (“someVarName”) and then next buying a dog to put into it (“1”).  You wouldn’t buy a fish bowl to store a dog… although this seems to work out great if you own a cat.  JavaScript, e.g., is like this picture:  it doesn’t seemingly care if you want to store a cat in a fish bowl.

cat-in-a-bowl

Two Schools of Thought

There are two camps out there:  those who like languages which force the variable type and those who don’t.

A statically-typed language usually involves a step in which your code is converted into something else (compiling) and any type-related issues must be fixed before a program can be created.

A dynamically-typed language is run “as is” and the code is evaluated at the moment of truth—determinations about the type of a variable are made at this time.  If there is a type-related issue, your end-user could be the first person to see the error.

Statically-Typed Dynamically-Typed
Java JavaScript
C++ Python
C# PHP
C Objective-C

The Pendulum Swings

Over the past three decades, the popularity of either approach has waxed and waned.  It’s safe to suggest for the moment that the less-strict languages are gaining rapidly in popularity over their stricter counterparts.

most-popular

We have the world of open source to thank for the popularity and speed of development we’re currently seeing in these dynamically-typed languages like JavaScript and Python.

Seeing the Future

Honestly, though, there are too many people in that strict-is-better camp and their influence is felt within software development companies.  If I were to guess at the future of JavaScript, I’d probably have to say that TypeScript and Flow will gain in popularity as larger development teams look to lower the number of bugs in their code.

I don’t know, though.  Maybe it’s time that we just relax and let the cat hang out in the fish bowl.

 

flogging a dead horse

Many times in my career I’ve been at some technical crossroads which demanded a decision on my part:

  1. stay the course with some primary skillset I’d been developing or
  2. branch off on some new expertise.

If you think about it, that’s a pretty big gamble.  What will hiring managers be looking for two or even five years in the future?  What will look better on your résumé, a couple more years of experience in the old skillset or the old skills plus the two years of the new skills?  Is it possible that continuing to work with the old skill will now somehow look bad for your career?  But then, if you include too many skills does it look like you’re not focused enough on anything to actually have expertise?

Recognize Trends

I’d suggest that the following trends are appearing in the development playing space.

  • Java is no longer trusted:  Oracle’s Java was a good idea back in the early ’90s.  It allowed coders to write one set of programming which could be compiled and then distributed and run on a variety of platforms.  Several security-related issues with Java have forced many to outright ban Java from workstations within organizations.  Apple’s Safari browser blocks the plug-in for Java now and Microsoft Internet Explorer in newer versions disables Java by default.
  • Objective-C is a pain:  Apple probably should have replaced this language when it introduced iOS.  Since it only really is used for Mac OS and iOS development, a coder’s skillset in this language limits them to just Macs, iPads, iPhones and the Apple Watch.
  • JavaScript is the new black:  Open source and Node.js have invigorated the JavaScript language.  In the past it was only really used for client-side browser validations and such but today, it’s being used for almost anything on the client or the server.  PhoneGap allows cross-platform phone app development in JavaScript, threatening to destroy all competitors in this space.  In Tolkienian terms, Javascript is the one ring to rule them all.
  • C and even C++ seem dated now:  C (circa 1972) and C++ (circa 1979) are wonderful languages and yet they’re over thirty years old and that makes them seem stale to coders today.  C# (circa 2000) is now over 15 years old and is beginning to feel the same fate.
  • .net is only for Windows:  Even though Microsoft had originally intended .net to compete with Java as a multi-platform coding option, you don’t see this in practice since nobody has worked on a UNIX .net platform to allow this to take place.  The trend would be that single-platform solutions don’t have enough market share to ultimately survive the test of time.
  • Every day there are more coders entering this space:  Schools globally have been pushing technical careers over the last three decades.  Outsourcing websites and better English training and translation software are allowing people in other countries to compete more effectively with U.S.-based coders.
  • It’s not just keyboards and mice anymore:  Hand-held devices, touchscreen monitors and see-through goggles may be the norm soon.
  • Apps and stores (not programs and major versions):  It used to be that a new version of a program was delivered and a major update cost money.  An app now usually comes with unlimited updates and yet “in app purchases” still allow a stream of money for the developer.  In fact, these updates allow the developer another marketing opportunity to up-sell the customer something else.  Apple has made so much money with iTunes that Microsoft has completely re-tooled their own operating system to chase that same business model.  Google has done the same with their Android platform.

See the Future

To me, the future of coding will embrace anything that will allow one set of (familiar) code to be compiled to multiple platforms.

  1. Until the next “new, new thing” comes along, it looks like Javascript (in general) is for now the core language to know.
  2. Some interesting things appear to be coming from the Javascript ECMAScript 6 (ES6) standard.  When a sufficient number of browsers support it, this new standard (specifically) should be another good skillset to have.
  3. Node.js has enjoyed an amazing degree of implementation throughout the world in its short lifespan.  Knowing how to code to this would be in your best interest.
  4. HTML5 has been used in a fair number of high-profile websites, enough to ensure its popularity for a few more years.
  5. The github source code repository has over 30 million individual repositories in place and has built-in support in many other systems which can pull code automatically from it.  It looks like github will be around for a while.
  6. Several popular languages will likely be effectively dead soon for a variety of reasons:  Java, Objective-C, Visual Basic, C, C++, .net and Swift to name a few.

Be the Future

If you want a job as a coder in the future it’s time to start actively steering in the right direction instead of just passively continuing to use the platforms you’re now on.  If you don’t have the skills I’ve listed above then consider taking on a project to learn one or more.

If you’re currently embedded on a team that uses Java, for example, then I’d suggest that it’s going to be increasingly harder to find work elsewhere. Given that it’s becoming harder to find coding work now with all the competition it’s more critical to possess the skills that managers are looking for on a team.