Monday, November 16, 2009

The little things mean the most...

There is a programming pattern that I had never seen before.

That is, there are multiple constructors of a Java class that share a 'base' block of code that needs to be called for each of them.

Well, I try to minimize opportunities for bad typing.  So, when I came across a situation like this - I created a method called base() that would be called by each of the constructors.  That way, the code would exist in one place and would be easier to keep clean and up to date.

Good plan right?

It worked, but today I was playing with the idea of making my big giant app send Twitter updates to let me know what was going on and notify me as errors occured.  The java library that I stumbled onto was twitter4j by Yusuke Yamamoto.

I wanted to make sure that if I tried to send a large (more than 140 character) tweet - it would be handled gracefully rather than getting truncated.  At first glance, they would have gotten truncated.  I'll have to check further to see if this is true.

But, my base() trick is not as clever as I thought.

There was a better way, that I never saw before today.  And that is to use the regular zero parameter constructor by calling it from each of the other constructors as this().  Clean and beautiful - thanks Yusuke.

To myself I say...


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cookbooks and Recipes: Men, Women, and Programming...

Disclaimer: I think that everyone who chooses to be a programmer has to be (at least) a little bit crazy - whether male or female. But I think we are missing out by not having more female programmers - so if you are female and so inclined then I at least would welcome you. Also, I have a strange sense of humor.

So... Now that we've settled that...

I got to listen to Kirrily Robert speak at ApacheCon last week. She gave a keynote about women in open source and technology called 'Standing Out In the Crowd'. And it struck me that there are numerous books on programming that include the words 'cookbook' or 'recipe' in their titles.

Now, I love to cook - so I don't mean to imply that cooking is in any way a 'womanly' pursuit or task. But, there are many that think of it that way.

Anyway - one of the ideas that are presented as justification for the fact that there are few females in programming is that somehow the 'pink brain' is not suited to mathematics.

I will not even bother arguing whether or not this is true (Kirrily cited a study that determined that there was a slight difference). Regardless of any difference that may exist - it does not matter. I have been a programmer for over two decades and with the exception of a very small number of projects - there has been very very little math that was involved.

What is involved (as far as I am concerned) is understanding a problem and then teaching a computer to go through the steps to solve it.

So, how good a programmer you are is determined by:
  1. How well you can wrap your head around a problem.
  2. How well you can learn a particular language's syntax.
  3. How well you can break the solution of the problem into a sequence of steps.
  4. How well you can codify those steps in the language's syntax.
Most of the time, not much math.

Some languages may lend themselves to solving particular types of problems better or more 'elegantly'. But I have never heard of a language (human or computer) that is somehow easier to learn based on which gender you are.

Sometimes, boolean algebra can be used to make solutions 'prettier'. But most of the programmers that I have worked with never studied boolean algebra - male or female.

Hopefully, math will stop being used as justification for saying or thinking that 'women can't program'. And instead, the idea that programming is really teaching gains more mindshare.

Not every person who decides to be a programmer is cut out for it. There is a certain amount of insanity necessary to be good at it because you are effectively trying to teach a machine to solve a problem by describing the solution in a language that is not natural for you -or- the computer. And the computer is not going to go out of it's way to bridge that gap. That is all up to you!

There is nothing that I can see that makes males more suited to programming than females. And empathy (seeing a situation from the point of view of the other 'person') is often thought of as being a trait that is stronger in females. So, if there is a natural advantage held by anyone - it might be by women.

So, if you have an interest in foreign languages and in teaching completely empty-headed students who will force to you explain every single step in excruciating detail - then programming might be for you.

There may be a very good reason why there aren't more female programmers.

They are smarter than us.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Goin back to Cali...

I am in California.

This is the second time that I have been in this state.

The first time was over fifteen years ago.  And I was here to see how a software company was planning on translating their product from a character based program that ran from a command line in either DOS or _nix - to a windows program.

They were going to try to use a program to translate a BASIC language system to Visual Basic.  But the program required a person to make sure that the individual programs were written according to a set of programming standards.

They almost never were - so they ended up doing a substantial rewrite and forced those that had written customizations to write them all over again.

This time, I get to attend the 10th anniversary ApacheCon.

Over the past ten years, the Apache foundation has grown from a small group of people who forked the code from the NCSA web server - to an international group of programmers and users who develop and use a growing set of software projects (currently more than 60 and growing).

About three years ago, my day job gave me the opportunity to develop a substantial new system that would eventually replace a number of scattered information systems that spanned spreadsheets and flat file databases.  It would also integrate that information with the company's accounting system.

In trying to figure out the best platform for developing this new system I stumbled onto WebSphere community edition (WASCE) and through it - Apache Geronimo.

I was hooked.  Here was an environment to develop for that was scalable, standards based, open source, fast, ... everything I could hope for.

Through Geronimo - I found a number of other projects that are integrated by Geronimo.  And each of them was the same - open communities that seek feedback and encourage participation.

I do not know how many people are reading this.  Or how many of you are involved in software development.  But it is an amazing thing to find people spread out across the whole world who are passionate enough to give away their time and energy developing and/or supporting software.

Last time in California turned out to be a moderately interesting waste of time.

This time, nothing has really started yet - and I am already excited to get to be a part of something so bold and (at least in my experience) unique.

This is, in a word...