In Any Language: Adapting to the Polyglot Programming Challenge

By Posted in New Relic News, Top Post 10 July 2013

Do you write most of your software in the same language? If so, you might be getting left behind.

Citing data from Forrester Research, Dr. Dobb’s Journal Editor-in-Chief Andrew Binstock said, “Two years ago, fully one-quarter of programmers wrote in just one language, and half wrote in only two languages. Today, such conservative use of languages looks like a luxury.”

The Polyglot Era
So-called polyglot programming – writing a program in multiple languages – is nothing new. But until the web came along it was more likely for amusement than for practical purposes.

As Binstock pointed out, “Web apps, by definition, are multilanguage beasts. Many mobile apps require more than one language; and even if they can be written in one language, they often rely on a web or cloud based backend that’s written in an entirely different language.”

Infoworld’s Neil McAllister noted that no programmer could learn all the language options available today, but “… as powerful and versatile as the current crop of languages may be, no single syntax is ideally suited for every purpose.” For example, Google spurred the development of Dart to make up for limitations in JavaScript and with hopes of replacing it as “the lingua franca of web development on the open web platform.”

This proliferation of options enables you to create rich features and functions with new technologies – or find new ways of using old technologies. But it raises some issues, such as how do you manage your application development with this virtual Tower of Babel of programming languages? For example:

* Team members come and go, bringing and taking with them different language sets
* Enterprises want to adapt legacy applications to take advantage of innovations such as mobility and big data
* Existing applications need to be retooled to new devices
* Managers need to find and retain talent that matches the requirements of current and prospective customers

Stay Current
One obvious tactic: get familiar with new languages and decide when to take them seriously. ReadWriteWeb writer Klint Finley offers an overview of five different resources to keep track of what languages are most in use or rising in popularity.

Old Meets New
You should also monitor your application performance to identify issues that might arise from blending languages and skill sets. This means keeping up with new issues and also confronting problems that pop up with old code.

As programmer and headhunter Dominic Connor noted recently in The Register, “The current big data hype means firms are reopening mature, stable systems to suck in data  . . . a ‘mature’ system means that most, if not all, of the programmers who wrote it are long gone.”

Keeping tabs on what’s old and new has never been more challenging. Do you consider yourself a polyglot developer? How do you keep up with language trends? Let us know in the comments below.

leigh@newrelic.com'Marketing Manager, Content

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