7 Stages of new language keyword grief

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My last post on the new dynamic keyword sparked a range of reactions which are not uncommon when discussing a new language keyword or feature. Many are excited by it, but there are those who feel a sense of…well…grief when their language is “marred” by a new keyword.

C#, for example, has seen it with the var keyword and now with the dynamic keyword. I don’t know, maybe there’s something to this idea that developers go through the seven stages of grief when their favorite programming language adds new stuff (Disclaimer: Actually, I’m totally making this crap up)

1. Shock and denial.

With the introduction of a new keyword, initial reactions include shock and denial.

No way are they adding lambdas to the language! I had a hard enough time with the delegate keyword!

What is this crazy ‘expression of funky tea’ syntax? I’ll just ignore it and hope it goes away.

Generics will never catch on! Mark my words.

2. Longing for the past

Immediately, even before the new feature is even released, developers start to wax nostalgic remembering a past that never was.

I loved language X 10 years ago when it wasn’t so bloated, man.

They forget that the past also meant managing your own memory allocations, punch cards, and dying of the black plague, which totally sucks.

3. Anger and FUD

Soon this nostalgia turns to anger and FUD.

Check out this reaction to adding the goto keyword to PHP, emphasis mine.

This is a problem. Seriously, PHP has made it \ this far without goto, why turn the language into a public menace?

Yes Robin, PHP is a menace terrorizing Gotham City. To the Batmobile!

The dynamic keyword elicited similar anger with comments like:

C# was fine as a static language. If I wanted a dynamic language, I’d use something else!

Or

I’ll never use that feature!

It’s never long before anger turns to spreading FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt). The var keyword in C# is a prime example of this. Many developers wrote erroneously that using it would mean that your code was no longer strongly typed and would lead to all hell breaking use.

My friend used the var keyword in his program and it formatted his hard drive, irradiate his crotch, and caused the recent economic crash. True story.

Little did they know that the dynamic keyword was on its way which really would fulfill all those promises. ;)

Pretty much the new feature will destroy life on the planet as we know it and make for some crappy code.

4. Depression, reflection, and wondering about its performance

Sigh. I now have to actually learn this new feature, I wonder how well it performs.

This one always gets me. It’s almost always the first question developers ask about a new language feature? “Does it perform?”.

I think wondering about its performance is a waste of time. For your website which gets 100 visitors a day, yeah, it probably performs just fine.

The better question to ask is “Does my application perform well enough for my requirements?” And if it doesn’t then you start measuring, find the bottlenecks, and then optimize. Odds are your performance problems are not due to language features but to common higher level mistakes such as the Select N+1 problem.

5. The upward turn

Ok, my hard drive wasn’t formatted by this keyword. Maybe it’s not so bad.

At this point, developers start to realize that the new feature doesn’t eat kittens for breakfast and just might not be evil incarnate after all. Hey! It might even have some legitimate uses.

This is the stage where I think you see a lot of experimentation with the feature as developers give it a try and try to figure out where it does and doesn’t work well.

6. Code gone wild! Everything is a nail

I think we all go through this phase from time to time. At some point, you realize that this new feature is really very cool so you start to go hog wild with it. In your hands the feature is the Hammer of Thor and every line of code looks like a nail ready to be smitten.

Things can get ugly at this stage in a fit of excitement. Suddenly every object is anonymous, every callback is a lambda, and every method is generic, whether it should be or not.

It’s probably a good idea to resist this, but once in a while, you have to let yourself give in and have a bit of fun with the feature. Just remember the following command.

svn revert -R

Or whatever the alternative is with your favorite source control system.

7. Acceptance and obliviousness

At this point, the developer has finally accepted the language feature as simply another part of the language like the class or public keyword. There is no longer a need to gratuitously use or over-use the keyword. Instead the developer only uses the keyword occasionally in cases where it’s really needed and serves a useful purpose.

It’s become a hammer in a world where not everything is a nail. Or maybe it’s an awl. I’m not sure what an awl is used for, but I’m sure some of you out there do and you probably don’t use it all the time, but you use it properly when the need arises. Me, I never use one, but that’s perfectly normal, perfectly fine.

For the most part, the developer becomes oblivious to the feature much as developers are oblivious to the using keyword. You only think about the keyword when it’s the right time to use it.

Conclusion

Thanks to everyone on Twitter who provided examples of language keywords that provoked pushback. It was helpful.

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