[erlang-questions] The Beauty of Erlang Syntax

Gordon Guthrie <>
Wed Feb 25 20:07:53 CET 2009


Michael Richter wrote:

> Why do you think people stay away from functional programming languages in
> droves?

The most popular programming language in the world is the spreadsheet
- and it is a Functional Programming Language...

The correct way to frame that question is:
"given that non-functional programmers are such a tiny minority of the
worlds' programmers, how come they dominate the professional and
vocational sector of programmers so heavily?"

Gordon

2009/2/25 Michael Richter <>:
> I would like to ask a multi-part, but rhetorical, question of the list:
>
> Why do you think people stay away from functional programming languages in
> droves?
>
> Is it because they're too stupid to understand them?
> Is it because of an evil cabal of IT Illuminati who are trying to squelch
> the true freedom of the programming masses?
> Is it because the functional languages available do not seem to meet their
> needs, whatever those may be?
> Is it because the fans of functional languages often come across as
> religious fanatics preaching the One True Way <tm> of programming?
> Is it some combination of the above?
>
> My own answer to the question is a #5 with a strong skew toward the higher
> numbers.
>
> #1 (the one that's becoming uncomfortably common in this thread, albeit with
> muted wording) is a little too arrogant for my tastes.  There are an awful
> lot of awfully smart people who not only use but make imperative languages
> out there.  I'm not willing to casually dismiss them as too stupid to
> understand the One True Way of the Lambda.  There is something they see in
> the various stateful, imperative models that seems useful to them.  Are you
> really so smart as to be able to casually dismiss them?  If so, may I please
> read your Ph.D. thesis for the stunning insights into computing and humanity
> that it undoubtedly contains?
>
> #2 I'm less willing to stray from (with less gonzo wording), although I
> think the threat is largely overblown.  There are indeed vendors of IT
> products that make a killing from selling methods of complexity management
> that would not like it if functional languages came on the scene in a big
> way.  (I mean UML--and the multi-billion dollar consulting industry that
> feeds off it--would be dead overnight.)  I'm sure that they do apply some
> pressures in the form of subtle FUD that keep people hooked on their drug.
> I don't think, however, that they're as big a force as some people seem to
> be thinking here.
>
> #3 is the biggest one, I think.  Others' needs are not necessarily what you
> think they are.  Business needs, for example, are things like "this software
> has to hit market in X amount of time".  For all the talk of how productive
> functional programming languages are you are forgetting one important item:
> the company has trained IT staff familiar with its problem domain and not
> familiar with functional programming on hand now.  They have a choice:
> retrain their IT staff to do functional programming for dubious (to them)
> benefits while not making any progress in their products and facing risks of
> the benefits not materializing; or go with the Devil they know where the
> risks are (in their minds) known to them.  (Another option, of course, is to
> just dismiss their entire IT staff and replace them with functional
> programmers who don't know the problem domain.  Functional programmers who
> don't exist in any sufficiently large number to actually do this.)
>
> #4, sadly, comes a disconcertingly close second.  Want to see an overblown
> version of how functional programmers come across at times?  Read some of
> these gems from one of the more outspoken members of the lisp community:
>
> http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/e5af8ef3f88dd39c
> http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/b8aa5b537cf11bb4?pli=1
> http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/7060ad1dc1defc9c
> http://groups.google.com/group/comp.lang.lisp/msg/e65326618bbca892
>
> Keep in mind, too, that this man is lionized by a lot of the people in
> comp.lang.lisp.  Is it really Microsoft and Sun's marketing that makes C#
> and Java popular?  Or is it the behaviour of the other communities that
> drives away potential converts?
>
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