The A-Z of programming languages: Bourne shell

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Do you think there are too many programming languages? Maybe. But the ones that are good will survive and the ones that aren't will be seen as fads and go away. And who knows at the time which ones are which. They are like tools in a way; they are applicable in different ways. Look at any engineering field and how many tools there are. Some for very specific purposes and some quite general.

The issue is what set of libraries and methods are available to do all the things you want to do? Like the example I gave about mail files. There are dozens of things like that where you want to be able to process certain kinds of data. And so you want libraries to do things. For example, suppose you want a drawing package. And the question is: what do you want to use the drawing package for? If you are going to write programs to do that do you write them in Perl or Python or what. So it is going to be driven as much by the support these languages have in terms of libraries and sets of methods they have as it by the language itself.

If you were teaching up-and-coming programmers, what would you say? First, I would be somewhat intimidated because they all know more than I do these days! And the environments today are so much more complicated than when I wrote code. Having said that, the software engineering hasn't changed much over the years. The thing we practiced in the Unix group was if you wrote some code then you were personally accountable for that code working and if you put that code into public use and it didn't work then it was your reputation that was at stake.

In the Unix lab there were about 20 people who used the system every day and we installed our software on the PDP 11 that everyone else was using. And if it didn't work you got yelled at rather quickly. So we all tested our programs as much as we could before releasing them to the group. I think that this is important these days -- it's so easy in these large software projects to write code and not understand the environment you will be operating in very well, so it doesn't work when you release the code in the real world. Make sure you understand who is using your code and what they will use it for. If you can, go and visit your customers and find out what they are doing with your code. Also be sure to understand the environment that your program will be deployed into. Lastly, take pride in your code so that your peers and customers alike will appreciate your skill.

This story, "The A-Z of programming languages: Bourne shell" was originally published by Computerworld Australia.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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