Hello Polyglot Ninja!

If you’re like me, a programming / coding enthusiast, you would probably also start an introductory blog post with a “Hello World!” just like this one:

print("Hello World!")

So who am I? I am nobody significant, at least not yet. But I have big dreams. I learned programming out of passion. I started professionally with PHP, then learned Python and did a good amount of front end and backend Javascript on and off. These days, I mostly introduce myself as a full time Python developer. But deep inside, I am a Polyglot developer.

Who is a Polyglot Developer?

The word “Polyglot” refers to a person who knows and can use multiple languages. From that, we can safely assume that a person who is well versed in multiple programming language is a Polyglot Developer. We often see people around us say they are “PHP Developer”, “Python Developer”, “JavaScript Developer” etc. But hey, anyone working in the web industry for so long, probably knows JavaScript anyway. And if he’s using another language (ie. Ruby) in the backend, he knows 2 languages, right? So most of the full stack developers are polyglot anyway.

There are  people who love exploring new languages out of curiosity and passion. Learning a new language often teaches you new ways of thinking. You’re challenged to think in a different way. And as you gradually learn new techniques and arts to overcome these challenges, you become a better developer from inside. Clojure made me use map, reduce, filter and use recursions to iterate over a sequence – these were enlightenment to me. Soon I realized I have started applying the very same concepts in my Python code. The new ideas / concepts we come across in our newly found languages, we tend to bring them back to the languages we use day to day. And that very often results in better code.

Why should I become a Polyglot developer?

In the early days of my programming career, I had the very same question. Why should I “waste” my time learning Python if I can build all sorts of websites in PHP?

It is with experience and exploration, that I learned not every tool is suitable for every task. And programming is not just about building websites – there are so much more. Every programming language, every framework, every tool, every platform has it’s own use case. Remember – if X had no purpose, it would not have been created in the first place. And if Y has a decent user base / popularity, that means it at least does something better than the other available options.

You can not build a house just by using a hammer, or even if you can, you will have to go through a lot of agony, do extra work and the end result might not be good enough. Think. Every tool has it’s strength and a wise man uses the right tool for the job. He would use a Saw to cut through wood, not the hammer.

If you think about the use cases, you will notice, Python is very popular in Data Science and Machine Learning. There’s a very popular eco system of libraries, frameworks and lots of resources around Python in the machine learning or data science. While Ruby or say PHP can be used to implement some of the algorithms, it will be pain to do so. You will not find suitable, existing, matured libraries. Ruby or PHP will often be slow compared to Numpy or other libraries which are implemented internally in C. So if you’re smart, you would probably choose Python for such tasks. Python is also very popular in Web, System Administration, Desktop GUIs etc.

On the other hand, if you want to do front end of websites, you can not escape Javascript. Of course you can use TypeScript, ClojureScript – but to use them, you still need a certain level of basic knowledge of JS. And not to forget, those languages actually transpile to JS, that is they parse your code and produce JS from them.

If you’re into Big Data, Java/Scala is very prominent in that sector. Go and Rust are getting popular for performance and concurrency. Elixir is making web development fun again with it’s Phoenix framework. There’s a lot of programming languages – and none of them are truly useless. They all bring something to the table at the end of the day. And each one teaches us something new, improves our way of thinking.

But I can’t learn them all!

That is true. You can not learn them all, right now. But over time, with experience, you will be able to learn and get used to a significant number of popular programming languages. Also you probably don’t need to learn all of them either. If you come across a problem that can be best solved by a certain language, go ahead and learn it. Don’t just learn the syntax and the standard library, learn to write idiomatic code in the language. It will take time, give it time, don’t rush. Keep practising, you will get there.

 A Word of Caution

You want to become a Polyglot developer – we all do. That is a good thing. But don’t switch to a language because of the hype. Don’t start learning a language just because it’s a hip thing. Take your time, evaluate the language, check out the syntax, see what problems it can solve better, check out the community, maturity of the language and the eco system. Overall, think if learning the language would benefit you in anyway. You should only learn a language that you can use to solve a problem better. if you know PHP and you need to create a simple dynamic webpage, NodeJS won’t probably help you much.

Another very important thing would be learn one language very well before you start moving to the next one. When we learn our first language, we are not only learning a programming language but we’re also getting to know the concepts of programming for the first time. So take your time, learn all the concepts in depth. Gain some significant experience before exploring other languages.

 Which language should I start with?

You will get different suggestions on this one – some will say C, some will recommend Python, some people will advise Java and so on.

If you’re in your early days of programming, learning C has it’s benefits. You can better understand how things work under the hood. So do try C first and if you think you can pursue it, go ahead and get a good basic of C and C++.

If you didn’t like C – it looked very difficult and kind of scared you with all the memory management and pointer stuff, do try Python. It is a much nicer language, easier to get started.

When you have learned either of them well, go ahead and learn some new languages. May be Java? Golang? Rust? Well, everyone has his own preference. So make your own choice, try those languages and their use cases, pick the one you like for the job you want to use it for. Always remember – “right tool for the right job”.

 Where should I learn?

I will try to provide in depth guidelines / resources for different programming languages in the coming days. For now, Google for a good book and learn the syntax and standard library. There are plenty of free resources online. Once you have learned the basics, start solving problems on Hacker Rank or CodeWars. if you’re stuck or need help, ask in StackOverflow or Google for more. A good search engine like Google is a lifetime friend of a developer. So better get friendly with it. Learn some good techniques to find results fast. It will help you a lot in your coming days!

Where to go next?

Keep practising. Keep reading. Follow other fellow programmers on Twitter, see what they are up to. May be subscribe to some programming related sub reddits too?

And of course, don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list. I don’t spam, you can unsubscribe any time. I shall be sending new post updates, essential guidelines and cool tips and tricks.

Happy learning!