Epic codefest: 7 programming languages in 7 days

We challenged our developers to learn Clojure, Scala, JavaScript, Ruby, Java, Kotlin, and Go in a day. Here's how easy it is to make the switch

Much of today's buzz is about alternative programming languages, and the pitch often emphasizes "increased developer productivity" (IMHO, a sham on multideveloper projects). As long as the language has garbage collection, strings, real types, and so on, it shouldn't matter. This means nearly anything at a higher level than C or its mangled Neanderthal cousin C++ should reap the same productivity out of your developers.

That said, a shiny new hammer will always be tempting to those who get infatuated with their tools. But to pitch a switch to another programming language, you need to prove to your boss that the transition costs aren't ridiculously high. Here I would agree with the proselytizers for change. It doesn't take much to train good developers to learn a new language -- so I decided to prove it.

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Most business apps are just big versions of what I like to call "Granny's Addressbook," a simple CRUD application that doesn't need to scale or be protected against cross-site scripting attacks because it lives on GrannyLAN. These apps take requests and write them to the database. They read from the database and display the results on a Web page. There's not much more to them.

Because of this, I tend to use Granny to evaluate new technologies. (See "Which freaking PaaS should I use?" and "Will the future be written entirely in JavaScript?" for examples of this.) Granny is also something my firm uses in its staff development program and to vet job applicants. No security, no search -- just something you should be able to bang out inside of a day depending on how carefully you code it.

So what better way to get a first look at the cost of switching programming languages than to turn Granny loose on a bunch of developers and break them in on a language and tools they've never used before?

Here are the results of this attempt to teach our developers seven languages in seven days. Armed with a pre-prepared PostgreSQL database and AJAX-y HTML, we implemented Granny as a "quintessential application" in Java, Kotlin, Ruby, Scala, Clojure, JavaScript (Node.js), and Go. You can find the list of GitHub URLs and basic instructions here.

These aren't necessarily "best practices," and with a 24-hour deadline, there are bound to be mistakes. Still, the code is a good idea of comparative implementations in the various languages, as you'll see.

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