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C'est la Z

Use A Real Language

Why can't we use a real language!

This topic has been coming up a lot recently. Now I'm not talking about the Drag and drop vs textual language thing. Let me be clear. To me a Drag and Drop language can certainly be a real language and many are. I also think they're terrific when used correctly. I just think they're frequently misapplied in later grades.

No, I'm talking about people asking things like "Why do we have to use Java in our class, why can't we use a real language like __." Or at Hunter, I might get "Why do we have to use C++, why can't we use Java." Back at Stuy I'd get the same question about Scheme and Netlogo. It actually doesn't really matter what language you use. Someone else, usually a non-teacher always knows better.

All of this reminded me of when I was young.

I started with BASIC and then in high school programmed Fortran IV using punch cards on an IBM 1130. At the time BASIC was considered a toy language and Fortran IV not to mention punch cards were yesterday's technology. I also took APCS the first year it was offered and that's where I learned Pascal.

I then went to NYU - The Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. There we also used Pascal as the core language. That was the language used in CS1, Data Structures, and Algorithms. It was also the default language for other classes. That is, unless the class lent itself to a specific language such as Lisp for AI you'd probably use Pascal. I learned C early on in my college career and also took classes that used Ada, and 8088 Assembly. I mostly tried to stick with

  1. It was the hot language at the time and all the cool kids were

using it. Some kids continued to use Pascal but it was universally derided. It wasn't a "real language." Nobody used it for anything serious.

Senior year it was time to look for a job. I ended up going to Goldman Sachs and developed for PCs running Windows 2.1 in C. They also hired a bunch of college grads to program the Stratus systems in PL1 and Cobol programmers for the mainframes. This was around 1989. Goldman and most other big companies started you in a training program. I already knew C but they ran a crash course for my group. They did the same for the Cobol kids although most of them had learned it in their business schools. The PL1 kids were grouped in with the C and Cobol groups and had to figure out PL1 on their own once they were assigned teams.

My story tough, isn't about Goldman. It's about another big bank I interviewed with. I won't name them but it's a big firm that still exists today. I think they had at least a whole big building down on the street back when I interviewed but I don't remember. The interview process was tough and thorough. We talked about the firm, what they did, the platforms they developed and of course they drilled me on what I brought to the table. The funny thing was that their entire PC platform was built in, yep, you guessed it, Turbo Pascal.

Here was a really respected financial firm doing really interesting tech and they were using that fake toy language that no kid would ever use for real.

So there you have it. All this "it's not a real language" stuff is largely nonsense. If it can solve your problem it's real. If it can teach your concept it's real. The rest is nonsense.

As a side note, my first programming gig was in the mid 1980s for a ticket printing company - Arcus Simplex Brown. I worked on a computer ticket printing system for them. It was in BASIC and ran on a little PC running CP/M with a big line printer. Best I could figure they were still using the same system in 2012.

So, don't get caught up with someone else's opinion of what's a real language just make sure your students are getting what they need.

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