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Programming languages and death


I recently came across a blog post about trends and the top 5 languages that are 'dying'. The author hypothesized that you should avoid these languages at all costs and provided some evidence of why they think so. This topic is ripe with things to dig into but since its almost Halloween I want to focus on death.

Death is very black and white. You die and you no longer exist (physically for sure). There is no coming back. A lot of pain and suffering follows for everyone involved who remains. It is unfortunately something we all get to deal with one day. Programming languages don't really die. Some stop being used or become less popular but nothing is stopping you from using said language and its tooling. If it has been enough years perhaps it is not ready for modern development or for your machine but if you have enough energy and time you can resurrect a programming language from 'death'.

The whole problem with death and programming languages is its all opinions. You have to trust where and how these numbers are gathered to even start to moderately feel comfortable with the assumptions being made from said data. These dying languages came from compounding a few sources of data that could be reliable but I think they do not tell the full story. I use three of these dead languages all the time ;)

Here is the other side of the coin that I think is powerful. Even if a language is dying or becoming less popular a lot of value can be gained from it. Why did it get invented? Who invented it? Where does it chart in relation to features/paradigms in other languages? What can you learn from it? All these things are worth learning no matter what.

Back to death again - here is the funny thing with programming languages and frameworks. If it was popular enough even after
the buzz settles down - it's going to be in use for a long time. Perhaps it was used to build businesses? Or perhaps a company went all-in on it? Older things that work sometimes just get left alone or deprioritized in the corporate world and remain. Look at all the COBOL in banking. When did that language 'die'? I am currently supporting an API that uses SOAP for web services. When I google SOAP Google says it died on 10 July 2009. This is all too common in large businesses. Better things have been invented since SOAP but I think it is worthwhile to study it and understand:

  • why it was invented?
  • What problem was it attempting to solve?
  • Where was it successful?
  • Where did it fail?
  • Why did the masses move on from it?

How to approach any graph summarizing programming languages/frameworks:

1) Take every graph with a grain of salt and really try to understand how it came to be
2) Every dying or dead language or framework provides something to learn.
3) Dead or 'dying' languages can stick around long after the community has moved on
4) Unlike humans even dead languages get used and having knowledge of them is powerful

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