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Coding in a new language I am not familiar with

entrptaher profile image Md. Abu Taher 👨‍💻 ・3 min read

Have you ever solved a problem using a language you are not familiar with? You did, either when you were beginner or you wanted to experiment with some language.

Consider this scenario,

We have to create a function which does the following,

  • takes in two arrays of strings
  • if any of them is empty, returns -1
  • find the largest gap between array ones largest string and array twos smallest string.
  • find the largest gap between array twos largest string and array ones smallest string.
  • return the length of which ever of those two is bigger.

Pretty straightforward and simple problem. You can probably write the solution just with a quick try.

function maxDifference(a1, a2) {
  if(!a1.length || !a2.length) return -1;

  const list = []
  for(let n1 of a1){
    for(let n2 of a2){

  return Math.max(...list)
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Pretty interesting, however to make it much more interesting, I decided to write this using nim, a fairly new language which still did not even reach first version. What's more interesting is, I don't have almost any knowledge about it.

After some crude tries, I could write the following working code,

proc maxDifference*(s1, s2: seq[string]): int =
  if (len(s1) == 0 or len(s2) == 0):
    return -1

  var z : seq[int] = @[]

  for i, e in s1.pairs:
    for j, f in s2.pairs:
      z.add(abs(len(e) - len(f)))

  return max(z)
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The difference in run time between two was also noticeable, While nim took some time to compile, it ran faster just because it's not interpreting it.

➜  time ./difference
./nimtest  0.00s user 0.00s system 79% cpu 0.001 total

➜  time node difference.js
node difference.js  0.04s user 0.00s system 101% cpu 0.043 total
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I know I know, comparing a systems language with JavaScript is frown upon. I am just sharing the experience I had. It could be some other language.

I remember once I solved my friends C++ assignment without knowing a single piece of C++ code, or help python kids solve their coding problem without looking into python codebase.

Nim is a bit similar to python, I knew a bit of python, it's obvious I was able to write the code. Pretty impressive of me, patting my own back.

But reason why I am sharing is the how I could write a solution without knowing the syntax much.

Here is the biggest secret,

Programming is not about a language, it's about solving a problem.

Steps I took:

  • First I tried to find how to write an array. @[], truly this was a pain to find out it won't work unless I wrote seq[int] for type.
  • Then I tried to add some value to the array. array.add(value).
  • I saw I could find length of array using len.
  • I checked the documentation of for loop with index and value.
  • I figured the if and or is gonna be pretty straightforward.

Of course I had to search a lot and fail a lot.

The nim in action book is good, but it's the age of videos. Right now there is not a single crash course about nim on the youtube. I had to rely on the documentation and forum, which means there are opportunities for this.

Next time I will try rust and crystal. Both are fairly new to me. I am just playing around with cool stuff and will probably give up at some point.

Do you have any such experience? How did you tackle that?

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