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Languages and DevOps: Recommendations By: Don Macvittie on April 16, 2021 Leave a Comment

In light of the points brought up in these articles, what is my advice for which language to use on a given project? The same advice I have always given development teams: Use the right tool for the job. My father was a woodworker, and drilled that concept into me. I brought it to development, and it is true. The difference is that “the right tool for the job” is a much more complex question in an existing IT environment than it is in woodworking. Whether you need a chisel or a screwdriver is immediately obvious. Whether Python or Go is the right tool … not so much. Things to consider:

Does the tool have a broad developer base?

This is the most straightforward question on this list. Can you get people to work in the language? I worked at a place that still had RPG III code running on a mainframe. We used to joke that those two retired developers in Australia were getting rich from maintaining it – and we still did some new development in the language. It was a bad choice that we moved away from. Maintaining the old while developing a new platform made sense. Packing any new functionality into a tool about which few knew the ins-and-outs, and even fewer were being trained for? Made no sense.

Does the tool specialize in, or have modules/add-ons that customize it for your target?

While at the 50,000-foot level, you can theoretically do any computing job in any language, that doesn’t make your preferred language a wise choice. Making certain the tool supports what you need to do is paramount. This is the closest to “right tool” thinking – does it do the job?

Is the developer base growing or shrinking?

While this is more important for longer-lived projects, you do want that developer base mentioned in the first point, above, to still be around. This extends to add-ons, also. If you choose ASP.NET today, will it be a solid choice tomorrow? (I’m not saying it won’t, here, just picked one framework to illustrate the point with).

Does the tool do what you want, or will you be working around faults to get there?

Honestly, you can – and people have done it – write websites in C. That doesn’t make it the right choice. You’ll end up spending more time getting around the fact that C is ill-suited to this task than you will developing the actual site. Assess the language with regard to how well it actually does the job you need to do. This is a different take than the second point, above – this is the “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” part.

Does the tool fit in your environment?

This is the one that far too many struggle with. New development teams want to bring the tool they’re most comfortable with, because it reduces development cycles in the short term. The issue here is simple. It is far easier to manage an environment that makes a conscious effort to keep our burgeoning number of tools, languages and libraries as controlled as possible. Introducing Go to develop servers, just because someone is excited about it, makes no sense if the entire environment is Node on the server side. Use the environment you have so you can maintain things more easily. Everything is more thoroughly vetted – from which add-ons to include through security – with the language an organization uses the most; take advantage of that. Start with, “We use Java in 70% of applications,” and then deviate from there only if you are moving toward a goal of moving off of Java (again, not saying you should, just an example).

As a New DevOps Person, Which Should I Learn?

Not so long ago, the ubiquitous advice to new developers was, “Learn Java!” It was everywhere, doing everything, even when it wasn’t the best tool for the job.

Similarly, that answer is now “Learn Python!” Of all the languages out there, it is the one used the most. I do not have data to back the following statement up, but I will bet most Dev people have used Python on one or more projects already, and a fair number of Ops people have, too. If Java is the past, Python is the future.

That said, check out companies where you would really enjoy working and see what they’re doing. Generally speaking, they’re not looking to hire Python developers if they are doing 70% of their coding in Go. I can’t recommend tailoring your learning to one or two organizations’ environment(s) (unless you already work at one of them), but consider the popular languages that have been listed in this series and learn the ones your target organizations use first.

All of these languages have free/cheap options for learning them. No one is stopping you from learning Go; indeed, there are websites whose purpose is to help you learn by doing. The same type of learning is available for most languages, with implementation details varying a bit. There are a wealth of great books available for all of them, also, if that is your preferred method of learning a new language.

In the end, learning a new language will never be a negative. It will help you be aware of the list above, and provide meaningful input in the inevitable “Is this the right tool?” conversations.

So, start with Python and then work through others. With one side note: if you lean toward the Ops side, know what different Ops tools require, and consider learning some of those, also. There is one prominent Ops platform that still uses TCL, for example, and we all know about CICS. So be aware of what might be needed, and at least be familiar with that.

And Keep Rocking It

Modern IT environments are unbelievably complex. From rights management to storage, to data gravity, to a wide array of languages and appliances – you and your teammates are keeping it all humming. Keep doing it. Learn new languages before they become necessary to your job, but never think you’re falling behind. If the company is still clipping along, you are the right person for the job.

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