A Bold Claim Explained

Two days ago, I tweeted:

Vastly oversimplified opinion: all programming languages are the same.

It is, of course, vastly oversimplified, but borne out of the continuous education I’ve dedicated myself these past few weeks, and of conversations I’ve had with recruiters and potential employers alike.

But I Digress…

As I’ve written about in this space, I have been studying Python. Two weeks ago, I created a repository for an app I named py-bgg, and my goal was to use it as a place to commit my experiments with the language, and refamiliarize myself with some general web development concepts such as API development and database schema design, which I wrote a bit about in my last update.

The main foundation of the py-bgg project is built on Flask, a web framework. To get started, I needed to learn a little bit about how Flask’s routing system worked. Since my app was going to connect to BoardGameGeek, that I’d be pulling down information about users and their collections of games, and that I’d like to reference that data locally, I knew I needed to create a database schema as well. I’d need to know how to connect Flask to my data source, and also how to query against it.

This wasn’t much for a small project: a web framework, a database, some custom routes, and then some basic templates using Jinja2. Somewhere along the way, a friend of mine mentioned he liked working with flask-smorest, a Python module that includes SQLAlchemy and Marshmallow, the former an SQL Toolkit and Object Relational Mapper (ORM), and the latter a library for serializing and deserializing object data.

This introduced a few problems for me. First and foremost, I haven’t worked with an ORM before. As soon as I started integrating flask-smorest with my project, I quickly felt a bit over my head. Suddenly, I wasn’t just learning Python and a web framework, but I was also learning about ORMs and how they replace the need to write database queries (a negative for me, in some ways, since part of this project was to reacquaint myself with writing them), and how to incorporate a serialization/deserialization library into all of it.

Thankfully, some peers in my tech community are also teaching themselves Python right now, and one person in particular and I had both come across “The Flask Mega-Tutorial” by Miguel Grinberg. Chapter 4 in the series talked about SQLAlchemy and ORMs. Unfortunately for me, I was working on a custom app with an incomplete understanding of what I was doing, and I needed to understand how to tear apart the work I had done to that point just to get things back up and running again.

I’m here to report that I eventually got there, and about a week ago, I got my app into a basic state that includes some forms with which to interact to connect to the BoardGameGeek API, pull down some user data, and display a user’s list of games at a particular route. It’s neither production-ready nor something I would ship, but it has served its initial purpose, which was to help me gain some familiarity with how things are done.

All Languages Are The Same

Since I created that initial Python app, I started having ideas for other things I can build, and what else I want to learn next.

I started a small project that involves creating a WordPress plugin to publish my content to an external API, with the idea that I might someday convert this very site to a headless implementation.

I revisited the PHP web framework, Laravel, and as I examined its architecture, thought about building basic web forum software so I could gain a better understanding of how it functions.

I started teaching myself Node.

Through all of this, I came to the conclusion that, beyond standards and syntax, there isn’t any meaningful difference between languages — particularly in the context of software development for the web.

Most web applications require routing so that it loads an expected set of data when visitors access a given URL. They need one or more data sources to store and access information. They often require a caching layer so routes can load that data quickly. They might need user authentication and role-restricted access to some data. They need templates to present that information, styles to make things look nice and interactions to make the app delightful to use. And they need well-structured information architecture on both sides of the application so it’s logical for users and developers alike.

The languages that power the services we all use — PHP, Python, Go, Node, Java, .NET, Ruby, and so on — each contain modules as part of their standard libraries to achieve common tasks. Every language is going to have a way for importing libraries, for scanning filesystems, for connecting to data sources, and for reading and writing to files. The basics of computer science — expressions, conditional statements, data structures, design patterns, algorithms, and so on — are all transportable between languages, leaving you only the syntax and the standards left to discover on your own. On the web, an app is an app is an app, and at some point, it’s all a matter of defining the right tool for the job.

I’ve been having a lot of fun learning Python in particular. This week, I’m giving Node.js the long-overdue attention it deserves. Next week, I might give Go a try. While the syntax will change, the needs of a given project won’t truly fluctuate much.

Next up, figuring out how I can convey that in interviews so I can land my dream job, even if it happens to require a language I don’t yet know.