Journey to Clojure I

For the past year, I’ve been using Clojure as my go-to hobby language.


I tried thinking back to my first lisp experiences. It must have been eight years ago, finally sitting down and doing some Lisp programming.

I’d seen this XKCD¬†before, or maybe this one, but read passing comments connecting it with AI. It had parentheses. It was an old language that refused to die. People were passionate about it. And it had parentheses. And more parentheses.

I was a C++ programmer at an electronics startup at the time. I’d been there around a year, I’d settled on Emacs as my editor of choice. I’d learnt some Tcl, because that was a standard language in the electronics design industry at the time. And then I decided that I should probably learn what this Lisp thing was.

What had I learnt?

That Lisp at its root is simple. That it is powerful with unique macro features. That many modern implementations were weird and sometimes arcane. That there were a few famous examples of it’s use, such as Emacs, Autocad, Paul Graham.

That the Space-Cadet keyboard was a-fricking-mazing.

That languages didn’t have to be essentially un-parseable, like C++.

That people who studied Computer Science at university generally suffered through a term of lisp, (or maybe even SICP), before joyfully pursuing Java, or C, or C++, or Python. I’d studied Mathematics, I’d missed out on that.

So I moved on from the Lisps, the books went back to the libraries. I toyed with the idea of one day writing a DSL around a scheme interpreter. I came back, briefly, to Racket when I was looking for alternatives to PowerPoint. But generally I put Lisps out of my mind as intriguing but impractical.

I knuckled down on the C++.

Years later I moved onto a C# job. I kept learning other languages, because if there’s one thing that I think a professional programmer needs to be, it’s multi-lingual. Not to widen your job pool, but the vast benefit to be gained from appreciating the different idioms in different communities.

I played with Haskell, and Javascript, and Elixir (skimming over Erlang). I read about but then skipped PHP and Perl. I learnt SQL from necessity. I did some useful work in F#. I dipped into many others.

I learnt my weaknesses, and then worked on my weaknesses as a programmer. I learnt the naivety of believing that a language is a silver bullet. And I learnt that a choice is still important.

And I rediscovered Clojure as one of my favourite languages. What had changed?

(Continue to Part 2.)



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