PyconAU, Go, and a bit of l'esprit de l'escalier

Yesterday I went to Pycon Australia in Sydney. It was a great conference; well-organized, great speakers, and a fun crowd. I used to write a lot of Python code professionally, so it was both interesting and rewarding for me to get back in touch with the Python community.

I signed up for one of the lightning talk slots at the end of the day, with the contentious title “Love Python? Try Go!” When I asked a friend if it was inappropriate to give a talk about Go at a Python conference, he replied “Giving your talk without pants on is inappropriate. Talking about Go is just obscene!” Undeterred, I prepared and delivered my talk anyway (see the slides).

The talk was surprisingly well-received (I didn’t get booed off the stage). There was the requisite heckling from my friends and colleagues in the front row, but when they judged each of the talks by applause I got a reasonable showing (I expected stony silence).

My talk sparked a number of conversations at the pub afterwards. Were I to do the talk again there are some things I would have done differently:

  • I wouldn’t make such a big deal about static typing.

It turns out that Python programmers like dynamic typing. A lot. Python’s run time typing errors just don’t seem to be a big deal to most Python programmers.

This surprised me, because my number one peeve with dynamic languages is how fragile the code feels. In Go, I can fearlessly refactor code with the confidence that most silly mistakes will be caught by the compiler. I have never had the same confidence when writing Python code.

One counter-argument is that good tests will catch those same kinds of errors. This is true to some extent, but I contend that static type checking saves time during develpoment, too. Unless you write your tests up front (I don’t) you won’t get that important benefit in a dynamic language.

But I digress. The “static vs dynamic typing” discussion is deep and subtle, which makes it a poor choice for a 5-minute lightning talk. I should have left it out.

  • I would have somebody thoroughly proofread my slides.

On the slide about fast compilation I stated that “Typical programs build in <1 second,” except I used a greater-than sign by mistake. That got a laugh, at least, even if I didn’t know why at the time.

  • I would make the point that programming languages are not a religion and that language choice is not a zero-sum game.

Learning a new programming language does not mean you forget the other ones; it just makes you a better programmer by giving you more options and experience.

The intent of my talk was not to coax programmers away from Python to Go. I wanted to tell people about Go and show that it offers some real benefits over other languages for some tasks. While I personally prefer to use Go over other languages for pretty much anything, I certainly don’t expect that everyone should feel the same. I’m not a Go zealot (or a troll), and I hope I didn’t come across that way. :–)

Software systems are mostly heterogeneous, particularly in the web world. For example, Python programs consist of a lot of C code, and most Python web apps are deployed behind a web server written in C. Were I giving the talk again, I would focus on the benefits of adding Go to your software development toolset, and give some real examples of systems that use both Python and Go.

So, in conclusion, if you’re a Pythonista with the need for speed and/or concurrency – or you’re just interested in learning something quite different and new – I (once more) encourage you to try Go. It may not replace Python in your day-to-day life but – like any new tool – it might just make your life easier.

Good starting points are my Real World Go talk and the Go documentation. And, if you’re in Sydney, come along to the Sydney GTUG on Tuesday the 30th of August where Rob Pike and I will be giving a couple of Go presentations.

8088 views and 8 responses

  • Aug 22 2011, 1:27 AM
    fluxforge responded:
    A little anecdote about static vs dynamic from the Apple world:

    Even though Objective-C's message dispatch is dynamic/duck typed the new default behavior of Apple's developer tools is to throw a hard compile error when you send a message to an object that the compiler doesn't know about it understands the message. (The old behavior was just to show a warning - which was pretty much always ignored by the developer.)

    This might seem like a small change but it forces you to write cleaner code keep your interface definitions up to date. (Big Obj-C projects could get messy really fast if you didn't watch out. A problem all dynamic languages seem to have.)

  • Aug 22 2011, 5:47 AM
    Eleanor McHugh responded:
    Go is less a statically typed language than it's a dynamic language with a statically bounded type space. This is one of the points I work very hard to try and get across in my presentations to Ruby audiences as it demonstrates that Go can elegantly solve the same class of problems though it might occasionally require a different approach to do so.

    I can even conceive of a Go implementation which allowed dynamic type creation as part of a lightweight metaprogramming model without losing any of the existing character of the language. That would be the best of both worlds :)

  • Aug 22 2011, 4:48 PM
    Steve Dekorte responded:
    "(Big Obj-C projects could get messy really fast if you didn't watch out. A problem all dynamic languages seem to have.)" What is your evidence for this claim? It contradicts my personal experience and what I've seen of dynamic vs static language projects doing similar things. e.g. Compare the relative elegance of Cocoa's UI frameworks to nightmare of Taligent's C++ or Sun's Java UI frameworks. Static languages tend to result in geometric explosions of constructors, collection types, etc.
  • Dec 21 2011, 9:11 AM
    fmalina (Twitter) responded:
    Go has speed and concurrency. Python has readability. PyPy has both. I saw the future predicted on my favourite TV show, so it must be true: See, make sure to check the "what" link ;)
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  • Jul 8 2012, 12:14 PM
    Gregory Nicholas liked this post.
  • Aug 30 2012, 8:38 PM
    Maxim responded:
    Andrew, the slide link is broken.
  • Apr 26 2013, 11:11 PM
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