You Can Write FORTRAN in any Language

A recent user-submitted CodeProject article took an interesting perspective on the VB.NET/C# divide by proposing that the culture of Visual Basic is not conducive to professional software development:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

Religious adherence to one methodology, whether it’s a language, IDE, environment, or approach-- is clearly not a good sign.

Also, your app photos are really, really cool!

I agree, mostly: a good programmer will write good code in any language, and a bad one will write crap in any language. But one of the marks of a good programmer, I think, is the ability to work effectively in different languages. So the programmers who are successfully switching have something going for them that the left-behind may not. I’m not saying that you have to switch languages all the time (or ever) to be a good programmer, just that switching shows a capacity that is indicative of good programmers.

I must agree with Dijkstra. It may be true that you can write bad code in any language but anyone who says you can write good code in Fortran has obviously never tried. Many VB programmers are moving to C# because they were C programmers originally or have been cross trained on Java. I have always lamented that the one worst effect of Microsoft winning the operating-system-war with IBM was that Basic and not Rexx became the approved macro language. Microsoft itself added to these problems by including a book in the MSDN by some programmers in their professional services (don’t remember the exact name - something about “Advanced” or “Expert” VB programming) that was filled with the worst advice I have ever seen in any programming book. I routinely instructed juniors to read it and do exactly the opposite! I recall a very good VB3 programmer who could program circles around most and had tens of thousands of lines of code that worked and did amazing things and he was completely unable to understand even the weakened OOP support in VB4. On the good side think what an opportunity this presents for those positioned to offer an alternative to VB.Net! (Could TruBasic be the answer?) But for the hardcore that still feel the sting of the blade and the hot breath of Microsoft on the back of their neck the VBRun resource center will remain only cold comfort.

Fads come and go, good programmers remain.

Also, your app photos are really, really cool!

Aw, shucks! Thanks. Data Loom, at least, you can even download and use for yourself, if so inclined:

Great post! I saw your comment in mine and thought I’d respond. When I was a VB 6 developer, I wrote kick ass code.

At that time, Java just happened to be a better development environment (that whole OO thing), so I tried to switch to J++, MS abandonded it, then it was back to VB 6.

Later, when .NET came out, I switched to C#, because I liked the syntax similarity to Java.

So in that respect, I agree that you can write great code in any language, by the standards of that language. I don’t think C# is somehow intrinsically “better” than “VB.NET”.

However, culture can play an important role. Java built up a solid community that really focused on good OO practices and design patterns. I personally think a lot of devs like C# for its similarity to Java (and I think now C# has surpassed Java).

So it may well be a phenomena that a lot of great devs moved from VB 6 to C# instead of VB.NET. But I think this is due to the sense and culture around C# based on its likeness to Java.

VB.NET doesn’t intrinsically encourage worse coding. Under the hood, they are hardly different at all.

Assembly ftw

I think I mostly disagree with Dijkstra (despite his name being pounded into me as an undergrad). I think you can certainly write good code in ANY (well-formed/mature) language.

However, I think that there are some algorithms/apps/tasks that can be written more efficiently/effectively in one language over another. For instance, if I’m going to be doing a lot of text parsing, I could certainly do it well in both VBScript (ASP) and Perl, as both support RegEx and have string classes, etc. However, the Perl version is almost certainly going to be more concise and (probably) run better, while the ASP version is could be more readable and supports some propietary COM object (or whatever).

Unfortunately in that respect, many coding groups are one-language shops, so knowing that one language is better for a task is irrelevant. So often times when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail.

Of course, one could also argue that VBScript isn’t a well-formed/mature language, and for VB6 and earlier one might have a good argument. I think VB.NET has made great strides in improving VB, and I would hope most programmers who have used it realize that.

I come from VB6 and as soon as .Net got released i switched to VB.Net, recently i had to learn C for my job, the next day i started coding in C# instead of VB.NET and never went back. I agree that you can accomplish the same when you target .Net with C# and VB.NET, but C# is special, it has the C syntax which is unbeatable and powerful.

I’m proud to code in a C style language.

What about Ratfor/Ratfiv? They make Even the worst Fortran IV/77 better. Besides, have you tried a Fortran other than 77? 90/95/05 (and soon 08) make things better too.

I was hoping to see some FORTRAN on Rails code here!

As Xavier said, I hear modern fortran is 5 generations away from its’30 year old ancestor.


your orange tastes like chicken

My background is finance and art. Programming became a true passion when I understood how functional it was and creative you could truly be. Having an engineer father, I was drawn to “logical” things for creative outlets. I also programmed in basic as a kid.

I think the single largest influence in my growth from “hey look what I did” to “comment the hell out of your work make sure it’s elegant, readable and functionally efficient” was having to support hundreds of programs for years and years and a driving need to grow my business. Having a solid foundation and understanding of good programming practice has certainly moved us closer to the 10x mark (thanks Steve for the wisdom and Jeff for the suggestion).

Many years ago the firm I worked for switched from FORTRAN77 to Ada as the main programming language for it’s drawing office software. We all thought we were the bee’s knees, producing excellent object code and all that.

However, we had no proper training so when, after a few months, we reviewed our code we realised that we’d still being writing FORTRAN - but with Ada syntax!

Having done both VB and C#, I can tell you first-hand that the culture difference is the driving force. My coworkers who liked elegant, maintainable code tended to prefer C#; those who just wanted to make it work tended to prefer VB.

“While I appreciate the idea that the culture around a language can influence you, the implication that choosing the “wrong” language can somehow cripple your professional development is disturbing. This concept is known in linguistic circles as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It proposes that the vocabulary and syntax of our language guide and limit the way we see the world: form dictates content.”

This immediately reminded me of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.

Very good article!.. I agree, PHP may have its downfalls, but all can be resolved with good coding practices, and future releases. The same thing has happened with dozens of other “non-professional” languages. Also, PHP is easy to configure and install, regardless of the machine it is on, and all of its weaknesses are well-documented, with work-arounds readily available to everyone. An environment where you can make mistakes will teach you not to make them more effectively than one where mistakes are impossible, or unlikely.

To use an analogy:
Fancy running shoes won’t make you a sprinter, the best ingredients in the world won’t make you a chef and world-class paints and paintbrushes won’t make you an artist… only hard work, practice, patience and talent can.

And I say this coming from a Java programming background.

the more abstracted a language becomes from the hardware it runs upon, the more nonsensical it becomes, until you reach the point where there is more fluff and comments than there is working code. COBOL was an early example of this principle.

writing an algorithm is a separate process from actually coding it. the language used imposes artificial constraints upon the expression of that algorithm. the best programmers i have known or knew of used a great many different languages.

this current fad of writing programs using a certain approach (object oriented, top-down, etc) seem to impose greater limits than the choice of any particular language. again, COBOL was an early example of attempts to formalize how people should approach programming. any language that attempts to impose ‘good programming habits’ could therefore be considered COBOL’s modern-day successor.

comment: insert capitalization at some later date…

The point Dijkstra completely missed is that FORTRAN users aren’t trying to win academic points in an ivory tower. We’re trying to solve real-world engineering problems. And we do that very well, thankyouverymuch.