Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and..

Mario Wolczko mario.wolczko at sun.com
Thu Aug 6 18:23:01 UTC 2009

Weighing in a day late, as I only get the digest version...

> If you believe Self is the language of simpilicty you either: 1)  
> Have lost all touch with what it means to be a beginner; or, 2) You  
> are way too close to the language to see how it looks to people who  
> program with other tools.

I could not disagree more, and I have ample supporting data to prove  
my point.

A long time ago (1987-1993), I taught Smalltalk to a large number of  
people (hundreds, in groups of ten). Experience levels varied from  
beginner (ie did not know any programming at all) to wizened  
graybeard.  The beginners had the least problem with Smalltalk. As  
experience level increased, generally speaking difficulty increased,  
because too much mental energy was expended on either (a) trying to  
understand Smalltalk concepts in terms of the familiar ones of  
location, address, pointer, etc, or (b) trying to figure out how the  
implementation worked from first principles, or (c) [related to (b)]  
why it could never be efficient and hence would always be a toy and  
their jobs as C/S3/assembler/.. programmers were secure.  There were  
exceptions, of course, but this trend was clear.

When I left that position to join the Self group, my successors took  
on the task of using Self (UI1!) in place of Smalltalk to introduce  
object-oriented programming, and the data suggested that for beginners  
indeed the learning process was smoother.  (I say "suggested" because  
the classes ran only a few times - not enough to draw statistically  
valid conclusions - but the anecdotal and numerical evidence was  
fairly convincing.)

That's not to say that either system is simple. The point is that  
through a process of gradual disclosure the typical person can become  
an effective programmer, and they rarely encounter insurmountable  
obstacles, or have shocking surprises (with some notable exceptions,  
such as the metaclass hierarchy in Smalltalk).


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