Very High Level Language – So what?

When I first heard about Python I thought this is just great. I have had to listen to countless conversations about Java vs. C# and now we have to go through it all again with Python thrown in. I know Python is older than Java, but I only came across it after C++, Java etc. Python and Ruby are described as being Very High Level Languages (VHLL). When I heard that term for the first time I thought here comes another meaningless, yet ubiquitously used acronym. At first I did not pay much attention to these languages. I was very familiar with Java, C# and PHP. I figured Ruby and Python could not be too different from these languages. And sure, I may have been caught up in some Microsoft sales propaganda…

As with many developers, it was Rails that pushed me into learning Ruby. From the start, I really enjoyed Ruby – and still do. Dynamic scripting is a real eye-opener! Although I was enjoying this new dynamic paradigm, I still did not see much value in calling it a Very High Level Language.

This all changed at SPA. I attended “Agile Development for the Web and Elsewhere: A Tutorial in Python” presented by Nick Efford. In my opinion, this was the best session at SPA. Well organised and the content was spot on. It was a 6 hour session and Nick made many valuable points. He also explained the VHLL concept in great way. This was done with the use of this simple and effective slide.

Mental-model

This is when I had my first real VHLL a-ha! moment. Nick had placed Python and Ruby in a different class to Java and C#! I had realised that these languages were dynamically typed while Java and C# are (mostly) statically typed. I knew I was not comparing apples with apples, but I thought I was comparing apples with oranges. It turns out that I was comparing apples with apple pie.

When coding in C# you do not need to worry about the low level details that a C programmer needs to be concerned about. Similarly, when programming in Ruby you should not be concerned about the low level details that a C# programmer needs to worry about. Most of us are aware of the low level details a C programmer is faced with e.g. garbage collection. Now what low level details are there at the C#\java level? We can explore this with a simple example.

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