The Loopers and the Algies

In my opinion there are two broad categories of programmers: the Loopers and the Algies.

The Algies hate duplication. Maybe above all else. Boilerplate is anathema to them, common patterns should be refactored so the parts that look almost-the-same-but-not-quite end up calling the same code. When Algies write C++, they use <algorithm>. They use itertools and functools in Python. They tend to like programming languages with first-class functions, that let you abstract, that let you collapse code. They loathe writing the same code over and over again.

Loopers don’t mind repetition as much. Their name comes from the way they write code: for, while, do/while loops and their equivalents everywhere. They end up writing the same loops over and over again, but they don’t mind. It’s not that they’re bad programmers – it’s just that all the things the Algies like? They think it makes their code more complex. Harder to understand. I actually saw one of them say during code review that this:

stuff = []
for x in xs:
    if condition(x):
        stuff.append(x)

Was simpler than this:

    stuff = [ x for x in xs if condition(x) ]

That’s how their brain works. A loop is… simpler. If it’s not evident by now, I’m an Algie through and through. Somebody asked me one day why I didn’t like C and the first thing that came to my mind was “C makes me repeat myself”.

It’s really hard to get people to agree on what good code actually is. I think most of us agree that we want our software to be maintaiable. Readable. But we all have different ideas on what each of those words mean. Take complexity for instance: we want less of it right? Well, that’s why the Loopers like for loops, in their opinion that reduces complexity. map, filter and reduce are complicated to them, whilst to me, they’re my bread and butter. Not only that, it’s my honest opinion that using algorithms reduces overall complexity. Fewer moving parts. Fewer things to reason about. Fewer bugs.

I think many programming language wars are mostly about people from very different philosophies arguing about things that are important to them that the other side just doesn’t understand. Go, for example, is quite clearly a language for Loopers. They don’t need generics, that would complicate the language. The moment I realised Go wasn’t for me was when I realised that without generics, there could be no Go equivalent of <algorithm> and that I’d have to write for loops. And I really don’t like writing for loops. You shouldn’t either. Unless you’re a Looper of course, and to each his own.

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4 thoughts on “The Loopers and the Algies

  1. cashann says:

    Very thought-provoking post, at least for me. I realized I don’t want to be a Looper anymore, because it is the very reason I find programming a pain every day. However, I think I need more starting points to build an Algie mindset. Could you recommend some books, presentations…? Thanks:)

    • atilaneves says:

      It depends on what languages you’re using right now. If you write C++ or Python you can start by trying to avoid explicit loops. Otherwise give one of the functional languages a try. I recommend any of the Lisp dialects.

      • cashann says:

        Mostly Python. I’m right about to give Lisp a run anyway, so it’s perfect 🙂

  2. […] like pretty much every other human on the planet, like to over-generalize. In keeping with tradition, there seems to be another schism amongst programmers, which is the ones […]

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