How (Programming) Languages Shape Problem-Solving

There is even evidence that a higher percentage of tonal language speakers (such as Mandarin and Vietnamese) have absolute pitch — the ability to label the musical pitch of an arbitrary sound — than those who are not speakers of tonal languages.

³ The design of a language has immense power to affect its speakers and their way of perceiving the world.

An influential linguist Edward Sapir once wrote that “The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same worlds with different labels attached.

”⁴ I believe this also apply to us as software engineers with programming languages: it is important for us as developers to invest the time and effort into learning unfamiliar programming languages.

For example, let’s say that you’re a junior iOS developer and have only ever read or written Swift, and never Objective-C.

There are programming paradigms that you’re missing out on.

⁵Objective-C and SwiftOne of the key differences between Objective-C and Swift is how functions are called.

Objective-C implements its functionality by passing runtime messages between objects whereas Swift function calls must be known at compile-time.

This has a few serious implications: it’s possible to compile and execute an Objective-C program where the object sending a message (i.


a function call) doesn’t know anything about the recipient of that message.

The opposite is also true: the object receiving a message may not know what to do with that message (i.


missing function declaration).

This means that in Objective-C, you don’t have to know what function call (i.


message) your code is going to make when you compile your app.

This messaging system (which can allow for a lot of abuse) enabled and continues to enable an incredible number of iOS and macOS applications and libraries that would not have been practical or even possible in Swift.

(This is how Dropbox placed those green checkmarks in Finder before the official API became available in OS X 10.

10 “Yosemite”).

Here is another example of what you’re missing out on if you’ve only ever written or read Swift:Async/AwaitUntil recently, I had never used the async/await pattern.

While I am intimately familiar with concurrency and the immense power of Grand Central Dispatch, I completely missed out on async/await.

One of the best things about working at Livefront is its emphasis on leadership in the software field and its future.

On my most recent R&D project, I’ve had an opportunity to learn and use JavaScript (ES6) on the Node.

js platform to puzzle together asynchronous network requests within a strict structure that I could not redefine (i.


an SDK).

This is usually not a challenge that I face in working with Swift and Objective-C given that I get to architect the asynchronous work in such a way that is both idiomatic and makes conceptual sense in my mind.

However, working within a strict confines of an SDK on a server architecture I had never used before (AWS Lambda) in a foreign language proved a challenge that necessitated me to put my head down and learn a totally new concept: async/await.

After exploring JavaScript’s built-in support for async/await (and Promises!), I realized that I had done something similar many times in the past in Swift using Grand Central Dispatch's DispatchGroup.

However, the key difference was that Swift does not have language-level support for the await in async/await.

(await prevents the execution of the code from continuing past the await keyword until the async has been resolved.

) This has the power to enable a meaningful order of asynchronous operations as well as avoiding potential callback hell that can arise even in the best of Swift codebases.

Let’s look at an example:Here is one (quite suboptimal) way in Swift to execute a similar operation only using Foundation:Clearly, this is why libraries like PromiseKit exist.

(At Livefront, we’ve written a thin wrapper around URLSession that allows Promise-like chaining of tasks and error catching for network operations.

) However, neither of these solutions enable the synchronous design that await provides should it be needed.

“The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same worlds with different labels attached.

” – Edward SapirHad I not ventured outside of my usual routine of dependency-free Swift to explore ES6 JavaScript, not only would I have missed out on this particular programming paradigm, but I would have also missed out on the mental/conceptual model of async/await.

Now that I’m familiar with this kind of control flow of combining asynchronous and synchronous code together, I have yet another tool in my toolbox that I can use at a moment’s notice in problem-solving.

And, even though I can’t natively use await directly in Swift, I can borrow concepts from async/await to implement new idiomatic solutions.

Finally()If you’re saying to yourself “but I already knew about async & await!”, that’s awesome!.And, you’re right: async/await is not a new idea.

It has existed in C# since Visual Studio 11 and as far back as 2007 in F#, but that’s the point!.I’ve learned many things exploring Ruby, Python, and JavaScript among other languages these past six months.

I can confidently say that there is some pattern, architecture, or even a language-level feature that you probably aren’t aware of, and I hope that you will continue to explore other languages and features that will make you a better developer.

Keehun loves to find.



ignorance)) at Livefront.

Footnotes¹ https://www.




gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583091/² http://www.




2019³ https://www.



htm⁴ https://www.


com/us/blog/the-biolinguistic-turn/201702/how-the-language-we-speak-affects-the-way-we-think⁵ If you are reading this, and you are a person who has only experimented with a single language (Swift or any other), I highly recommend you go check out other languages such as C++, Rust, Go, Java, R, C#, and Kotlin.

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