The 500 Programming Language Challenge

Are you a programmer? If so, then I have a challenge for you. I want you to become a programming linguist.

While making (somewhat slow so far) progress on my goal to program in 500 programming languages, it occurred to me that this could be a much more interesting project if I got more people involved.

I’m still aiming for my goal of writing about and in 500 different programming languages, but here’s my challenge to other programmers:

Write 500 different programs, in 500 different programming languages.

That’s it, that’s the whole challenge, well, with a couple of rules, I suppose:

  1. The 500 programs must be written after reading this post. No fair counting them if you’ve already (somehow) written 500 programs in 500 different languages, so they have to be new.

  2. The programs need to be semi-non-trivial. Something a little more advanced than “Hello, world.” To use one of my previous programs as an example, an implementation of the game of life is a semi-non-trivial program. Ideally the example will demonstrate some of the strengths of the language, as well.

  3. They languages used need to be different languages. It doesn’t count if you write in 500 different dialects of Basic, for example.

  4. Share your results with the world. Either post them on your own blog or put them on github, or whatever, just get them out there so other programmers can see and learn from them.

  5. Deadline: there isn’t one. Since this is a fairly long-term project, and I know varying people have varying amounts of free time for such a thing, I’m not putting any sort of cap on this. I’m shooting for 3 years or less to completion, but it could just as easily be a ten-year goal, or a one-year goal for someone particularly insane/enthusiastic.

  6. Winner: there also isn’t one. The idea is to encourage as many people as possible to do this. However, there is sure to be some recognition for the first one to accomplish the goal. I mean, seriously, how many people have written in 500 different programming languages?

So, it’s ok if you write some of them in languages you’ve written in before, but you need to write a new program, and it needs to at the very least do something more interesting than “Hello, world” or “99 Bottles of beer”

I’d love to see people take this challenge to an interesting extreme, such as writing a programming that does the same thing in 500 different languages, or writing only in esoteric programming languages.

I’ll put up a gallery and perhaps do interviews with/profiles of any developers who participate in the challenge.

Become a Programming Linguist

In my mind, there are 3 different kinds of programmers: the single-language programmer, the typical programmer, and the polyglot programmer.

The single-language programmer

This programmer is either very picky, very new to programming, or not someone who programs for a living. The latter two are acceptable, the former one really isn’t.

I would neither like to work with someone who refuses to program in anything but Haskell nor someone who refuses to program in anything but Visual Basic (though out of the two I’d pick the Haskell programmer).

If you’re new to programming, or don’t plan on doing it much, it’s acceptable to only know one language, but if you even only plan on writing Ruby On Rails or PHP web-apps for the rest of your life, you should probably at least know JavaScript and SQL as well.

The typical programmer

This programmer has learned a few programming languages, perhaps the Ruby/PHP, JS, and SQL mentioned above. This programmer knows everything they need to do their current job, and hopefully enough to do it *well.

The typical programmer isn’t too afraid to pick up a new language when they feel a need to do so. Generally this need is brought up by work demands or growing tired of the language they use primarily.

Still, this programmer tends to stay away from “weird” programming languages, be they functional, stack-based, or simply something with an odd syntax compared to what they are used to. Such languages seem like they would be too much work to learn, without any practical benefit for this programmer who already has a good list of languages that do what they need.

With this self-inflicted limitation, the typical programming is truly missing out on some profound, powerful knowledge that they could gain if they even just took a little time to understand these foreign paradigms, let alone actually program in them.

The polyglot programmer

This programmer loves programming, and more importantly, loves programming languages.

The polyglot programmer doesn’t let as trivial a thing as “not needing to” prevent them from learning a new programming language. They seek out new paradigms and techniques and revel in their ability to apply what they learn from one language to a language they already know, thus making them a better programmer.

This programmer understands that there is a reason for every programming language design decision (even if that reason is “we didn’t think about it too much”), and can’t wait to try out a new language feature they’ve as-yet not encountered.

A polyglot programmer can apply for jobs that a typical programmer can only scoff at for requiring “one of those weird programming languages” that they could never be bothered to learn, and they can more quickly learn a new language that their current job might require because they have a better understanding of programming languages in general.

A programming linguist is basically a very-well-versed polyglot programmer, one who can pick up a new language in a day if there is any good documentation for it

The goal

The goal here isn’t to learn and become an expert at all of the 500 different programming languages. The goal is to be exposed to 500 different programming languages, to glean a bit of knowledge, to open one’s mind to new ways of looking at and solving problems, and to ultimately become a better programmer.

It doesn’t matter if after this, you never touch any of the 500 languages ever again, just the act of coming to understand the language enough to write a program in it will have altered your mind enough to make a lasting impact, especially for languages which are different from the “norm” of what you are used to.

Will you accept this challenge?

If so, let me know in the comments or an email.

If not, let me know why not. I'd love to hear from you either way.
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