guys and gals, javascript and assembly

A few years back, a well known Microsoft employee and blogger (Scott Hanselman) wrote a statement comparing JavaScript to assembly language. What reminded me of this was a follow-up blog entry he wrote on the matter from the original posting. If you’re not a nerd, let me explain the analogy, as well as the controversy.

In as layman-termish as I can get, JavaScript is a scripting language that can be incorporated in web pages to create dynamic content, special effects, etc. Assembly language, on the other hand, is a language that is closely tied to the native machine instructions for a given processor architecture (even most programmers don’t work with assembly language, except perhaps in that one college course that everyone hates).

Hanselman explained exactly what he meant in this comparison: that oftentimes JavaScript (and HTML) is generated by tools and near-unreadable by humans, who will use “higher level” (more abstracted) languages instead. This use of greater abstraction is normal programming language evolution, and the reason why developers use C++, C#, or Java rather than writing everything in assembly language.

This of course got me thinking about the types of people who are most likely to passionately, arduously, and stridently disagree with these sorts of analogies, perhaps even after getting the follow-up explanation for the comparison. In a word, males.

Given a group of equally smart and technical males and females, the guys are realistically going to immediately dissent with the comparison, citing the flaws of such a a silly analogy, nit-picking the semantics of keywords, drilling in the same point repeatedly (and with plenty of scoffing and exhalation). Females will be inquisitive, maybe puzzled initially, and seek clarification so as to come to understand the point of the person making the comparison.

If the JavaScript/assembly comparison isn’t clear, the analogy could literally be anything. Males will become very literal, perhaps asking what a specific word means in this context, debating that meaning, pointing out logical flaws in the reasoning or comparison, and so forth. Females will instead go for social harmony and understanding; they’ll “get it” and move on, meaning they will understand the analogy and accept it, or perhaps think it’s silly and not give it another thought.

It’s helpful to point out that this is a pretty wide generalization. There are women with “male” characteristics and men with “female” characteristics (in regards to cognitive style, not referring to outward personality necessarily). Whether one approach is better or worse will depend. But perhaps the best adaptation is to be aware of our own predilections and, if necessary, compensate as context dictates.

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