Random Thoughts – A Comment on Scripting Languages

I have often wondered why, exactly, people liked scripting languages so much. In general, they didn’t seem any easier to learn and there’s no way they were anywhere near as efficient as compiled languages in terms of processing time.

However, in the course of working on my research projects, I’ve begun using a couple and I think I can see some of the value they bring to the table. The two I’ve used the most at this point are R and the ever-present Python. R is a statistics/analytics oriented language I used to do some regressions and charts and Python is remarkably useful for things like web scraping, though I’m sure most languages have a decent library for it as well.

All of my past experience, though, was with Visual Basic, C++, and Java, with recent work mostly involving VB for excel. I had never encountered the type of shell/console coding that R and Python have. I was extremely confused. I just wanted a development environment so I could write some code and this console was in my way. In fact, I went and sought out proper IDEs for both because I didn’t really understand what they expected me to do with a console. The idea of just typing out a line of code and having it execute that line was completely foreign to me.

While I was poking around in R, though, I began to see how absolutely beautiful that console is. Instead of having to repeat the entire edit, compile, execute, check output cycle I learned, I could simply punch lines into the console to see if one specific bit would yield the value I needed without having to go through the entire execution cycle. I was working on a second-hand laptop so execution… takes time. The ability to test different permutations of a single line and see the result directly in the console was a huge time savings. In fact, I’m rapidly growing fond of it. I imagine they’re really good for quick prototyping and logic work which can be re-written in a more efficient language if need be.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that I’m neither a professional programmer nor a web developer. I enjoy coding in small bursts here and there, and it’s proven to be an immensely useful skill, but not something I would want to do professionally. As such, it’s possible I’m way out in left field somewhere. I just thought it was an interesting observation and thought I would share.

Y’all take care. If anyone lost a ; I found an extra one in the dryer with some ).

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