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Try 10 Programming Languages in 10 minutes

There are a lot of interesting programming languages out there, but downloading and setting up the environment can be very time consuming when you just want to try one out. The good news is that you can try out many languages in your browser straight away, often with tutorials which guide you through the basics.

Following the pattern of 7 languages in 7 weeks book, here’s a somewhat abridged version.

Dynamic Languages

Fed up of long compile times, want a lightweight environment for scripting? Dynamic languages could be your new friend.

Try Lua

Lua is a lightweight dynamic language with excellent coroutine support and a simple C API making it hugely popular in video gaming for scripting. Have fun with game engines like LÖVE and Marmalade Quick.

Try Clojure

Clojure is the brainchild of the hugely charismatic speaker Rich Hickey, it is a descendant of one of the earliest programming languages LISP. There’s a really rich community around Clojure, one of my favourite projects is Sam Aaron’s Overtone live coding audio environment.

Try R (quick registration required)

R is a free environment for statistical computing and graphics, with a huge range of user-submitted packages. Ever wondered how to draw an egg?

Functional Languages

Aspects of functional programming have permeated most mainstream languages from C++ to VB. However to really appreciate the expressiveness of the functional approach a functional-first language is required.

Try Erlang

Erlang is a really interesting language for building fault tolerant concurrent systems. It also has great pattern matching capabilities. It has many industrial applications and tools including the RabbitMQ messaging system and the distribute database Riak.

Try Haskell

Haskell is heavily based on the Miranda programming language which was taught in British universities in the 80s and 90s. Haskell added Monads and Type Classes, and is still taught in a few universities, it is also still quite popular in academic research.

Try OCaml

OCaml like Miranda is based on the ML programming language adding object-oriented constructs. F# is based on OCaml, there is even a compatibility mode. OCaml still has industrial application, for example at Jane Street Capital and XenSource.

Web Languages

There’s a plethora of languages that compile to JavaScript languages out there. Also worth a look are the new features in JavaScript itself, see Brendan Eich’s talk at Strangeloop last year on the The State of JavaScript. Here’s 3 *Script languages I find particularly interesting:


LiveScript is an indirect descendant of CoffeeScript with features to assist functional programming like pattern matching and function composition. Check out 10 LiveScript one liners to impress your friends.

Try Elm

Elm is a functional reactive language for creating highly interactive programs, including games. Reactive programming is an interesting direction and I think languages designed specifically for this are worth investigating.


Unfortunately there’s currently no online editor for this one, but there is a command line REPL. PogoScript is DSL friendly allowing white space in function names.

Esoteric Languages

Esoteric languages tend to be write-only, a bit like Perl but just for fun.

Try Brainfuck

Brainfuck is the Rubik’s cube of programming languages. I built the site last year with the interpreter written in plain old JavaScript, check out the fib sample.

Browser IDEs

With so many programming language experimentation environments available online, the next logical step is to host the IDE there. Imagine not having to wait 4 hours for Visual Studio to install.

Cloud 9 is an online environment for creating Node.js apps, pulling together sets of relevant packages. Tools like Sploder let you build games online.

The Try F# site offers arguably the most extensive online learning features of any language. Cloud Tsunami IDE also offers a rich online development experience for F#. In the near future CloudSharper will offer an online IDE experience for developing web applications with F# using WebSharper,

Scaling up

Once you’ve completed some basic tasks in a new language you’ll want to move on to slightly larger tasks. I like to use exercises from the coding Kata Catalogue like FizzBuzz, the Game of Life and Minesweeper.

Some people enjoy going through the Project Euler problems, others have their own hello world applications. For Martin Trojer it’s a Scheme interpreter and Luke Hoban often writes a Ray Tracer.

I’d also recommend joining a local meetup group. The London Scala meetup have a coding dojo every month and the F#unctional Londoners meetup have hands on session in the middle the month, the next one is on Machine Learning.

Programming language books that include questions at the end of sections are a good way to practice what you’ve learned but are few and far between. The recent Functional Programming with F# book is an excellent example of what can be done with questions at the end of each chapter.

While the basics of a language can be picked up in a few hours, expect it to take a few weeks before you’re productive and at least a few months before you start to gain mastery.

Want to write your own language? Pete Sestoft’s Programming Language Concepts book offers a good introduction to the subject.

Building a game in a day

Last night I gave a talk at the F#unctional Londoners meetup about my experiences working in a team building a game in a day at the recent London GameCraft game jam event. We went with a continuous runner and used XNA to build the game on Windows with a hack to get it working on Visual Studio 2012, then Neil Danson was able to port it to iOS and Android using MonoGame. I brought along an Apple iPad and Google Nexus 7 both happily running the game.

iOS and Android

A recent article in the Guardian suggests that iOS and Android combined now generate four times the revenue of dedicated gaming handhelds. Both Unity and MonoGame let you target those platforms. I played a little with Unity at the Rezzed game jam early in the year, and MonoGame at GameCraft. As a coder by trade I felt more comfortable with MonoGame, where Unity can get you a long way fast but it felt more designer orientated (not necessarily a bad thing).

@ptrelford @qmcoetzee #theprismer on iPad from #gamecraft thanks #monogame!

Check out Neil’s article on F# and Monogame Part 4 – Content Pipeline


At a recent QuakeCon conference veteran game developer John Carmack spent a chunk of his annual monologue extolling the virtues of functional programming. F# is a rich functional-first programming language with excellent imperative and OO features when you need them. The experience is similar to the Lua programming language, which is hugely popular in gaming, with it’s light syntax and all important coroutine support. Given that it can run cross platform I think it’s an interesting choice for Indie games development. The XBLA title Path of Go is a good example of what is possible. There’s also a book on F# game development Friendly F# (Fun with game programming).

Path to Go

Code Samples

Berzerk shows how to build a simple game AI using seq expressions:

let zombie target state = seq {
    yield! random_pause state 10
    while true do
        yield! wait target state 50.0
        yield! home target state 10

Flint Eastwood is a small game I built in 6 hours at the first Dublin GameCraft event:

Flint Eastwood

Balls is a sound game, similar to Sound Drop I built last week:

Tsunami Balls

The Prismer is our entry to the London GameCraft game jam:


New York, New York

If you’re interested in learning more about F# check out the Progressive F# Tutorials on 18th/19th in New York followed by a GameCraft game jam on Friday the 20th.


The Kids Are Alright

In the last week or so I've seen a popular article and a presentation which didn’t paint the rosiest of pictures for the next generation of coders:

I have to agree with Marc Scott that the Information & Communication Technology (ICT) GCSE widely studied in the UK, with Microsoft Office as a focus, seems a bit of a step backwards. The Computer Studies O-level I remember from the mid-80s put coding front and centre. I still have fond memories of my end of year project which consisted of a sprite designer written in Z80 assembler and extensions to the system’s basic language for games programming.


Kids Code

But not everyone at school in the 1980s did Computer Studies or was writing games in their bedroom. What are kids doing in the 21st century? My eldest son Thomas has a range of interests including playing the piano, chess, swimming, scouts, playing video games and coding. His common-or-garden state school has a computer club where they practice Python programming, but unfortunately it is so oversubscribed he couldn’t get a place. He does however write code at home for fun, and believe it or not most of what he has learnt has been off his own back. He started out making his own 3D levels in the Roblox game when he was about 9, and soon progressed to adding his own scripts written in Lua. To give him a little encouragement I bought him a book, Roblox Lua programming written by a teenager. More recently he's been playing with Python on the Raspberry Pi.

Now not all the kids at my son's school code, but quite a few of them do.

Kids Conferences

Thomas has also come along with me to a few conferences and game jams. Last year he came to the Progressive F# Tutorials in London, learning the syntax of the language from Chris Marinos’s F# Koans. Then he managed to make some tunes in Rob Pickering’s Undertone session. Here he is putting a question to the panel:


Thomas is not alone in knowing F#, here is a 1-hour crash course taught to Year 6 students (11 year olds) at a school in Cambridge:

He’s also been to some game jams with me, where he’s mostly worked on the music and sound effects. I’ve seen quite a few kids at this type of event. Here’s a picture of us from last weekend’s GameCraft jam at Skills Matter in London:


Last weekend also saw a national Festival of Code in the UK from Young Rewired State:


This fall sees a GOTO conference for kids in Denmark:

I think it would be great to see the trend for kids in conferences continue, and it fills me with hope for the future of programming.

Dark Matter

Brett Victor’s talk on the Future of Programming is well worth a watch, he presents a vision of the future based on what was known in 1973, using an over head projector (OHP). One suggestion is that if programming is still dominated by low-level programming languages in 40 years time (which it is) then something has gone seriously wrong.


After talking about kids going to major developer events, the shame is that the vast majority of existing enterprise developers will have never been to one. These are the unseen 99% Scott Hanselman refers to as Dark Matter Developers:

They don't read a lot of blogs, they never write blogs, they don't go to user groups, they don't tweet or facebook, and you don't often see them at large conferences

I suspect these “Dark Matter Developers” are being spoon fed their information directly from vendors like Microsoft (MSDN) and Oracle (Java).

Speaking at conferences can often feel like you’re preaching to the converted. Perhaps the real opportunity is mentoring the next generation, because you know the kids are alright.