A little while ago I gave a primer on Go to a fellow SolarWinds engineer known as Dez on the internets. The goal was to get her started with a programming language that she could use to wrangle some API stuff in SolarWinds and so that’s the route that I went with her:
- Set up a development environment with Visual Studio Code.
- Run through the typical “Hello World” routine.
- Introduce ‘gofmt/goimports’ so there’s no shock when things automatically move around on saving.
- Show how to run the code with ‘go run’ and compile with ‘go build/install’.
- Illustrate compiling for different platforms by tweaking GOOS and GOARCH.
- Run through some SolarWinds-specific examples using my very own package, gosolar.
That went well.
Then there was a reply from Thomas A Ianneli asking why Go over other programming languages that we’ve used. I’ve been thinking about writing this up for a while, so here we are. First, a quick run through of the languages I’ve used already with significant enough mileage that I can say that I can write anything I need to without much struggle.
Shell Script (Bash/KSH)
This was my first foray into programming. I was working at a credit company doing tech support and realized that I was running the same N commands over and over in the same order. This was better than that.
Pros: better than running the same commands over and over // Cons: requires mastery of dozens of linux/unix utilities to be truly useful
I picked this one up when my car broke down one weekend (damned carburetor) and I had nothing else to do but cuddle with a blue O’Reilly title with a lovable dromedary on the cover. It had control structures, lots of “special” variables with arcane names like $|, and enough regular expression to make you curl up into a ball and cry.
Pros: regular expression at your fingertips // Cons: regular expression at your fingertips
I can’t remember when/why I tried this one, but it was in the early days of v1 vs. v2 and v3 didn’t even exist yet. I loved the enforced formatting which may be why I really love gofmt these days. More of the usual concepts, but now OOP was in full effect and classes were the thing. And list comprehensions that seem like such a great idea until you forget how they work after not using them and then you have to relearn the concept again just so you can read your own code.
Pros: very pretty to look at // Cons: dependencies are a challenge (see: virtualenv)
After using a text editor and an interpreter all these years to write the languages above I was super intrigued by the Visual Studio editor. All those features, and a debugger, and yeah, what fun. Then I created my first winforms application. A mad-libs thing that I must have hacked on for weeks and then didn’t actually show anyone. Then several videos/howtos later I got more comfortable with all the various collection types. Lists and other things with angle brackets in the description. There were so many and I feel like I only scratched the surface.
Pros: lovely for doing GUIs in Windows // Cons: you really have to be all-in with the .NET koolaid to navigate the language well
I picked this one up on a weekend while I was visiting a friend of mine in Austin. I think I was waiting for some game to install on his spare laptop and I ran through A Task-Based Guide to PowerShell which is still a fantastic primer on the language. I recommend it to anyone that’s just getting started with this one. It gives you just enough to get familiar with the moving parts and enough to get you going with some things that you can use as a systems administrator (or really anyone wrangling Windows systems) without much heartache.
Pros: found on every Windows system since 7 // Cons: managing data structures (add-member, anyone?) is a challenge
I tried this for the first time in October of 2016 and I was bummed that I hadn’t tried it sooner. Going through the Tour of Go followed by Go by Example made for getting used to the language pretty straightforward. I’ll admit I had to bend my brain a little to get through slices vs. arrays and then interfaces, but once I rounded the bend it was full steam ahead. I’ve used it to write CLIs, web servers, APIs, and then all manner of pushing, pulling, and data manipulation I’ve had to do since then.
Pros: formatted nicely, runs quickly, compiles to an executable // Cons: would be nice if it could make me a ham sandwich too, but that’s probably asking too much
Summary: Why Go
I like that I’m able to compile the work that I’ve done and hand an executable with a configuration file to a customer and they can run with it. I don’t have to worry about making sure their system is set up just right and they can’t get in there and muck about with the functionality of the thing without coming back to me for the changes.
One of the things I found so frustrating with Perl and its ilk is handling data. Arrays of references of other arrays and hashes and, ugh, just let me sleep, I’m so tired. I had the same kind of experience with PowerShell with its objects and properties and members (what even is a NoteProperty as opposed to a regular Property?) With Python you could at least give your class instances properties, but then again you had to be all in with classes.
In Go, I can create a struct, or a slice of structs and between those and the native types I can create any kind of container I need for what I’m working with.
I like being able to run ‘go run main.go’ to see what I’ve done recently and I like being able to write tests against what I’ve written to make sure what I’ve written hasn’t broken horribly. It feels like an interpreted language without leaving all my bits in the wind for anyone to tweak whenever they feel like it.
I’ve tried. I really have tried to grasp the await concepts in C# so that I could flex the muscle of the mighty multi-core processor. I just can’t make it work in my head. With Go I have goroutines which I understood on the first few passes and have actually be able to use to some great effect.
I’ve never used a language that had a community that was consistently awesome as I have with Go. Between the GoBridge Slack team and the fine folks on Twitter I’ve been able to get through any problem I’ve run into without having to hop on sites like Hackhands or its equivalent just to get through the language mechanics and move a project forward.
I’ll likely add to this, but for now, that’s why I really enjoy Go.