O Ada, Ada! Wherefore art thou Ada?

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Content Copyright © 2013 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt

I suppose that it’s my Governance background, but I hate waste in computing. An obvious example is the current male focus of IT – judging by some of the pioneering females in IT that we do know about – Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Steve Shirley – IT would be in a better state today if we had more women in the field. When I started in IT some 40 years ago, IT was an equal opportunity employer, open to anyone with brains, regardles of sex – but things are different now. And that’s wasteful.

Which leads me into another form of waste – rework, playing fun games chasing bugs that wouldn’t be there if the language and its compiler forced you to think through what you were doing before doing it. And here Ada, the computer language named after the fascinating Ada Lovelace, has a part to play. Just check out some of its distinguishing features; scalar range constraints (which means that the attempted assignment of an out-of-range value causes a run-time error rather than an incorrect result), for instance. It’s no accident (no pun intended) that safety-critical systems aren’t written in Javascript or Visual Basic.

Not only is Ada not dead, it is a living, evolving language and has been updated for OO (Object Orientation) and so on. I’ve just discovered an interesting and very readable educational resource, the Ada 2012 Rationale, which gives one an idea of where Ada is now and why it might be relevant outside of the safety critical world for any long-lived IT system where efficiency and reliability matters. Failing financial services systems can kill people just as effectively as a failing rail signalling system.

I’ll endorse what some of the Great and Good in the world of Ada are saying about the Rationale and its author, John Barnes:

“John Barnes has the rare ability to take complex material, distill it down to its essence, and explain it in an understandable and often entertaining manner,” says Ben Brosgol, President of the Ada Resource Association. “Ada 2012 has advanced the state of the art in language design, and the new Rationale will help developers understand and appreciate the language’s innovations.”

“To encourage Ada 2012’s adoption, educational material needs to be widely and easily accessible,” says Tullio Vardanega, Ada-Europe President. “The Ada 2012 Rationale is an excellent training resource, and we hope that both students and professional developers will take advantage of its free availability.”

You can download a free copy of the Ada 2012 Rationale here. It might well form the basis for a useful conversation, over a  beer or two, with your programmers.