C++ Snobbism

It may come as no surprise to the reader following this blog that I’m a software engineer. The programming language I am most proficient in is probably C++. I like the language — though I don’t really want to get bogged down in a discussion why I do. Opinions differ on language (mis-)features, and while I do enjoy discussing them once in a while, such discussions can easily get derailed into full-blown flame wars. So let’s not even start on language features here.

On the other hand, the topic I’m currently concerned with is often displayed in such discussions, so it’s fairly hard to avoid mentioning language features if one wants to give examples. Still, this isn’t the place to discuss them, it’s the place to discuss language snobbism, the topic of my article. In particular, I’m concerned with C++ snobbism, as that appears to be somewhat more extreme than others.

So what is it I’m talking about, really? I think it’s fairly common for people who have become experts in one field or another to defend the position of influence they’ve gained through their knowledge rather more fervidly than is strictly necessary. There’s a phenomenon that I think is related to the expert plague, maybe even a variation thereof, and that’s snobbism — or elitism, if you prefer, but I don’t.

Language elitism occurs when the opinions of members of a group of experts are considered to be weightier than the opinions of others. The problem is that with there are very well-defined groups of experts when it comes to programming languages. It’s usually clear that those people responsible for the design and implementation of a programming language are undisputable experts. Oddly enough, those people aren’t normally the sort of people to exhibit symptoms of elitism — in my experience it’s prolific or prominent users of a language that are more prone to that1.

Language elitism, though, can be entirely valid. I for one would take the opinion of Bjarne Stroustrup about any aspect of C++ more seriously than that of any random coworker of mine2.

So I’m not really concerned about elitism when it comes to programming languages — snobbism, on the other hand, I find more concerning. Snobbism includes an element of smugness and arrogance, which is never useful in itself — but it also does not require the snob to be an expert, or make him one. Anyone who freely associates themselves with a topic can be snobbish about it.

And that’s something I’ve found time and again in any topic related to computing3, but the most strongly opinionated people seem to be snobbish about programming languages or operating systems.

  1. And maybe that’s not odd at all. []
  2. That’s not to say that I’d disregard their opinion either, but I expect them to know less about the topic than Bjarne does. The opinion of lesser-informed people is often more valuable than that of experts, but not necessarily as reliable. It can, for example, point out common misconceptions about the topic at hand, which is very valuable indeed. []
  3. Or unrelated to computing, really, but let’s not widen the field of relevance unnecessarily. []