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When should I learn a new language?


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#1 The Communist Duck   Members   -  Reputation: 154

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 12:38 PM

I apologise if this post is rather vague or doesn't have an obvious point to it. Hopefully I can tl;dr it.

I've been learning/using C++ for about 1 1/2 years, and Python for 6 months. I'm finding myself a great fan of Python, due to its simplicity compared to C++'s general bloated-ish feeling.
Recently I've been working on an RPG type game in Python. It's another one of the projects I start for a month or so, then just abandon. I don't want to abandon it, and I've documented it and stuff to try and keep myself going. It's not that it doesn't interest me, just other ideas have crept up. Same with my programming language I was writing.

I now want to fiddle around with 3D stuff. My assumption is that Python would not be optimal for this, namely due to the speed issues. I could go back to C++, but the small amount I've fiddled with it recently, it feels horrible to write in, to put it bluntly.

I was considering using this opportunity to maybe pick up another language like C# (which I dabbled in a few years back). I don't think there would be a downside to it: it would help me have a wider understanding of programming, wouldn't hurt any uni/career chances (I am still a..high school? student. I don't know how UK maps to the US), and would allow me to still have lots of fun programming. However, I start to wonder if I'm following the same trend as my projects: pick them up, play around for a bit, and abandon without finishing them (or in this case, using the language for a long time). Or I could be swatting at hot air.

tl;dr Is there a downside to learning new languages quickly (i.e. <1 year apart)? As a minor point, how can I stop myself giving up on projects for 'that new idea'?

EDIT: For the record, I plan on only really developing for myself and maybe releasing games I make to friends. So Windows development is my primary concern.


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#2 Servant of the Lord   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 17039

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 01:16 PM

I now want to fiddle around with 3D stuff. My assumption is that Python would not be optimal for this, namely due to the speed issues. I could go back to C++, but the small amount I've fiddled with it recently, it feels horrible to write in, to put it bluntly.

Python is fine for 3D. Download the 3D Python engine called Panda3D.
Don't forget: You can write the slow parts of your code in C++, and make it into a library, and have Python use the libraries. Panda3D is made for Python, and I don't know for sure, but I would guess that the slow parts are written in C++ to go faster. Plus, all the truly truly slow stuff, like displaying graphics, are ran on the videocard in something even faster than C++.

Besides, don't underestimate the speed of today's CPUs. Just because Python is 'slow-er' than C++, doesn't mean Python is 'slow'.
Also, do not decide "this will be to slow" until you can actually prove to yourself that it's too slow (using a profiler). Otherwise, you'll probably end up wasting your time on the parts that are actually running quite fine, because you are making clumsy guesses at what 'might' be too slow. And even if something is 'slow', doesn't mean it's "too slow".

Don't make guesses, make games, gain experience, and then when the computer tells you it's too slow, you ask the computer "what part of it is too slow"? It will tell you, and then those parts are the parts you try to optimize.

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#3 MrDaaark   Members   -  Reputation: 3539

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 01:57 PM

Python is used for scripting lots of 3D Apps.

It's used as a scripting language option in Unity (called Boo there). And it's used as the in-app scripting language for a lot of 3D modeling apps. You can write out python code in Blender and have it operate on your scene. Or you can script the Blender game engine.

#4 dublindan   Members   -  Reputation: 448

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 02:57 PM

It is also worth remembering that, since you are just starting out with 3D, it is very very very unlikely that you will even notice the difference in the languages speed. Also, if you have only been programming for 1.5 years, you really shouldn't be worrying about speed - firstly, you probably won't need the speed at this stage in your programming career and second, getting stuff done is much more important right now than getting it to run fast.

Get it working first, then PROFILE and only then optimize.

That is, only when you have found that your code isn't fast enough and you have profiled it to find the hotspot should you try to make it faster. Usually the best performance increases are achieved by using a more efficient algorithm or data structure (no amount of super optimized assembly will make a O(2^n) algorithm fast!).
In Python, you can also try Psyco (which will speed up number-crunching code without any effort on your part). If it still isn't fast enough, you could compile the hotspots with Cython (which can compile _most_ Python code to C; if you add type annotations it can generate some very fast code - a friend of mine uses Cython for heavy number crunching code for brain-computer interfacing research, for example). If that still isn't enough, you can always rewrite the hotspot in C.

My point is, even if you do need more speed than Python can provide out of the box, theres a bunch of options available. And if they're still not enough, Python will happily interoperate with C/C++ so you can wrtie just the performance-critical code in C/C++. Even the highest performance commercial games use some kind of scripting language for most of the gameplay code.

Python is used for scripting lots of 3D Apps.

It's used as a scripting language option in Unity (called Boo there).


Boo and Python aren't the same language. Boo is very heavily influenced by Python and looks a lot like Python, but it is still a very different language with different constructs and semantics.
Besides that, the rest of your post is true - Python is used by a lot of 3D apps, including some commercial games.

#5 Prefect   Members   -  Reputation: 373

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 05:45 PM

Is there a downside to learning new languages quickly (i.e. <1 year apart)?

As long as that's what you genuinely feel like doing, go for it. Being exposed to a whole bunch of different languages is an advantage, in my opinion. Eventually, you'll want to sink more deeply into one of the languages you've learned, but that should come naturally once you find a project you're sticking with for a longer time. Or you'll find that you keep coming back to the same one or two languages, even when it's on different projects, and then you go deeper in those.
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#6 Telastyn   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3718

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 08:04 PM

My assumption is that Python would not be optimal for this, namely due to the speed issues.


Don't assume. Test.

tl;dr Is there a downside to learning new languages quickly (i.e. <1 year apart)?


Absolutely. Spending your time learning new syntax/environments means you're not spending the time getting deep knowledge of a language, facing difficult problems, or working with significantly large codebases.

With some experience, those downsides aren't so significant. For a relative beginner, its... ill-advised. Like has been alluded to by others, if it's what takes you to keep interested in things, then go nuts. But you'd probably be better served spending 2-4 weeks per language experimenting with them and then picking one to learn in for 2+ years. After that it's pretty vital to branch out.

As a minor point, how can I stop myself giving up on projects for 'that new idea'?


It happens a lot, and I personally wouldn't advise doing that. It's hard to get the drive and motivation to work on stuff. And to a lesser degree, working on a single project as a beginner can lead to a little head-in-the-sand sort of effect where you don't get good experience working in just that one silo. The most healthy thing I've found is trying to be consistent while working on your current project. If your mind is focused on the task at hand, it is less likely to have 'that new idea' and drive the wanderlust.

#7 PropheticEdge   Members   -  Reputation: 150

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 08:56 PM

There's not really a downside to learning another language, unless you're crunched for time for achieving mastery with a specific language for a job or something. You're not going to screw the learning process up or pollute your mind by learning languages quickly. When I started my current job I had to learn about 4 languages simultaneously.

#8 The Communist Duck   Members   -  Reputation: 154

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Posted 18 April 2011 - 03:38 AM

Thanks for all the replies. I have technically been programming for about 5 years, but was messing around for most of that. Heck, I only stopped really messing around (albeit more serious messing later) a few months back. I can see Panda3D, but I still feel there might be an issue if I want to make a Minecraft clone. (My goal :rolleyes:).

I'm wanting to try out C# again (I messed for a couple of months when I was 13~), mostly since I am still not liking C++, even though I am comfortable writing it (the actual look of the code is important to me, for some reason).

I guess I shall take this as a sign I still haven't found a comfortable base language..which I thought I had found with Python.:P

I feel this post has rambled, but thank you everyone for the feedback and advice. :lol:


#9 Red Ant   Members   -  Reputation: 447

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Posted 18 April 2011 - 03:52 AM

One problem that exists with Python regarding performance is that due to its GIL (Global Interpreter Lock), even if you write a multi-threaded application, your threads will never really truly run in parallel, since only one thread can own the GIL at any one point in time. And don't think I'm trying to scare you away from using Python; I'm a huge Python fan myself.




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