My journey to Smalltalk

Ever since I started my professional career as a software developer back in 2002, nearly all of my development was done using C sharp and .NET framework with a bit of Java here and there. However while studying software engineering at University of Sydney 90% of my work was done on unix machines, I was taught object oriented programming in my first year, and thankfully we didn’t get introduced to OO by learning C++ or Java but a language called Blue (it was first developed by the Basser Computer Science department at the University of Sydney to teach students OO concepts) . Blue was not just a programming language but was a programming environment, which allowed interactive manipulation of classes and their relationship to each other graphically or textually. This allowed me to visualize a group of instantiated objects whose state was encapsulated and only way the objects performed anything was by collaborating with each other sending messages to each other to perform a task.

As I learned mainstream languages like C++ and Java. The idea of objects sending messages was blurred by multiple inheritance, classes and types. Throughout the years as I read books, researched and experimented with different ideas, I noticed Smalltalk being reference numerous times in every book OO book and every time Objects, XP and TDD were discussed. Xp and TDD were all conceived in the Smalltalk community and some of my favorite authors like Kent Beck, Rebecca Wriffs-Brock and the numerous speakers at OOPSLA every year all had a Smalltalk background. So about a year ago I decided to check out and learn this Smalltalk thing. It was a steep learning curve in the beginning (especially getting used to the idea of not working with source files) it was a big paradigm shift but it the best thing I did, there such a long history and wealth of experience in the Smalltalk community. Just browsing through code base in the standard squeak Smalltalk image, studying the wonderfully crafted code which was refined and polished by master Smalltalk craftsman over the last 25 years has improved my understanding of good OO design and also increased my productivity in my day job using C sharp and .NET. After experiencing Smalltalk and programming with “live objects”, going back to C sharp or java seems a little dull at times they are not nearly as expressive as Smalltalk. While learning squeak Smalltalk and as I immersed myself into the Smalltalk culture, I stumbled across Seaside a framework to create web based applications entirely in Smalltalk. Seaside kind of blew my mind, I have dabbled with Rails a bit and it is very clean and can be very productive, but Seaside takes web based development to a whole new level I never seen highly complex web based applications developed this way. Well it wasn’t long before I discovered GemStone/S which is not just an OO database but a powerful object server based on Smalltalk (more on this in another post). Through Smalltalk I rediscovered just how powerful it is to think in terms of objects not classes and just be able to send any message to *any* object that can understand that message. Now I realize that OO is more about message passing and actually very little to do with classes, inheritance or types. I found this quote by Allan Kay where he states what OO is all about.

“OOP to me means only messaging, local retention and protection and hiding of state-process, and extreme late-binding of all things. It can be done in Smalltalk and in LISP. There are possibly other systems in which this is possible, but I’m not aware of them.” – Alan Kay creator of Smalltalk


5 thoughts on “My journey to Smalltalk

  1. Pingback: Top Posts «

  2. Pingback: Halfbaked Ideas » Blog Archive » OOP in erlang

  3. Jack

    Whilst I admire Smalltalk it has some question marks over it when it comes to deployment of the finished application…have any recent developments addressed that?


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