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I listening to the latest podcast in This Developer's Life and before that I was watching this talk with Uncle Bod, The Last Programming Language, and, along with that, I have been having thoughts on getting back to school, so, based on the fact that I like programming languages a lot, thought: why not getting back to school to study programming languages??

I have a degree in computer systems (that's how it is called in Mexico, it's degree in which you basically touch a little bit of math, computer science and software engineering) and I really don't have a much of clue what/where to go and especially, what kind of studies to do? I mean, should I study linguistics? should I go and get a degree in Computer Science?

Thanks for your answers! ={D


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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

If you're interested in studying programming languages, you need to find a school with a PL focus (see also Ken Bloom's answer). The best way to do that is to look at PL conference proceedings and find out who is doing research that sounds interesting to you and see where they're located. Here are links to some of the top conferences in PL:

Conferences also typically have colocated workshops with more specialized focuses. For example, if you're really interested in garbage collection techniques, ISMM is the place to look---and it's been colocated with PLDI for the past few years.

Look through the proceedings of the past couple years, find some papers in areas that appeal to you, and see who wrote them. Then find out where they are and what their graduate program is like.

BTW, linguistics has almost nothing to do with the vast majority of PL research. Yes, linguistics gave us grammar classes, but parsing is a tiny part of PL.


You want to study computer science, and you want to find a program with a research concentration in programming languages. That means you need to find professors who have reputations for developing exciting new programming languages (or unexciting new programming languages -- the important part is that they're new), and apply to those programs. In your essay explain that you're interested in working with so-and-so professor who's doing programming languages, and explain why.

Linguistics has nothing to do with programming langagues. It's entirely devoted to the naturally occurring languages that humans speak.

I think if the OP was interested in theories about languages in general, Linguistics might be a good choice. However, since it is further removed from programming languages, directly applying the knowledge to computing problems will take some extra work. –  jonsca Jul 19 '11 at 0:04
@jonsca: I think that the kinds of places that one would end up doing linguistic research would have nothing to do with programming languages. (P.S. I'm getting my Ph.D. in natural language processing, which has a big linguistics component.) –  Ken Bloom Jul 19 '11 at 0:09
I think Chomsky would disagree about linguistics having nothing to do with programming languages. But I don't think he needs to study linguistics either, he'll get what he needs of that in a good CS class. –  user1842 Jul 19 '11 at 0:11
I'm thinking of departments like MIT's(which are admittedly probably the exception to the rule, so you're right) -- I was typing while Lance posted his answer, but we had the same idea! –  jonsca Jul 19 '11 at 0:14
@jonsca: Yeah. MIT's linguistics department is (I assume) heavily influenced by Chomsky, who taught there. But if you end up in a department that's influenced by people who disagree with Chomsky, those people may not care very much about all of the generative grammar stuff that characterizes Chomsky's work and that has relevance in certain ways to programming languages. –  Ken Bloom Jul 19 '11 at 0:17

Once you can narrow your interest down a little bit (as programming languages is a very broad topic and can encompass many subfields), do some searches on Google to find university groups that are doing research in these areas.

In general, faculty members love to talk about their research with potential graduate students, so send out some emails with detailed, well researched questions to a handful, and plan a trip to a few that really spark your interest.

... I have been having thoughts on getting back to school ...

If (and only if) you want to learn -- especially about computer programming -- you don't need to go to a school or college.

... the fact that I like programming languages a lot ...

Learning Computer programming happens in three steps...

  1. Learn the basic syntax & semantics of the programming language
  2. learn the eco-system (tools, apis, etc.) for an application domain
  3. (this is hardest) learning the art of modelling the real domain problems into the abstractions of a computer program -- a program(s) that works, and lives long (is maintainable)

If you're really deeply passionate about programming -- than you should start reading good books and start developing programs yourself at home -- it is all about exploring ideas and patterns of programming -- than being a student, passing tests/exams and getting good grades.

The easiest (and this is just my opinion) way to get into programming world -- is Internet -- websites -- server/browser programming -- you get the idea. And there are LOTs of examples of people who aren't CS grads, didn't go to college -- didn't have any "formal education" of computer programming -- and are excelling in the Computer industry.

i (a CS grad) (from my experience & gut feel) can say that if you want to truly learn about computer programming (especially Internet) -- getting into a school/college wouldn't give you a slew of advantages that you couldn't get otherwise by just learning at home.

The least of learning is done in the classrooms -- Thomas Merton

Strange as it seems, no amount of learning can cure stupidity, and higher education positively fortifies it -- Stephen Vizinczey, An Innocent Millionaire

Natural ability without education has more often attained to glory and virtue than education without natural ability -- Cicero

It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education -- Albert Einstein

Thanks for the comments. I currently work developing software and I love, my point with all this is that I like programming languages per se, that is, I really like how I language is composed and how the are implemented. –  Hugo Jul 19 '11 at 19:19

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