Inside 736-131

Existential Pontification and Generalized Abstract Digressions

The creation of a statically-typed functional programmer

The bug bit me in early 2009, during MIT’s independent activities period; really, it was two bugs. The first was 6.184, the re-animated introductory computer science class taught in Scheme—for obvious reasons. But I don’t think that was sufficient: I seemed to recall thinking Scheme was interesting but not a language I actually wanted to code in. The second was a comment made by Anders Kaseorg after I finished delivering a talk Introduction to Web Application Security (one of the few things that, as a freshman at MIT, I thought I knew well enough to give a lecture on). One of the emphases of the talk was all about types: that is, the fact that “string” doesn’t adequately represent the semantic content of most bits of text that float around in our applications these days. Haskell came up as a way of making your compiler make sure you didn’t mix up HTML with plain text.

Something must have clicked. That February, I wrote:

Wow. Haskell is pretty.

To which someone replied:

Don't look too hard into the sun, your eyes will get burned.

And thus a statically-typed functional programmer was born.

Postscript. My first application in Haskell was a Laplace solver, with which I also learned about monads (because a map lookup returned a Maybe value, and Anders decided it would be a good idea to talk about do-notation and bind to elucidate how to handle it. I probably didn’t understand the explanation the first time around, but I did manage to get the program working.)