Lessons Learned

Go is not an object-oriented language

I’ve spent the better part of my career working with object-oriented languages. I was exposed to them first through Visual Basic. From there, I learned Java, then C#, and then C++. Along the way, I made a deliberate study of object-oriented design, drinking deeply from the design patterns promulgated by the Gang of Four, and learning to reshape everything I did in terms of object-oriented design. It’s the way I think about, decompose, and solve problems.

When I started learning Go (https://golang.org), I approached it from this same mindset, and at first it felt like I was making some traction. In time, though, I discovered it wasn’t working. I kept running up against brick walls where it felt like I was almost there, but the wall between what I was trying to accomplish and what Go could do was simply too high.

The problem wasn’t Go. The problem was that I was trying to treat Go like an object-oriented language when it isn’t. Some ideas that commonly appear in object-oriented languages, like interfaces, misled me. The sort of “pseudo-inheritance” that happens when you embed one structure into another made me feel like maybe I could treat the embedded structure as a base class and the embedding structure as a subclass. But while these things hinted at or “smelled” like object-orientation, they really weren’t.

I had to approach Go on its own terms. It is not an object-oriented language. Structures in Go aren’t not polymorphic the way that objects are in C# or C++. Embedding is not the same thing as subclassing. Structures are not classes.

I have a way to go still. 20+ years of an object-oriented habit is hard to break. But it is essential to succeed in using Go. As I approach Go on its own terms, I find myself less frustrated, and I start to see the patterns of use in Go that will help me achieve my goals. I start to see Go’s strengths more than its weaknesses.

My advice to anyone coming to Go from an object-oriented background like mine is to leave that thinking at the door lest you find yourself making things needlessly complicated and thoroughly frustrating. Approach Go with an open mind.

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