[Haskell-cafe] How Albus Dumbledore would sell Haskell

Dan Weston westondan at imageworks.com
Wed Apr 18 15:45:05 EDT 2007

It is unscientific to ask the (highly biased) people on this list how to 
sell Haskell. A focus group of the target audience is clearly called 
for. Having said that, I will now violate my own advice.

Knowledge of the audience is critical to the success of a presentation.

Simon (aka Dumbledore) is speaking to four different Houses: scientists 
(Ravenclaw), engineers (Hufflepuff), entrepreneurs (Slytherin), and 
managers (Griffindor). My advice to him is:

You have already won over the scientists. Stop priming the pump. 
Algebraic runes, spells from the Book of Category Theory, bananas, 
lenses, arrows, cata, ana, hylo, endo, all is vanity.

You cannot interest the engineer with new tricks. He has spent too long 
mastering difficult tricks to work around limitations to want to see 
them eliminated. His competitive advantage and prized reputation are at 
stake. Get him to believe that he is on the verge of being "left behind".

You cannot win over the entrepreneur with promises of "easier and more 
robust". This translates to "anyone can do it" and the valuable "trade 
secret" of arcane wizardry is now devalued. Show something exciting that 
cannot be done (or would never have been attempted) without FP. Monads, 
CPS, existential data types, or other high-priestess wizardry are no 
impediment (less competition from lesser peers). But marginal 
improvement is unimpressive. A new language brings high risk, and must 
have high reward. Examples must be powerful (not another prime number 
generator). Effective complexity management, correctness reasoning in 
concurrent/distributed processing, and so on will get their interest.

Risk is scary for managers. "Great promise" promises the manager only 
headaches. This translates to "no one can be hired to do it" and "those 
that can will shake me down for more money". You must promote instead 
the *inevitability* of Haskell's success: the fact that Haskell has 
recently dominated the ICFP Programming Contest, the strongly upward 
trend of Haskell taught at universities (hopefully there is a strongly 
upward trend?), some anecdotal measure of the predisposition to 
relatively better "quality" of those who seek to learn Haskell. Allay 
the unspoken fear that there are always plenty of Haskellers to cause 
trouble in a company (design and implement great tasks), but never 
enough more mediocre Haskellers to keep out of trouble (content to do 
"maintenance" tasks and minor upgrades to existing software) by 
marketing Haskell as a recruitment tool to attract the best, a 
motivational tool to reenergize engineers (see above) who've let their 
skills go stale in larger companies, and a staff-development tool to 
spur internal friendly competition to modernize their skills (and excuse 
wage stagnation in those that do not). Since "inevitability" is a hard 
sell for Haskell right now, avoid mentioning ML or Erlang. There needs 
to be only one FPL for a manager, or he will fret about VHS vs. Betamax 
syndrome (and he won't want to have been the one to invest in a 
Betamax). Don't show any Haskell function with the prefix "unsafe". Even 
now, I find the name unsettling.

The Harry Potter series makes money because we can't do magic but we 
want to. It is human nature that what is given away will never be 
thought to have value. Don't give away the magic of Haskell. Let the 
audience in on the secret that the Haskell wizarding world is doing 
great things with it for glory and profit, and others will steal the 
secret for themselves readily enough.

If Simon can do all this, then he really is worthy of the name 
Dumbledore. :)


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