Low level programming - what's in it for me?

Posted by back2dos on Programmers See other posts from Programmers or by back2dos
Published on 2010-11-30T12:12:52Z Indexed on 2011/06/29 0:31 UTC
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For years I have considered digging into what I consider "low level" languages. For me this means C and assembly. However I had no time for this yet, nor has it EVER been neccessary.

Now because I don't see any neccessity arising, I feel like I should either just schedule some point in time when I will study the subject or drop the plan forever.

My Position

For the past 4 years I have focused on "web technologies", which may change, and I am an application developer, which is unlikely to change.

In application development, I think usability is the most important thing. You write applications to be "consumed" by users. The more usable those applications are, the more value you have produced.

In order to achieve good usability, I believe the following things are viable

  • Good design: Well-thought-out features accessible through a well-thought-out user interface.
  • Correctness: The best design isn't worth anything, if not implemented correctly.
  • Flexibility: An application A should constantly evolve, so that its users need not switch to a different application B, that has new features, that A could implement. Applications addressing the same problem should not differ in features but in philosophy.
  • Performance: Performance contributes to a good user experience. An application is ideally always responsive and performs its tasks reasonably fast (based on their frequency). The value of performance optimization beyond the point where it is noticeable by the user is questionable.

I think low level programming is not going to help me with that, except for performance. But writing a whole app in a low level language for the sake of performance is premature optimization to me.

My Question

What could low level programming teach me, what other languages wouldn't teach me? Am I missing something, or is it just a skill, that is of very little use for application development? Please understand, that I am not questioning the value of C and assembly. It's just that in my everyday life, I am quite happy that all the intricacies of that world are abstracted away and managed for me (mostly by layers written in C/C++ and assembly themselves). I just don't see any concepts, that could be new to me, only details I would have to stuff my head with. So what's in it for me?

My Conclusion

Thanks to everyone for their answers. I must say, nobody really surprised me, but at least now I am quite sure I will drop this area of interest until any need for it arises.
To my understanding, writing assembly these days for processors as they are in use in today's CPUs is not only unneccesarily complicated, but risks to result in poorer runtime performance than a C counterpart. Optimizing by hand is nearly impossible due to OOE, while you do not get all kinds of optimizations a compiler can do automatically. Also, the code is either portable, because it uses a small subset of available commands, or it is optimized, but then it probably works on one architecture only.
Writing C is not nearly as neccessary anymore, as it was in the past. If I were to write an application in C, I would just as much use tested and established libraries and frameworks, that would spare me implementing string copy routines, sorting algorithms and other kind of stuff serving as exercise at university. My own code would execute faster at the cost of type safety. I am neither keen on reeinventing the wheel in the course of normal app development, nor trying to debug by looking at core dumps :D
I am currently experimenting with languages and interpreters, so if there is anything I would like to publish, I suppose I'd port a working concept to C, although C++ might just as well do the trick.
Again, thanks to everyone for your answers and your insight.

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