This relates to a discussion thread we’ve had at work back in July and I’ve gisted my answer for that here. It contains more of my positive sentiments about Elixir/BEAM, and there’s a decent amount of those, but it’s semi-off-topic.
For the thread at hand: I’ve stopped working with Elixir outside of my day job, and mostly stopped promoting it to others or participating in user communities in my spare time. I no longer feel the drive I once had to help others be successful with the language.
I feel that there are too many papercuts compared to what I personally value in software development, and most of them are inflexible aspects of the experience of working with Elixir. I began learning Elixir in mid-2013 and have worked with it professionally in some capacity or another since 2016, and full-time as my primary focus since late 2018. I still work with it daily and have no plans to change that for the foreseeable future.
Most of what I am feeling jaded about falls under one of these larger topics, and I’m possibly going to ruffle some feathers and/or summon some pedants to tell me how I’m mistaken:
I want an efficient, sustainable, and graceful on-ramp to deploying software. Otherwise, what’s the point? I know this part of the domain extremely well, care about it very/too much, and have invested many hours in making it better personally and professionally, but it basically only gets us to the same table-stakes that any other language enjoys. Runtime vs compile-time configuration continues to be a massive attention/energy sink and teaching hurdle. Teaching good instincts for Elixir deployment has not gotten any easier than it was in 2018, IMO.
More personally, I don’t live in a BEAM-only world and I can’t tolerate niche features and tools that can’t be standardized with the other languages I write/deploy. I don’t value hot upgrades and I assert that most businesses don’t need them, only pursue them from vanity.
I increasingly value provably correct software, which for me means an actual type system to go with your good testing practices. Dialyzer is an insufficient tool here because it is so easy to ignore/misinterpret/bypass. It has non-zero value but the ROI on its usage is very poor even as a willing participant. I can count on my hands the number of meaningful bugs it has caught at my professional roles, although they were often extremely nefarious and would never have been caught by tests.
It’s hard for me to pin this part down past half-baked sentiments, but I feel that Elixir is a language that is reasonably good for experts but far too flexible, vague and undirected for neophytes. There is not enough guardrails in the core tooling, and few idioms being prescribed from first-party sources. As many people try to claim about C, it’s easily possible to write very clean, well-designed and effective code in Elixir. However, the language gives you plenty of rope to hang yourself with if you are not working with or at that expert-level experience. I’m not arguing for something like Golang, where someone with two weeks of experience and someone with 15 years of development experience write similar code because they have no other choice. I don’t know what I am arguing for here, but I feel a lack.
clippydo absolute wonders here as pedagogical tools.
We still don’t have much adoption by mainstream companies and providers - it is a night and day difference when comparing to a language that is used more broadly. Our library ecosystem often feels like this XKCD comic, and our language tooling (i.e.
elixir-ls) are maintained by underappreciated and diligent volunteers who are spread way too thin. I don’t think more than a handful of people are paid to work on this space, and I still encounter areas a few times a year where I would have no choice but to write an integration library myself.
ExAWSis still looking for maintainers last I saw, despite it probably being extremely crucial to many businesses, and AFAICT Elixir is basically the ghost of a dream within FAANG, Dropbox, Spotify, etc… I don’t chase these companies out of me-too attitudes or vanity, but I feel quite powerfully that they generally disregard Elixir as a realistic choice for serious projects and so we are excluded from the kinds of contributions that their additional engineering power could make, to the benefit of us all.
There are some use-cases that we are quasi-permanently not suitable for. Some of those happen to be areas of work that I really want to participate in. We are very good for web development and for network daemons, and Nerves is very compelling for embedded, but Elixir is a poor fit for desktop software, CLI applications, game development, machine-learning or other compute-heavy tasks, or FFI coming from other languages.
There is some noticeable brain-drain occurring, especially towards Rust and WASM. Losing the active participation of some of the folks who have moved on really set us back, IMO.
Fairly minor in the list above, but I think we made deals with devils in courting the amount of Blockchain/Crypto orgs that are present in the community. I personally find that approach unconscionably wasteful ecologically and also almost universally solving the wrong problem technically.
My gist above has more (not particularly refined) thoughts here as well. If I sound like a hater, I had a lot of good to say about Elixir too. I am undoubtedly a pessimist and a cynic, though.
I don’t think libraries of end-user macros or other non-breaking changes are the way out for most of my problems. I also don’t think some ill-defined “craftsmanship” movement about professionalism is what’s missing either. My problems aren’t because the community isn’t comprised of talented folks.
I wish projects like Gleam, Hamler, and whatever Facebook is cooking up the absolute very best, but I don’t think I am likely to stick around long enough to see their dreams fully realized. They would probably resolve a lot of my frustrations if they can deliver on the premise.
My current front-runner as a replacement is Rust. That’s probably fairly obvious from some of my phrasing above.