Lunch break talks #1: Simplicity is complicated

I sometimes like to watch a talk during my lunch breaks, so I decided to share some of the best ones I bump into, along with my notes. I try to keep the topics fairly language agnostic (after all it’s a lunch break).

In this case the talk is from Rob Pike, one of the creators of Go. It still resonates with me, even if I am writing JavaScript pretty much all day. Simplicity is a goal at any level you’re writing (not just when writing a language!) and it is a hard thing to achieve.

I really like that Rob Pike makes everyone think about how hard it is to architect the grammar of a language, and how hard it is to take decisions and make tradeoffs when designing a new one. Funny how just a few days ago I was wondering why Go was not providing a filter or map method for arrays or slices, and he actually answers it during this talk.

Such an inspiring video that I think every programmer should see, even if not interested in Go!

My key key take aways:

New features

  • a lot of languages are adding new features (coff… coff.. JavaScript…)
  • a lot of this new features are the same ones across languages
  • these languages are starting to look very similar one another
  • if programmers use very similar languages, they will start to all think the same way
  • in reality, what you ideally want, is a language that is very good at solving domain specific problems


  • more features equals more complexity
  • Go has added a very small set of features
  • how to pick the right feature to add? By picking only the right ones!



  • a lot of thinking has to be put to achieve simplicity
  • GC is one example of it in Go. A very difficult feature to implement that is 100% hidden from the end user, or even from the spec
  • the interface to the user might be simple, even the implementation in the language might be simple, but the design of a feature is very likely to be a long, difficult process
  • a lot of complexity might lie behind very simple code. He makes a fantastic walkthrough of a simple server written in Go and what’s happening behind the scenes here

Bottom line is, simplicity is hard to get, but - if you get it right - makes doing complicated things easy to achieve for your users.

Written on November 27, 2019