Re: [xsl] Future of XSL Stylesheet Writing?

Subject: Re: [xsl] Future of XSL Stylesheet Writing?
From: Abel Braaksma <>
Date: Thu, 27 Sep 2007 03:33:56 +0200
Hi Steven,

For as long as human history permits it, questions like this pop up every now and then (more every than then), but the subject never fails to attract attention.

I wouldn't go for *any* language to say you can use your skills for the next 5-10 years. If I look back at my short career in IT I have started out with C++ and VB (odd combination, I know), learned COBOL after the fact, learned XML, dis-learned it, learned it again the right way. Learned assembler, I needed it, but everybody told me it was "dead" (this was in 2002!). Learned Java from 1995, learned Rebol and learned Perl. I got hooked on Eiffel, and still am. I got hooked on XML again, but now for washing machines: SOAP. I learned SVG the hard way. Back to C#. Then I needed Fortran.... now I use Python and Ruby for testing, tomorrow I start with K, J and Haskell. Shall I go on?

I won't say that I am equally as skilled in every one of them. But my point is that from all these languages I learned, most of them, if not all, are of use to me daily or sometimes weekly. I think it is not a good thing to focus on one technique, tool, language, it will narrow your focus and it will bias your thoughts too much when you have to choose a technique for a certain project. I believe it is better to be open-minded about both emerging technologies and older standards. Some say LaTeX is dead, but look around and you see a lively community. I use it for fine-grained presentation of papers and it still out-performs any XSL-FO when it comes to layout (but maybe the comparison is not fair).

XSLT is *not* the "next big thing", nor will it never be. It is niche language, it is designed for a very specific domain: transformation of data from one format in another. That you can solve math puzzles with it is nice, but you can choose any language to do so (some are just better at it). It's main task is and will be transforming data.

If you find yourself the next 5 -10 years doing data transformations (it can be fun, but don't tell it the girl next-door or at the bar!), you may find a good friend in XSLT. The language won't quickly be replaced (it is there already for almost 10 years and a very great amount of tools natively support it) and the skills for it won't quickly loose there value. But if you compare it to other hot-shot languages, you are out of luck, it is not even in the top 20, and it is not likely to ever get there: (check lua and ruby, they are going up fast!).

Getting familiar with a new technique or tool every three months and learning a new language or technology at least once but better twice a year will give your job chances a much greater boost than betting on any one language alone: Andrew Hunt, Pragmatic Programmer, page 12.

I like to close with a quote from Benjamin Franklin:"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest".

-- Abel Braaksma

Steven Janoff wrote:
Newbie here, well-trained recently in the XSL arts, with a
career-related question.
Been in technical publishing and related fields long enough to see
several generations of publishing solutions where "hot" skills go cold
or cool. E.g., TeX coding skills replaced by secretary using Word;
HTML/CSS hand-coding skills replaced by graphic designer using
Dreamweaver. And so on.
Now I'm knee-deep in XSLT/XSL-FO stylesheet writing. I've wondered how
long these skills would be "hot" before being replaced by
much-less-skilled workers using a WYSIWYG XSL editor to create
stylesheets, without knowledge of the underlying XSL code. And I see
the recent announcement of the first such tool (or the first I've heard
of), primarily applied to visual FO development.
How many years do you think it will be before the skills celebrated on
this list -- writing XSLT/XSL-FO stylesheets the "old-fashioned" way,
understanding the code -- will be supplanted by the scenario described
above, as happened with the earlier tools?
Will these skills serve me for a number of years (5? 10?), or will I be
looking for the next suite of tools to learn in just a few years as
grandmothers around the world start creating PDFs in XSL-FO at the push
of a button? That's an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.
I've written this post in at least 6 ways (some much longer, some
shorter), but the fundamental question is the same: Will these skills
be bankable in 5 or 10 years?
Thanks for your honest assessment here. No one on the list can be
expected to predict the future, but the vast wealth of background among
you suggests that an "educated guess" from this list is about as close a
prognostication as you can get to what will actually happen.
Steve Janoff
Information Manager, Specialty Engineering
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.
Tel. (858) 312-3255 (New number)
Fax (858) 312-4668 (New number)

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