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My personal experience to learn Clojure and Emacs together

Published: 2021-07-19


I recently made a bit lengthy response in the Clojureverse discussion on the topic “GNU Emacs + Cider vs VS Code + Calva”. To summarize:


Hi, I just want to provide another data point here. I started learning Clojure using my own free time back in 2018Q3 while having a full-time software engineering job in Java + Python. I picked up Emacs (Spacemacs at the time) around 2018Q4 for no particular reason other than I always gravitate toward ancient technologies. There’s just something about the aesthetics that I love about old technologies. I watched a few Clojure talks using Emacs on YouTube at the time and thought Emacs was pretty cool, and thought I wanted to be like those Clojure Emacs people. I was fairly fluent in Vim keybindings before that, so Spacemacs made the transition a bit easier.

There were lots of challenges to overcome to learn Clojure and Emacs at the same time. And oh boy, that was a lot of fun! I think both learning Clojure and learning Emacs are very rewarding experiences to me. The more time I spent on it, the more knowledge I gained, the more powerful I felt. I really think Clojure and Emacs are the two best things ever happen to my developer career so far.

I’d say that I got pretty fluent in Clojure by 2019Q4 when I got my first and current Clojure full-time position but was still a beginner Emacs. Today, I feel pretty comfortable rocking my own Emacs configuration without using any off-the-shelve Emacs distribution. I can read and write ELisp code (but not so fluently) and know a couple of tricks to debug/troubleshoot issues with 3rd party packages.

One benefit I found from learning Clojure and Emacs(Lisp) at the same time is that many of the concepts are transferable to one another. For example, the REPL driven development I love doing in Clojure is right there for you in Emacs, a highly moldable and inspectable Lisp machine like your Clojure REPL. Also, I couldn’t grasp the idea of dynamic vars in Clojure until I learned it from Emacs Lisp.

I know that the general sentiment towards Emacs is that it is too hard, and I get that. But I mean, what’s fun in learning it if it’s just easy? After using Emacs as my daily driver for almost 3 years, I am still having fun learning bits and bits about Emacs.

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