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science and technology

How to Learn Scala

Are you looking for a programming language that’s widely used in data science, highly scalable, and in demand? Look no further than Scala. Apache Spark, a popular tool for data science, is built on Scala, and Scala is known for supporting large quantities of data. You can benefit from learning the programming language as Scala developers are among the highest-paying developers and the demand for Scala skills is high.

In this master guide, you’ll learn how to get started with this exciting and popular programming language. 

What You Need to Know About Scala

Scala was released by computer scientist Martin Oderksy in 2004. Scala is a compiled language that runs on the JVM, or Java Virtual Machine, and is largely based on the Java programming language. Scala is interoperable with Java, which means you can write Java code in a Scala program and vice versa.

With Scala, you can write fewer, though more complex, lines of code than you would need to write in Java. Scala’s readability has contributed to Scala’s popularity for use in data science applications. 

Scala uses components of both functional programming (a programming paradigm based on mathematical operations) and object-oriented programming (a paradigm in which code elements are grouped together as objects). 

Here are several more key elements of Scala:

  • Functions. As part of Scala’s functional programming nature, functions are the primary building blocks. Before learning Scala, you should understand concepts related to functions such as pure functions (a function whose output depends only on the function’s input variables), higher order functions (functions that take other functions as parameters and return a function as a result), and anonymous functions (functions which do not contain a name).
  • Variables. Scala has immutable (unchangeable) variables, defined by the val keyword, and mutable (changeable) variables, defined by the var keyword. Scala also has “lazy val”, a language feature where the initialization of a val is delayed until the val is accessed for the first time. This feature can save unnecessary computation and contributes to Scala’s scalability.
  • Collections. In Scala, collections are essentially data structures, such as lists and tuples. Collections can be “lazy”, meaning that they have elements that don’t take up memory until they are accessed.

Skills Needed to Learn Scala

Knowing Java before you learn Scala is very helpful, as Scala is a language based on Java. But if you want to jump right into Scala, you’ll have an easier time if you have the following skills before you get started: 

  • Familiarity with functional and object-oriented programming. Scala is based on the functional programming and object-oriented programming paradigms. You should be at least familiar with these paradigms before getting started. 
  • Experience with a command line interface and/or an IDE (integrated development environment). You’ll use either a command line interface (recommended by the Scala Getting Started guide) or an IDE (like IntelliJ or Eclipse) to build Scala projects. Being familiar with these kinds of tools before learning Scala will make your learning journey go more smoothly, as you can focus more on learning Scala syntax and less on figuring out how the tools work. 
  • Ability to handle ambiguity. In Scala, there are multiple ways to do the same thing, and the behavior of a given symbol is not always predictable. For example, there are many uses for an underscore in Scala.

Why You Should Learn Scala

Adding Scala to your data science skill set is a smart choice for several reasons:

  • Scala is popular in the field of data science. Apache Spark is an open source analytics engine for processing large amounts of data and is commonly used in data science. Mastering Spark requires an understanding of Scala, because Spark’s source code is written in Scala. If you are interested in the AI (artificial intelligence) aspect of data science, you can use Scala’s AI frameworksScalaNLP is a suite of machine learning and numerical computing libraries for Scala. 
  • You can use Scala as a replacement for Java. Scala is considered by many developers to be an improved version of Java. With Scala, you can write fewer (though more complex) lines of code than you would need to accomplish the same task in Java. Because Java and Scala are interoperable, you can import Java libraries to use in Scala and write Java code in your Scala program if you want to. 
  • Reason 3: Scala is scalable. The name “Scala” is a combination of two words: “scalable” and “language.” Scala can be used to power backend services that receive a high volume of input data. For example, Twitter, which originally used Ruby as the platform’s backend language, migrated much of their backend components to languages like Scala and Java.

How Long Does It Take to Learn Scala?

Scala will take you two to three months to learn if you are not familiar with Java. Scala will take you about one month to learn if you are familiar with Java. As with any technology, the more you practice, the more your skills will grow.

Learning Scala: A Study Guide

Books, courses, and other online resources can all help you grow your Scala skills. Here are our top picks to get your started.

Scala Tutorial by TutorialsPoint

TutorialsPoint
  • Resource Type: Tutorial
  • Price: Free
  • Audience: Beginner

You will learn the basics of Scala, including how to set up your development environment and basic Scala syntax, data types, and variables. Other topics covered are classes and objects, loop statements, and regular expressions. You can also access the Scala Resources link in the tutorial to further grow your skills.

Learning Scala Programming by Vikash Sharma

Amazon
  • Resource Type: Book
  • Price: Starts at $35.99 on Amazon
  • Audience: Beginner

With this book, you will understand and develop Scala applications using object-oriented and functional programming concepts. You will also learn how to use Akka, a toolkit for building concurrent applications in Scala (concurrency refers to running multiple sequences of operations).

Concepts also include testing your applications using methodologies like TDD (test-driven development), functions, and collections (similar to data structures).

Functional Programming in Scala by Paul Chiusano

Amazon
  • Resource Type: Book
  • Price: Starts at $29.85 on Amazon
  • Audience: Beginner

This book will guide you from the basic concepts of functional programming to advanced topics. You will find helpful exercises and examples to help you grow your Scala and functional programming skills. Additionally, you’ll learn about data structures, monoids (algebraic structures), and how to handle errors.

Introduction to Scala by Treehouse

Treehouse
  • Resource Type: Course
  • Price: $19.99/month for Treehouse Subscription
  • Audience: Intermediate

When you finish this course, you will understand the fundamentals of Scala. You’ll build your first Scala app, learn how to use Scala’s data structures, and delve into higher order functions. This course takes 105 minutes to complete and includes quizzes and video content.

Scala: The Big Picture by Pluralsight

Pluralsight
  • Resource Type: Course
  • Price: $29/month for Pluralsight Subscription
  • Audience: Intermediate

This course will teach you about functional programming in Scala, classes and functions, and the Scala collections library (Scala collections are similar to data structures). You will also learn how to use concurrency (running multiple sequences of operations) to write asynchronous code.

To get the most from this course, you should be familiar with at least one programming language and understand the basics of methods, functions, variables, and arguments. 

Communities for People Studying Scala

Meetup: Scala Groups

Attending meetups is a great way to not only learn more about Scala but also to network with others in the Scala community. The Meetup website hosts many groups related to Scala, data science, and functional programming. Many meetups are currently hosted online, so you can attend events hosted by groups from around the world.

Scala Discord 

The Scala Discord server has several useful channels for you as you learn Scala. These channels include #scala-users, where you can browse what people are talking about in the community. With #tooling, you can learn about the best technology for Scala development. There are also channels for news, events, and jobs.

ScalaCon

ScalaCon is a conference opportunity to learn new Scala skills and find out what’s happening in the world of Scala development. By attending ScalaCon, you’ll get access to talks, networking opportunities, virtual sponsor booths, and workshops. 

Encouraging a flourishing, diverse Scala community is a top priority for ScalaCon, so a percentage of ticket sales are invested in organizations that support underrepresented groups in tech. 

How Hard is It to Learn Scala?

Learning Scala can be difficult if you are new to programming. You will need to understand programming paradigms — IDEs and command line interface — and the Scala syntax.

That said, if you are willing to be patient with the process and face Scala’s learning curve, learning Scala has many benefits for you as a developer. 

Will Learning Scala Help Me Find a Job?

The demand for skilled Scala developers is high, and these developers are among the highest paid in the tech industry.

  • Salaries. Scala is a top-paying programming language. Jobs in data science, where Scala is often used, command an average annual salary of $113,309. According to the Stack Overflow 2020 Developer Survey, Scala is the top-paying programming language in the United States, with an average salary of $150k. 
  • Job Openings. There are many jobs available for Scala developers. As of this writing, there are over 7k jobs on Glassdoor that mention Scala, with roles such as Senior Data Engineer, Data Scientist, and Backend Engineer.
  • Industry Growth (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). The job outlook for software developers, a type of job where you would use Scala, is projected to grow by 22% by 2029. As the demand for new software and software maintenance increases and the field of data science grows, Scala developers in particular will continue to be in high demand.

Conclusion: Should You Learn Scala?

Scala is a very scalable language that is popular in data science. Apache Spark is built with Scala source code, and Scala has AI frameworks and tools for creating statistical computing, machine learning, and NLP (natural language processing) projects. 

Scala is generally more readable and concise than Java, another language used in data science. Scala uses two programming paradigms, functional programming and object-oriented programming. Scala can be ambiguous, and a single symbol may have multiple uses. 

If you are serious about becoming a data scientist, you should learn Scala. Scala is a top-paying technology and the demand for Scala skills is high, making learning Scala a great choice for anyone willing to put in the effort to learn this programming language.

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