When comparing Scheme vs Assembly, the Slant community recommends Scheme for most people. In the question“What is the best programming language to learn first?” Scheme is ranked 5th while Assembly is ranked 38th. The most important reason people chose Scheme is:
Scheme syntax is extremely regular and easy to pick up. A *formal* specification of the syntax fits onto just a few pages; it can be introduced informally in a paragraph or two. Students are not distracted by remembering how to write if statements or loops or even operator precedence because every syntactic follows the same pattern. Ultimately, everything looks something like this: (func a b c) This includes not only user-defined functions but even control flow: (if cond then-clause else-clause) or even primitive operations like `define` and `set`: (define foo 10) (set! foo 11) This means that nothing really has special syntactic treatment in the language. There are essentially no weird edge-cases to memorize, and different concepts are given a more equal weight in the language. (Unlike Algol-like languages which tend to given undue weight to loops and assignment statements, for example.)
Ranked in these QuestionsQuestion Ranking
Pro Simple syntax
Scheme syntax is extremely regular and easy to pick up. A formal specification of the syntax fits onto just a few pages; it can be introduced informally in a paragraph or two. Students are not distracted by remembering how to write if statements or loops or even operator precedence because every syntactic follows the same pattern.
Ultimately, everything looks something like this:
(func a b c)
This includes not only user-defined functions but even control flow:
(if cond then-clause else-clause)
or even primitive operations like
(define foo 10) (set! foo 11)
This means that nothing really has special syntactic treatment in the language. There are essentially no weird edge-cases to memorize, and different concepts are given a more equal weight in the language. (Unlike Algol-like languages which tend to given undue weight to loops and assignment statements, for example.)
Pro Great, well known textbooks
There is a set of very strong textbooks introducing CS and programming using Scheme. These books are available for free online.
The most famous example--and one of the most famous CS books full stop--is Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs usually known as SICP. This book introduces fundamental ideas in computer science and covers an incredible amount of material quickly and clearly without requiring any prior knowledge.
However, some people find SICP a bit challenging as a first text. Happily, there are other more introductory texts as well. Simply Scheme is a book designed to be read before SICP, easing beginners into the language as well as CS and programming in general. How to Design Programs is another text used in introductory college courses.
Pro Great at teaching fundamental programming ideas
Scheme teaches the important, fundamental ideas immediately without the distraction of unnecessary syntax or language features.
Pro No Magic - it's clear how everything works
Scheme has far less built into the language itself, helping students see that things like OOP are not magical: they are just patterns for organizing code. Everything in Scheme is built up from a very small set of primitives which compose in a natural and intuitive fashion.
Having a language that does not accord many things special status helps keep students open minded. This will help students later go between different languages and paradigms from procedural to object-oriented to functional.
Pro Robust metaprogramming
The quotation functionality of Lisp allow for extremely powerful, yet syntactically straightforward metaprogramming via macros. This is more powerful than the C preprocessor while being less involved than something like Template Haskell or F# quotations.
Using macros to properly decompose a problem domain teaches new developers good habits, improving composibility and reliability when tackling large programs. Scheme metaprogramming also serves as a gentle introduction to domain specific languages.
Unlike most languages, Scheme actually accords both functional programming and imperative programming roughly equal status. Many other languages like Python and Java are staunchly imperative while SML and Haskell are primarily functional; Scheme is a nice middle ground.
Additionally, since Scheme syntax is extremely flexible, it can easily be re-purposed for teaching non-deterministic and logic programming. There is no need to learn a new language like Prolog when the same ideas can easily be expressed with Scheme syntax.
This gives students a good perspective on different ways to think about and organize programs, which makes it much easier to move forward to other languages and technologies.
Pro Low Level - it's how the computer works
One of the best ways to learn how a computer actually works is to work your way up from lower level abstractions. Assembly, being only a level above machine code, is low enough level to make it clear how the computer is actually performing a computation, including code flow and loops, but high enough level to not be excessively tedious for the type of small projects that a student would do at the beginning of their first programming class. Use of an assembler with macros can stretch this even a bit further.
Pro Useful for embedded systems
A curriculum that involves an embedded component, such as an Arduino or a Raspberry Pi, can encourage students by allowing them to immediately connect their work with 'real systems'. Assembly is the ideal language for getting started with and understanding these devices, and since Assembly can be called from C, the code will still be useful if students move on to C later in the program.
Pro Uniform syntax
Assembly language syntax is relatively uniform, and so there's less room for a student to get confused by obscure characters, or miss some meaning implied by structure, such as with scoping rules, or call-by-name/value/reference semantics. While there may be a lot of mnemonics to look up, most work involves only a very small subset of them.
Pro Naturally creates fast and small programs
Because of its natural syntax and low-level nature, assembly language programs are typically really small and fast.
Unlike other programming languages, in assembly language it is really hard to create a slow and over-bloated program.
Con Little Market Search
There are little to none jobs searching for a Scheme programmer. The ones that exist are more related to Research in Maths or Artificial Intelligence.
Con Fragmented ecosystem
Scheme is an IEEE standard, not an implementation. Unfortunately, the standard is too minimal and practical implementations have diverged--they had to expand on the standard to get anything done, but did so in incompatible ways.
The later de facto standard R6RS tried to correct this, but lost Scheme's minimalist elegance in the process. The newer R7RS standard takes the best of both worlds with an elegant minimalist core and a practical standard library.
Con Difficult learning curve
Starting off as a beginner with assembly language could prove very daunting. I suggest learning a high level language first (e.g. C) to get a good grasp of programming - especially dealing with bits, bytes, numbers, accessing memory with pointers (which is why I suggest C).
Then once that person is comfortable writing C (or whatever high level language) programs, they would find moving to assembler a little less of a "What the hell?!!!" experience.
Con Rarely a requirement or used in professional employment
Con Hyperspecific syntax isn't a good first step to learning other modern languages
Con Not very portable
The instruction set may change depending on what CPU architecture is being used. Also, there will be some differences in implementations due to different assemblers being used, such as with changes in OS.