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Businesses Programming

'I Just Need a Programmer' 735

Posted by timothy
from the next-step-solve-all-problems dept.
theodp writes "As head of the CS Department at the University of Northern Iowa, Eugene Wallingford often receives e-mail and phone calls from eager entrepreneurs with The Next Great Idea. They want to change the world, and they want Prof. Wallingford to help them. They just need a programmer. 'Many idea people,' observes Wallingford, 'tend to think most or all of the value [of a product] inheres to having the idea. Programmers are a commodity, pulled off the shelf to clean up the details. It's just a small matter of programming, right?' Wrong. 'Writing the program is the ingredient the idea people are missing,' he adds. 'They are doing the right thing to seek it out. I wonder what it would be like if more people could implement their own ideas.'"
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'I Just Need a Programmer'

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  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:24AM (#34456404) Homepage

    This might be limited to universities, but on job ads posted around the campus, "computer science student" tends to stand for "cheap coder". Every now and then some hot-shot (possibly a marketing, media or finance student) with a bright idea for a new dot-com (sorry, Web 2.0 site) puts up flyers asking for "computer scientists".

    It's funny because technically, we can be cheap coders (and will be, often), but it would sound less bull-shitty if the ad actually said "programmer".

  • by wagadog (545179) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:25AM (#34456408) Journal

    We should unionize. Conservative rhetoric aside, labor unions provide training, institute quality standards and work procedures.

    The partnership system in the steamfitters and pipefitters unions could be emulated as pair programming is often much higher quality than code produced by lone programmers, or ad hoc hastily-assembled teams.

    Think of it as a contracting outfit, only with the hefty cut that normally goes to the contract brokers -- going directly into your pension plan -- a REAL pension plan -- which you get to take with you from job to job.

    Training, standards, a partner system, pensions, health plans. All the things we could get small businesses off the hook of having to provide.

    And, union labor could actually undercut the likes of TekSystems and Adecco in a fair fight, lol.

  • by orphiuchus (1146483) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:31AM (#34456434)
    My father is a professor at a major university who for years has been listed as a "Alternative Fuels expert". He gets calls just about daily from whack-jobs who are positive they've invented some perpetual energy source and they just need some PHD to lend them the credibility to get funding. The vast majority of the people simply don't know what they are talking about, but a fun minority is downright insane, like the hobo who wandered into his office and explained to him where to find the aliens in the early 90s.
  • Re:As a programmer (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SanityInAnarchy (655584) <ninja@slaphack.com> on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:31AM (#34456438) Journal

    I honestly don't think either is true.

    Programming is not a production line, and trying to turn it into that leads to inefficient programmers, bad code, and maintenance nightmares. Programming is an art, a creative process, and a science, and there are definitely people who do it better than others, and platforms which make it easier than others.

    That's important. Think about a typical ad agency, special effects company, or pretty much any design field where you can hire a contractor for a project. You hire them based on their work, because their work is recognizable and valuable. You also hire them based on prior experience working with them, how well you can communicate your ideas to them, and so on. You can pretend they're replaceable if you want, which is partly true -- there are always other design companies you can go to -- but you certainly don't think of them as cogs in an assembly line.

    You sure as hell don't try to design your process so you can replace a single artist at any time.

    However, ideas are valuable. I can't speak for other programmers, but I'm absolutely lost on the business side of things. From my perspective, sales, marketing, ideas, and so on are just some of the things I'm very glad other people do, all as part of the Development Abstraction Layer [joelonsoftware.com]. I'm hopeless without them, to the point where on one-man projects, I usually end up asking every prospective customer, investor, or just friends and family, for advice on things like naming a price.

    I'm not sure how I feel about idea people learning to program. They try anyway, with spreadsheets. Sometimes it ends well, but often it ends in disaster. It's usually not a good idea to hire a dedicated full-time programmer to work on spreadsheets, and the whole point of spreadsheets is to enable end-users to do these things. Still, a few basic programming concepts would go a long way, even if they are in spreadsheets.

    (No, I don't mean VBA. Either program or don't, but to half-ass it by crawling up out of excel into VBA is only going to end in tears.)

    And I do like to think I'm working on something really cool. I certainly want my "code poetry" to have a point. It's not that I can't appreciate idea people or their ideas, it's that I'm not much of an idea person myself -- or at least, my ideas don't tend to be the sort that are likely to make me money.

  • by orphiuchus (1146483) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:35AM (#34456474)
    I think the current situation that programmers are in industry wide is exactly the sort of thing unions are designed to prevent. And I say that as a republican.
  • Re:As a programmer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Angst Badger (8636) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:38AM (#34456496)

    The idea and the marketing are what makes the product successful.

    As much as I agree that programmers tend to overestimate their importance -- a trait that pretty much every job category shares to one degree or another -- I think the idea is of negligible importance compared to the marketing.

    A lot of people like to think that having a good idea and having it first is terribly important. And while that is occasionally true, it's mostly wishful thinking. Henry Ford didn't get rich by inventing the automobile. Someone else did that. He didn't even get rich by inventing the assembly line. Someone else did that, too. He got rich by extending credit to his customers: he invented the car payment. And once he did all this, a bunch of other companies came along and did more or less the same thing, and they made vast sums doing it, too. And the story repeats itself through the following century with radio, television, computers, refrigerators, and all the other technological advances we presently enjoy. Even with patents, inventing something and inventing it first just doesn't matter all that much. (Which is not to say that it doesn't matter at all.)

    The same applies to the myth of the indispensable man (or woman). By himself, Henry Ford couldn't have done squat. He needed a considerable number of people with a broad range of skills just to get off the ground. And quite likely, any or all of them could have been replaced by other people without materially affecting the outcome.

    Those of us who aren't magnates believe these myths because they allow us to believe an even bigger myth: that we can, as lone individuals, change the world. This is almost never true, allowing for rare exceptions like assassinating an Austrian archduke. Those who are magnates believe these myths because they allow magnates to believe that they are self-made men, ignoring the labor and intelligence of the thousands who helped put them there.

    If good ideas were all it took to strike it rich, almost everyone would be rich already.

  • Re:As a programmer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:52AM (#34456596)

    As a programming non-programmer, I think I kind of fall under the category the post is talking about.

    My background is an aerospace engineer, but I've been coding since I was about 10. My job is spacecraft navigation, and much of my free time is spent helping manage a conference and a non-profit organization. My job is a lot of analysis and simulation, and the way its set up, it ends up being a lot of code (Python tying together a bunch of C objects,) and for my non-profit work, I have the skills that have led me to end up doing a lot of the web work -- particularly developing a complex web-based app to manage speakers, schedules, volunteers, etc.

    Since I spend a lot of my time in code, and I'm an engineer at heart, I'd say I've learned how to do decent coding -- modularity, MVC, properly normalized databases, small well-defined functions, OO when necessary (and recognizing when its necessary). Now I won't claim to be at all skilled in anything lower level -- I can handle memory management, but I have no handle on things like compilers, operating system design, fancy algorithms and basic computer science theory -- but I feel confident in saying that I have a good if amateur grasp of software engineering. Its never bullet-proof code, but its adaptable and expandable and does its job well.

    I enjoy coding a lot, but I'm an engineer, and I like to build working systems for a purpose. In my work, being able to script together exactly what I need to do is a huge help, and compared to my older colleagues who don't take advantage of the newer scripting capabilities (I'm the first person trained entirely on our new system), I'm able to do a lot of new and creative things quickly. In my non-profit work, having worked on the conference before and writing the software to run it without having to trade back and forth as much with the customers makes it great. Basically, I am one of my own customers when I write this code, which helps a lot.

    I guess what it comes down to is that you don't want the managers coding, but having technically-minded but non-CS/CE be able to write good prototype code can be great. People like me won't write code that will scale past a certain point, but it can prove the concept and be quite useful at small and medium scales.

  • Re:As a programmer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Surt (22457) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:01AM (#34456654) Homepage Journal

    I specialized in C reduction for years (and was very successful at it), but I started making 6-figures after I gave that up and just started building business applications.

  • Re:As a programmer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fluffeh (1273756) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:23AM (#34456786)

    Unless your product is catering to developers, your customers don't give a damn what the code that powers your product looks like (and even if your customers ARE developers, they probably still don't care).

    With a totally new out of the box idea, I would agree. The coding itself isn't all that important. However, I am in an analysis team (in a multinational, multi-billion dollar company) and part of our job is to provide tools and programs to look at the business in new/innovative/out of the box ways - and this means that a lot of the time we are the ones with the "great idea" as the article suggests. For us, when we develop these tools, doing it in an efficient and well designed way is one of the most important things.

    This is because there hasn't been a single time that we haven't given our business managers a new insight into the business that hasn't resulted in those chaps then saying "Great, now that I know [insert reason/cause/problem], I would really like to see how it ties in with [insert potential cause/issue/problem] and see if they are related.". We do really need to design our products/projects in such a way that we have the flexibility to be able to modify them quite drastically. If our solutions were a program stuck together with bits of tape and band-aids we simply wouldn't be able to deliver what was needed.

    Not all great ideas that need a programmer are in the same bucket.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:25AM (#34456792) Journal
    Wait, what situation are programmers in industry wide? Making three times the median income? Getting full coverage healthcare with no limits (and so cheap it's almost free)? I mean, I have it pretty good here, and so do most of the other programmers I know.

    When I hear 'union', I think seniority, inefficiency, union dues, and another layer of administrators to deal with. I don't want to deal with some incompetent coworkers who can't be fired just because they've been around a long time. I really don't see how I would get anything at all from a union, at least from a US style union.
  • by thePig (964303) <rajmohan_h.yahoo@com> on Monday December 06, 2010 @02:12AM (#34457096) Journal

    Amen to that, brother.

    I started my own company. The idea was good, and I had confidence in myself to create the program by myself.
    I left my job and started out on my own. My wife (and my 2 year old too) was also full supportive.

    I completed the coding and testing part. It took me close to a year, but I finished it.
    It works great, everybody who saw the program (including one MNC), said it is very well done.

    After that it came to marketing and sales.
    I went to an MNC where I previously worked. They said they are interested and pulled me around for 4 months before they stopped answering my calls.
    And by then - after 1 year - I got tired and lost my will.

    I started fighting with my wife everyday for very small reasons. Pressure from parents/relatives/friends etc to look for a job etc. Not from my wife though.

    I relented, and I joined a startup - actually I went there to sell my product, and they were very impressed and asked me to join them.
    It has been a year now. I have a fully done product with me. I have not gone to sell it to more than 3 clients.

    It is something I regret, and regret a lot. But I now understand, with experience, that starting a business is not about coding or even having the idea.
    It is about perseverance and patience. Which I sorely lacked.

  • Re:As a programmer (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheLink (130905) on Monday December 06, 2010 @02:24AM (#34457168) Journal

    Maybe not that well but it still does: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/11/sorting-1pb-with-mapreduce.html [blogspot.com]

  • Re:As a programmer (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Darinbob (1142669) on Monday December 06, 2010 @02:33AM (#34457216)
    The problem is that the vast majority of these ideas tend to be completely unworkable, or overly broad. It's because the person with the idea has no clue about how to go about implementing them, and is thus completely ignorant of what can and can't be done, or how much effort it will take. And that's even filtering out the completely goofy ideas. People have this get-rich-quick mindset that gets in the way. Such as when the dotcom boom was going on, and people thought they could make a fortune selling pet food online or other unworkable ideas. In some of the cases they don't just lack the programming knowledge, they lack the entire range of knowledge that's necessary - management, planning, marketing, sales, logistics, etc.

    Often I think they just expect to have this great idea and then make a fortune off of royalties.

    Just today in a game there was this kid going on about how he needed a good programmer, because he had this awesome game idea. It turned out to be completely silly, but requiring a lot of complicated implementation.
  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday December 06, 2010 @02:43AM (#34457280)

    The thing is what can and can't be done with a computer is the kind of thing non-computer people have trouble understanding. So their "great ideas" may well be "impossible pipe dreams." I have a friend who is all the time bothering another friend with ideas for development that are impossible, things that would require an AI to do. He doesn't know computers very well so he doesn't know what can and can't be done.

    So you might not have to be a programmer, but at least have some deeper computer and programming knowledge to be able to actually come up with a workable idea.

    As a practical matter I find that the "I have the idea all I need is a programmer," types always have shitty ideas. They are usually very vague, obvious, already been done, etc. We see this shit with business students (I work for a university). They'll come over since we are the engineering department looking for engineers to work on their project. They have a "great idea" and "just need some people to develop it." They have a very small amount of funds they are willing to pay, and of course they keep all the rights, because after all THEY did the hard part. Often their ideas are, literally, along the lines of "Make a search engine that works better than Google," or the like. Things that would take a massive implementation effort even if they are feasible. However they think they did all the work coming up with it and making Powerpoints about it, and they just need a couple engineering students to stop being jerks and accept a minimal amount of pay to make it a reality.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 06, 2010 @04:05AM (#34457656)

    Oddly enough, my father was also a professor at a university (he's retired now, although still has his endowed chair), in chemistry, and he got a call from a whackjob person who needed a PhD to validate his idea, and it turned out to be an honest, interesting, and new discovery in photochemistry.

    The guy really had discovered something by poking about in his garage, and rang up a chemistry prof to confirm for himself that he wasn't mad, and get some theoretical foundation for why his process worked.

    It can happen. But we don't hear about all those that were just quietly laughed away (as they should have been).

    AC

  • by xmundt (415364) on Monday December 06, 2010 @04:16AM (#34457712)

    Greetings and Salutations....
    Having skimmed through the comments, I will say that it is a good feeling to know that there are so many of us highly competent artists who are massively under-appreciated and under paid. No...I am NOT being sarcastic here. Just the other day, I had a lengthy meeting with three very nice folks that wanted me to set up and administer a website pushing their brand of Zeolite. They had a reasonably cautious business plan, and, had thought about many expenses and such that could arise. Two of them are fairly successful business people, and, I say that because, while they may not be accumulating huge amounts of wealth, they are keeping their heads above water even in TODAY's nasty and fragile economy. In any case, we talked about the content of the site, and, while they had SOME information for it, it quickly became clear to me that they had the idea that I could come in, pop up a few pages for a couple hundred dollars, and, they could then forget the site while the orders and cash rolled in. They had no idea about search engine optimization (such as it is), or, adding content to keep folks interested in coming back to the site, or any of a half a dozen OTHER things that help generate interest in the site and, perhaps the product they were pushing.
    Alas, it ALSO became clear as I spoke with them that they wanted me to create this website, including an e-commerce shopping cart, and, maintain it, either for free (Promises of great rewards to come when the company took off) or for small money (something on that $10/hour figure that has been tossed around already). Well, as an independent consultant, my hourly rate is just a tad larger than that, and, I just walked away from a client who spent a lot of time blowing smoke up my "dress" about how I was going to get these great rewards for my efforts on their behalf, as soon as the economy picked up. Being somewhat slow to learn, it took a while for me to look at them, driving their expensive BMWs, Lexi, and Hummers, and living in their million dollar houses, to realize that the only pocket the money was going to go into was theirs...not mine. So...to get back to my point....I thought about doing this online shop and website for these fine folks for a bit, and ended up writing them a proposal that, essentially, cut my hourly rate by about 25%, but, with a guaranteed monthly payment, and strict limits on how many hours per month they would get from me FOR that retainer. I also made it very clear that any time I spent over and above the allocated time would be charged at my regular rates, and, that I DID charge for time spent in meetings. My general rule there is that the client gets the first meeting free...after that...it gets billed.
    So...it has been a few months now, and, oddly enough, I have not heard anything back from them. I suspect that, since it was mentioned in our original meeting, that they have gone ahead and talked the nephew of one of the folks into putting the site together. Should I have taken the job? At the time it was the only sign of work out there. However, since then, I have picked up several smaller clients, who call me on an as-needed basis, and, pay COD...so since I do not do this as a hobby, and, so far, the utility company has yet to give me free electricity, I think I made the correct decision.
    Just to prove I am not totally wandering away from the topic at hand with this rant, the zeolite folks that I talked to were pretty much of the mindset that they had done all the hard work - coming up with the idea for the website and all they needed was a hack to go in and change some URLs or a bit of text to talk about THEM and THEIR product, and make it pretty. It has been my experience over the years that folks like this are not really downplaying the role of the programmer so much as they are running on that autopilot program th

  • by Skal Tura (595728) on Monday December 06, 2010 @11:09AM (#34459860) Homepage

    Hey, it's us programmers who are supposed to bring all that expertise on the table, get paid next to nothing, listen to verbal abuse day in and out, and in the end have a battle about getting paid at all or not, and when you are winning that battle, they threaten to sue you on court for demanding to get paid for work. Not only that, but they expect that if you start a job and you spend 1hr doing it, you may not charge for it at the following days anymore, but even a 1000hr job has to be done on that initial stretch. If that's not enough, they hire you on a hourly basis, but expect you to work at project terms, thus denying any right to pay a dime before you accomplish 1500hr job to get paid for the 150hrs owed.

    Sometimes they put the payments on ridiculous terms which they do anything to stop you from achieving so that there would be a snowball's chance in hell they'd have a bad conscious to not paying you.

    And if you happen to get all of that right, client decides in the end "this idea was bad, so this implementation must suck and you suck as a coder, thus we don't need to pay you", stays quiet for couple months, then implement your alternative idea to get the system done on minimal work.

    Ofc, for a programmer "rush" and "hurry" are just feelings and do not exist, and programmer's 24hr day is actually a 48hr day and programmers don't need to sleep. Programming neither is a job which requires special skills, knowledge or way of thinking. Programmers also work each day faster, so you can just keep increasing the load on a infinite loop. They are efficiently semi-robots as they have no emotions but are still capable of creative thinking.

    They are also masters of all fields of knowledge, experienced veterans. All of them know marketing & advertising, business leadership, how any industry works and rocket engineers along with being programmers.

    If you do happen to agree to pay them, you don't need to pay the local rates, because you can get programmers so much cheaper from far asian countries. Not only that, but they never have a problem accomplishing a 500hr task in 1 week.

    But most of all, programmers are telepathic and knows what you want without telling you.

    You know what's the irony here? This was all based on my experience. I've been always avid coder, done lots of cutting edge stuff, just for fun or to profit myself. I finally went to work as a programmer because i needed that income. Took me a bit over 1½years to burn out, then finally first proper vacation and few freelancing clients to stop completely and refusing even very high paid jobs. Now i only code for friends, and even that with extremely long schedules. The best thing was that the income was worse as a full time coder than as a logistics worker in a warehouse! I quite literally earned more as logistics worker during the brief 2months i temped there before going as a programmer.

    The sad part is that i actually liked working as a programmer, and i liked to have a little bit of hurry. I was 110% fine with that, but the loads kept increasing faster, and owner of the company was a total asshole. He basically told me that it's a illusion that i'm in a hurry, after i had worked 3 months constant overtime and my workload had doubled or tripled during that, some of which i WANTED to do, but the amount of work started to become a bit too much and i became stressed out. Final stretch was the owner of company gave me bullshit written warning. He refused to give me even average industry salary based on the fact that he wanted to make me a partner in that company - Basicly asking money for shares of unknown value, so that i would work for smaller salary. I was earning so little than under 100euros spending to fix my home computer took 4+ months to get together that money, after all gas to get to work and back and food are more important costs.

"Consequences, Schmonsequences, as long as I'm rich." -- "Ali Baba Bunny" [1957, Chuck Jones]

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