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Normal Humans Effectively Excluded From Developing Software 608

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the elitism-at-its-finest dept.
theodp (442580) writes Over at Alarming Development, Jonathan Edwards has an interesting rant entitled Developer Inequality and the Technical Debt Crisis. The heated complaints that the culture of programming unfairly excludes some groups, Edwards feels, is a distraction from a bigger issue with far greater importance to society.

"The bigger injustice," Edwards writes, "is that programming has become an elite: a vocation requiring rare talents, grueling training, and total dedication. The way things are today if you want to be a programmer you had best be someone like me on the autism spectrum who has spent their entire life mastering vast realms of arcane knowledge — and enjoys it. Normal humans are effectively excluded from developing software. The real injustice of developer inequality is that it doesn't have to be this way." Edwards concludes with a call to action, "The web triumphalists love to talk about changing the world. Well if you really want to change the world, empower regular people to build web apps. Disrupt web programming! Who's with me?" Ed Finkler, who worries about his own future as a developer in The Developer's Dystopian Future, seconds that emotion. "I think about how I used to fill my time with coding," Finkler writes. "So much coding. I was willing to dive so deep into a library or framework or technology to learn it. My tolerance for learning curves grows smaller every day. New technologies, once exciting for the sake of newness, now seem like hassles. I'm less and less tolerant of hokey marketing filled with superlatives. I value stability and clarity."
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Normal Humans Effectively Excluded From Developing Software

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  • Re:Cry Me A River (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oh_my_080980980 (773867) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:39AM (#47414573)
    Somebody didn't read the article:

    "In the old days there was a respected profession of application programming. There was a minority of elite system programmers who built infrastructure and tools that empowered the majority of application programmers. Our goal was to allow regular people without extensive training to easily and quickly build useful software. This was the spirit of languages like COBOL, Visual Basic, and HyperCard. Elegant tools for a more civilized age. Before the dark times before the web."

    "The web is just an enormous stack of kluges upon hacks upon misbegotten designs. This Archaeology of Errors is no place for the application programmers of old: it takes a skilled programmer with years of experience just to build simple applications on today’s web. What a waste. Twenty years of expediency has led the web into a technical debt crisis."

    It's a fair point.
  • And your point? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pla (258480) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:42AM (#47414617) Journal
    Normal humans are effectively excluded from developing software.

    I've said that for years. You, however, seem to hold that against those with the rare gift and dedication to code. Kinda missing the point, dude.


    a vocation requiring rare talents, grueling training, and total dedication. The way things are today if you want to be a programmer you had best be someone like me on the autism spectrum who has spent their entire life mastering vast realms of arcane knowledge â" and enjoys it

    Yes, yes, yes, kinda, yes, and yes. Again - Your point? You've described exactly why normal humans will never succeed as devs, and to a degree, why many devs tend to look down on those who can't even figure out Excel.

    And you call that "injustice"? I have a rare combination of qualities that let me do seemingly amazing things with computers, and in return, I make a decent (but by no means incredible) salary. You want injustice? Some of those same morons who can't even figure out Excel (much less writing their own override CSS) make millions of dollars per year telling me they want my latest app to use a differerent font color. Another group of those morons make millions of dollars per year because they can whack a ball with a stick better than I can. Yet another group of morons make millions of dollars per year doing absolutely nothing because Granddad worked a town of white trash (sometimes literally) to death.

    And yet you would call me out for busting my ass to turn my one natural skill into a modestly decent living?

    Go fuck yourself, Mr. Edwards. Hard.
  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:46AM (#47414661) Homepage

    Things are wrong if a group of people are excluded from something by others for no particular reason or a frivolous one such as: sex, religion, skin colour, ... However: we are not equal in achievement, I will never be a swimming great -- the young lads at the pool power past me, but I could prob write a better C program or shell script than they could. However if they were willing to put many years work they might manage that as well.

    Life is not fair, different people have different abilities & achievements. What is important is that society provides equality of opportunity; it is up to the individual to exercise that opportunity based on the time that they are willing to put in and their innate abilities.

  • by bfwebster (90513) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:48AM (#47414679) Homepage

    The article was called "The Real Software Crisis" (BYTE, January, 1996); you can read the original text here [brucefwebster.com]. (BYTE's archives are no longer online). I wrote a more extended discussion on the subject back in 2008; you can read it here [brucefwebster.com]. One might was well write that "normal humans are effectively excluded from composing and performing music"; if you've ever known a music major in college, you'll know just how true that is (I believe Music to be a harder major than Computer Science, having dated a Music major while getting my own degree in CS). ..bruce..

  • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by visualight (468005) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:50AM (#47414703) Homepage

    I flew to SF and interviewed at one of those companies. I interviewed with about 7 people. All of them were idiots, all of them were under 25, and all of them thought they were masters of the universe (well, the ruby-on-rails universe anyway). It was an eerie bizarro world experience I will never forget.

  • Re:Cry Me A River (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NotDrWho (3543773) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:54AM (#47414739)

    I wonder if anyone in the architecture profession has ever proclaimed "Well if you really want to change the world, empower regular people to build skyscrapers." Probably not. And yet the programming profession seems to be constantly obsessed with making the field accessible to everybody and her sister, as if programming should be something any idiot off the street can do easily.

  • Re:Cry Me A River (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robmv (855035) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @09:54AM (#47414745)

    The Internet was done so well that most people think of it as a natural resource like the Pacific Ocean, rather than something that was man-made. When was the last time a technology with a scale like that was so error-free? The Web, in comparison, is a joke. The Web was done by amateurs

    Alan Kay

    http://www.drdobbs.com/archite... [drdobbs.com]

  • Re:Cry Me A River (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @10:08AM (#47414921)

    "Application Programming" is today done in things like Excel spreadsheets. You don't need to write a COBOL app* to keep track of interest payments and such. I'd argue that computers are more accessible than ever, and thanks to Google routine coding often becomes this exercise in searching for already-solved problems and applying the solutions to your similar problem.

    * Ahhhh, dear God, "app"? Why did I type that?

  • Re:Cry Me A River (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DarkOx (621550) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @10:13AM (#47414979) Journal

    I don't think its fair. A modern web application is expected to do a whole heck of alot more than COBOL as it was originally designed even envisioned. You can still bang out a simple shell script or procedural program in Ruby today without knowing much of anything but we just don't consider those things 'applications' anymore.

    Hell COBOL (propper) isn't really even interactive, its read in records, and write out some other records. You needed something like CICS to do much of anything interactive and guess what its not so easy to use or understand anymore once you go there.

    Lets not even talk about the job control stuff to get your program running in the first place; normal people were never expected to handle that, it was the job of the OPERATOR who HAD EXTENSIVE TRAINING to do that.

    So really its just not true.

    Applications are more complicated to build today fundamentally because they are more complex in terms of what they do. Could it be simplified yes, we could fix lots of the technical kludges by replacing http and other web technologies with some truly stateful application delivery protocol and languages + libraries but it while it would be simpler it would not be simple.

    His view of the past is skewed, things were never really available to regular people. There was always specialized professionals in the background handling the details. Except for a breif period in the late 80's and early 90's during the height of the PC revolution. Those machines though were a great leap backward in terms of what the limitations were as compared to the mainframe, and in leaving those limitations like (single user) behind we have put all the complexity back in.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @10:38AM (#47415213)

    Yeah, this is basically what I've been wanting to scream to a lot of these people.

    "Hey geniuses, has it occurred to you that maybe the reason more people don't code is because it's hard". It's like the most obvious answer to why people don't do something is just to obscure. Why don't more people keep themselves in shape, because it's hard. Why don't smokers typically quit, because it's hard. Why isn't everybody in med school, because it's hard. Why do people typically focus in on one thing that's hard and try to excel at that one thing, because it takes a long time to get good at something that's hard to do, and you've only got a limited amount of time/energy. Find something that's hard that you enjoy and become good at it. I'm never going to be an amazing musician to a level of producing anything that anyone, myself included, would want to listen to because though I like music, it's hard to be good at writing it and playing it, and I don't care enough to expend the effort to become good at it. Likewise, my cooking is good enough that I like it, but I'd be shocked if anybody would be willing to pay me to cook for them, unless they lacked taste buds I guess.

  • Re:Cry Me A River (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Archangel Michael (180766) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @10:40AM (#47415231) Journal

    Tools are simpler and easier to use, and yet a Master can make those tools do things your average user cannot. And that makes the world of difference. A spreadsheet "can" be used as a simple Database, but actual real databases are more complex and can do things a Spreadsheet simply cannot handle. Is the difference "database" or something else? Is it the tool or something else?

    The problem isn't where the author thinks it is, masters always make their work look easy, but it takes skill and talent both. Skill is practice, talent is skill with artistry.

  • Re:Cry Me A River (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bob9113 (14996) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @11:06AM (#47415539) Homepage

    First off, love your post. Well said.

    The tools, well I know people who swear vim is easier to use than the latest IDE that has full intellisense and refactoring builtin, and they are probably right - in that they have learned their craft using that tool and actually are more productive than the bloated and slow IDE could make them.

    I would add that very little of my programming time is spent writing code, which is what an IDE is most helpful with; refactoring, code skeletons, reminding you of the order of args, etc. Most of the time I spend programming -- at least on anything that I expect will have a long service life -- is spent thinking through the right way for the code to work so it will be clear, fast, easy on memory, and work in a way that makes sense when we apply it in a different context. There is no IDE or language that can help with that part of the problem.

  • by FuzzNugget (2840687) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @11:24AM (#47415689)
    And thank the almighty FSM for it!

    I can't even imagine getting up at 7:00am every day, spending an hour putting myself together, running some shit through my hair, putting on a stuffy and uncomfortable suit and tie... only to walk in to some godawful nothing of a job where I'm expected to spend all day not only performing menial, make-work, soul-crushing bullshit work that could be done by robots, but navigate the minefield of social nuance. After all that, I'd be expected to piss away my evening on some social gathering to talk about some meaningless shit? Fuck all that noise.

    I figured out a while ago that "normal" people manage to fulfill themselves in soul-sucking non-jobs by feeding their social needs throughout the day. I have little-to-no social needs and such work would leave me completely empty to the point of contemplating self-harm.

    I love that I can roll out of bed at 9:00am, make my coffee and jump straight into work in my pyjamas, do my shit-shave-shower routine an hour later, grab another cup 'o joe and code till noon, have lunch, have my workout, then take my laptop out to the deck if it's a nice day and hack away until supper ... all while not interacting with a single person, save for email and the occasional phone call. Maybe I'll the energy for some light social interaction in the evening, but that's all I need for a week.

    Thank the almighty FSM for programming!
  • Re:Cry Me A River (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TemporalBeing (803363) <bm_witness@yahooWELTY.com minus author> on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @02:03PM (#47417189) Homepage Journal

    Somebody didn't read the article:

    "In the old days there was a respected profession of application programming. There was a minority of elite system programmers who built infrastructure and tools that empowered the majority of application programmers.

    I think this is more of deluded statement than anything. In the old days you typically had to have an Electrical Engineering degree to do programming - at a time when having a college degree was not the norm. This only filtered out of that circle as geeks took interest before college and tools became easier and costs were greatly reduced. The point: programming has always been done by a small group - the "elite" - at any time in the history of computer systems.

    Our goal was to allow regular people without extensive training to easily and quickly build useful software. This was the spirit of languages like COBOL, Visual Basic, and HyperCard. Elegant tools for a more civilized age. Before the dark times before the web."

    Again, progress has certainly occurred towards this, but the fact of the matter is that most people are not interested in being creative the way programming requires you to be. They'll be happy to play around with HyperCard or Excel long enough to get some basic thing done, but they'll be atleast equally happy to pass it on to some one so they can focus on what their actual job in stead of trying to figure out how to make a fancy little graph.

    "The web is just an enormous stack of kluges upon hacks upon misbegotten designs. This Archaeology of Errors is no place for the application programmers of old: it takes a skilled programmer with years of experience just to build simple applications on today’s web. What a waste. Twenty years of expediency has led the web into a technical debt crisis."

    Many of those things are because of people not skilled enough making the decisions - not understanding what's there and trying to fix it, only to realize later when they do understand it better that they royally screwed it up.

  • by Average (648) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:02PM (#47417799)

    Follow any one stack of learning, "the Ruby way" or "the Drupal way" or "the JSP way", and you can create wonderful small-scale things that, while they might get mocked by the tech-weenie chorus, serve their function and make people happy.

    Every hip language/framework/DB/deployment tool/bundler/markup language/food processor is designed to make your day better. Virtually all of them actually do just that (okay, a few will piss you off, but most are not intentionally evil).

    The problem is supporting a world with 65 different technologies. It is indeed superhuman to expect someone to be a Groovy/Perl/Node.js/SASS/Hadoop/Puppet/XSLT/AWS/PCI-DSS/Postgres-tweaking/network-routing/desktop-supporting "web guy". (My current job wants that and much more, and, sorry, they don't actually have it in me. I hate faking it. I fake it.)

    And, yet, much of the suit-wearing world doesn't understand that, and willfully doesn't want to figure that out. In 1998, they hired "a web guy". If they got successful, they hired five "web guys". Or 20. Those business-people are still looking for "web guys". People who are extreme generalists in "the web" in 2014 are either savants or on the hardcore burnout track.

  • Re:Cry Me A River (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn@ear ... t ['hli' in gap]> on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @04:01PM (#47418617)

    Bad example. The $10,000 hammer was because of the paperwork required to buy a single hammer for a high security project. Yes, it was extreme idiocy, but it WAS following the rules as specified, and the CIA wasn't involved.

    If they'd been buying 100,000 hammers it would have made a lot more sense, and the increment in the cost wouldn't have been so absurd.

    What's really sickening is that there was a project that carefully specified the particular alloys and heat treatment that the nuts and bolts were to have, paid for them, and the contractor supplied off-the-shelf nuts and bolts from a hardware store. This was determined after the cause of failure was found to be a split nut. The spec'd one wouldn't have failed. The cheap nut ended up costing a lot more than $10,000.

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