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Programming IT Technology

Does the 'Hacker Ethic' Harm Today's Developers? 436

snydeq writes "Fatal Exception's Neil McAllister questions whether the 'hacker ethic' synonymous with computer programing in American society is enough for developers to succeed in today's economy. To be sure, self-taught 'cowboy coders' — the hallmark of today's programming generation in America — are technically proficient, McAllister writes, 'but their code is less likely to be maintainable in the long term, and they're less likely to conform to organizational development processes and coding standards.' And though HTC's Vineet Nayar's proclamation that American programmers are 'unemployable' is overblown, there may be wisdom in offering a new kind of computer engineering degree targeted toward the student who is more interested in succeeding in industry than exploring computing theory. 'American software development managers often complain that Indian programmers are too literal-minded,' McAllister writes, but perhaps Americans have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. In other words, are we 'too in love with the hacker ideal of the 1980s to produce programmers who are truly prepared for today's real-life business environment?'"
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Does the 'Hacker Ethic' Harm Today's Developers?

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  • by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @04:39PM (#28519327) Homepage Journal

    And though HTC's Vineet Nayar's proclamation that American programmers are 'unemployable'...

    Flamebait. The article goes on to say that Americans are all prima donnas who are out of touch with reality and want to start with 80K a year and whatnot. Besides that being a bad stereotype and not always true, and when it is true it also applies to math or engineering or whatever grads whose parents buttercupped them with promises of the American dream when they finished school. It is their fault for not anticipating reality just as it will be the Indians' fault if they refuse to anticipate their jobs going somewhere cheaper.

    there may be wisdom in offering a new kind of computer engineering degree targeted toward the student who is more interested in succeeding in industry than exploring computing theory.

    They're already here, usually called "Software Engineering. The coursework is usually half business, half programming and IT. If you can survive rolling your eyes at all the buzzwords and colored charts, it's decent preparation for becoming a Dilbertian drone. Plus, you won't have to sweat learning the vector calculus you'll never use outside of school.

  • Summary error (Score:5, Informative)

    by IamTheRealMike ( 537420 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @04:40PM (#28519355)
    HTC is a Taiwanese electronics firm. The CEO in question is (according to the previous summary) running HCL Technologies. Of course if the previous summary is inaccurate as well, this is also wrong. But that's slashdot - they should replace the /. logo with a box of chocolates ...
  • by zoips ( 576749 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @05:07PM (#28519835) Homepage

    So your solution to a made up problem is that everyone should use Notepad? Ok, maybe you'll make an exception for vi, what if I fall on the emacs side of that holy war?

    I think you need to think this through again, as you've obviously let something obvious slide by...

  • it's decent preparation for becoming a Dilbertian drone

    This makes me want to comment on something that may well be a valid point in all of this. I've run into a common problem in lots of companies with lots of workers. I'm not saying that it's limited to Americans or technical people, and I'm American after all, but it can be a problem: everyone wants to be a cowboy, and nobody is willing to be a drone.

    Now lots of people are probably going to get pissed off that I'm claiming that "nobody is willing to be a drone" is a problem, but hear me out because it's not that simple. I'm not saying we need more "mindless drones", but I've seen the cowboy mentality go bad lots of times. People love to be the hero who saves the day, but in lots of real-life work situations, the day only needs saving when someone wasn't following directions in the first place.

    Lots of people are so bored and frustrated with the menial tasks of their everyday work day that they let things slide. Then when all the things they've let slide come to bite them in the ass, they really enjoy the thrill, drama, and glory of pulling a quickie solution out of their asses just in the nick of time. They save the day, feel important, and get to tell the story of how clever and skilled they were right when their skills were most needed. It's very understandable, but it doesn't encourage people to do things right the first time, and so there are a lot more problems than their need to be.

    It'd be really nice if people were willing to document things, make checklists for their regular procedures, and take notes in meetings. It'd be great if people were just thorough and actually paid attention to directions-- things like that. But I don't know if that has anything to do with a "hacker ethic". I'm not sure what the "hacker ethic" is, but the Wikipedia article [] doesn't make it sound too bad.

  • by consonant ( 896763 ) <shrikant.n@g m a i l . com> on Monday June 29, 2009 @05:39PM (#28520359) Homepage
    Vineet Nayar does not 'belong' to HTC. he is the CEO of HCL Technologies. HTC is a Taiwan-based mobile handset manufacturer (among other things), and a pretty good one at that.
  • by emes ( 240193 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @06:06PM (#28520709)

    I can't understand why anyone is surprised that people trained in computer science are ill equipped to develop
    business software.

    How many computer science graduates typically have the slightest clue what accounting is, or how it works?

    How many computer science undergraduate programs deal with the customary and legal environment of

    How many computer science programs deal with the realities of designing and maintaining a datacenter,
    in theory and/or practice?

    Computer science is a theoretical self-serving discipline designed to produce more computer science
    graduate students. Anyone who learns practical, appropriate, and customary reality does so more
    often despite rather than because of their education.

    Time for a radical reassessment.

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @06:21PM (#28520869)

    Cost of living varies wildly across America. Thus how much you need to make to have a good life does as well. Where I live, housing is cheap. I have a condo where principal + interest + taxes + insurance + HOA fees is less than $1000/month. Obviously you can live pretty cheap here. Rentals are, of course, less than that. What's more, that's in the city so I can (and do) bike to work, saving on transportation costs. Now compare that to when my cousin went to school in California. His parents rented him a place that they then sublet to more kids. It was 4 people each paying $1000/month in rent. We are talking literally over 4 times the cost, and not as nice a place.

    That isn't to mention other cost of living things. The old bank rule is take your gross monthly income by 3, 1/3rd for taxes 1/3rd for house 1/3rd for everything else (that is how to determine if you can afford a mortgage or not). The reason for that is because it is easy, but also rather accurate. As housing costs go up, so do other costs normally. Thus if your place is running you $4,000/month, you can expect that your other expenses (including setting aside money and such) will run you around $4,000/month.

    Then there's kids, and that is a whole different situation. What works fine for a single person does not work fine when you are supporting children, who are rather costly and generate no income.

    As such while $80,000 where I live is plenty, you can have a good life with children on that or much less, that's not the case in, say, New York City. Have a look at costs of living there sometime. Then consider that with a family, a little studio apartment isn't an option, you need a larger place.

    There are indeed places where $80k is barely enough to do ok on.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @06:40PM (#28521099) Journal
    I live in the San Francisco area for about $1,500 a month. $2000 if I decide to buy clothes that month. I think I could get it down to $1000, but I would need to sell my car.
  • I could live well on that wage in the middle of the country-- but it would be impossible in the upper east coast or the west coast.

    Consider that it would take the average indian programmer about 70 years to earn as a gross income enough to buy a "middle class" house in California. Rathole apartments are $50,000 a year in New York.

    Similar issues would exist in Tokyo.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "issues"... Japanese salaries are on average much lower on average than what you'd make in Silicon Valley or something, but people still do fine. I suppose the crucial point is what you consider "living well" (note: that isn't synonymous with a giant house with a lawn and a three car garage, a lawn holding 2 giant SUVs).

    Tokyo's not cheap, but it's an enormous city with a lot of housing available at all price levels, and the transportation system is good enough that you have a fair bit of choice where to live given a typical commute (and everyone has a commute, unless they get very lucky). The key tradeoff, if you live in Tokyo is space -- if you live like the typical person, you won't have anywhere near as much space as say a family in the suburbs of Buttfuck, Kansas (on the other hand, you get to live in Tokyo, not the suburbs of Buttfuck, Kansas!).

    Anyway, it's not at all hard to live a decent life in Tokyo on an income of say $60,000/year. If you make $30,000, of course, you'll end up living like a student, and if you want the super deluxe and insanely huge expat apartment on the top floor of a skyscraper in the most expensive area of the city then...yeah, then you'll need more.

  • Physics? Philosophy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @07:57PM (#28522007)

    What branch of physics do Computer Science graduates work in? Where does philosophy fit in?

    I suspect that most CS graduates can be divided into 3 groups: 1) Those who debase themselves in the eyes of their professors by "merely" performing software development. 2) Those who preserve their purity by staying in academia and thus propagate the meme that CS isn't about programming. 3) Those who are unemployed.

  • NY (Score:3, Informative)

    by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @08:32PM (#28522385) Homepage

    Hey, I moved from NY because apartment prices were going too far up. But you can get very nice apartments - say two good bedrooms in a fashionable part of Brownstone Brooklyn, in the $2000-$3000 a month range. Granted, 15 years back those same apartments were $800-$1200. Still, it's more like $30,000 a year for a very nice NY apartment, including in some of the better parts of Manhattan these days.

    That's still steep. But you can eat out better and cheaper in Brooklyn and Manhattan than about anywhere else in the country. And there's no need to own a car. It's all a matter of where your priorities are.

  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @09:09PM (#28522779)

    In point of fact mechanical engineers graduate college ready to take the E.I.T. (in the USA all 'real' engineers can take the test)

    That's the Engineer In Training (E.I.T.) test.

    Only after a number of years working under the supervision of a professional engineer (P.E.) can you take the PE test.

    I believe being a structural engineer is a further certification beyond PE. I could be remembering incorrectly.

    (If you missed the point of this: it is horribly horribly stupid for Lord Ender to think all things can be taught in school.)

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @09:33PM (#28522955)

    We outsourced a lot of development and IT to an Indian office, and found the experience to be most similar to managing a workforce composed entirely of interns

    There's a good reason for that. The most common scam is that as soon as the outsourced staff have learnt as much as they can from you they get reassigned to a more profitable projects and you end up effectively training a new guy for them. As for the attitude to customer data - it's not theirs so they really don't care.

  • by chromatic ( 9471 ) on Monday June 29, 2009 @11:28PM (#28523825) Homepage

    Perl is glue.

    The GP was apparently talking about PERL [], which is a joke programming language in which it's impossible to write maintainable code. You're thinking of the Perl [] programming language, which allows untrained novices to do useful things while not preventing diligent and careful programmers from writing effective and maintainable code.

    You can safely ignore the opinion of anyone who spells the latter PERL.

Kill Ugly Processor Architectures - Karl Lehenbauer