Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
Businesses Programming

'I Just Need a Programmer' 735

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.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

'I Just Need a Programmer'

Comments Filter:
  • As a programmer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:09AM (#34456294)

    I disagree. A terrible idea with a beautifully executed development goes no where. A great idea that is hacked together with shell scripts and kilometers of spaghetti code can make someone a fortune and (lame as it sounds) change the world.

    That said I think having solid developer(s) is a really good thing. It costs less, makes for a more reliable product, and enables you to say "yeah, we can add that" vs. "hah, you'd have to rewrite everything" when further great ideas come along.

    But saying that the importance of programming is on par with the idea.. it's not. Much as us programmers like to think we are _the_ critical component.. I really don't think we are in a lot of cases. The idea and the marketing are what makes the product successful. HR tends to think of programmers as production line workers.. and as much as I hate to admit it, there really is truth in that. We turn ideas into something tangible so they can be sold. If we produce better products or produce them more efficiently, we make the company more money.. but we arn't as important as the guy's who tell us what to make, or the guy's who get people to pay for it.

    As for idea people learning to program.. I don't buy it. Might work for some people, but I think programming/working with technology is either something you enjoy or you don't. Most good programers I know don't care about the end product as much as the code. The end product is a necessary evil.. a reason to justify their code poetry. Learning programming as a way of achieving and end goal sounds like some bad code about to happen. And I thought the whole "managers can write code thing" died with COBOL.

  • It's bologna (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drumcat ( 1659893 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:09AM (#34456300)
    If someone says that, "they just need a programmer", they haven't vetted the idea. If they really knew what they wanted, they wouldn't need a programmer - they'd need a contract fulfilled for a specific task. If you say that crap, you're just a bullshit marketing guy.
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:09AM (#34456302) Homepage Journal

    Really ideas are cheap.
    A better social networking site than Facebook...
    An electric car that can charge in 5 mintes, go 300 miles on charge, and costs $20,000
    A no fat chocolate.

  • Wrong and wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <> on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:12AM (#34456314) Homepage

    Success is 1% inspiration, 9% perspiration, and 90% marketing (of which "timing" is a significant but minority component). The inspiration is cheap (obviously, since this professor has already amassed quite a portfolio), the perspiration is, yes, a commodity, and the marketing requires Emotional Intelligence, something which, ironically enough, does not often come naturally to perspirers.

    So... the real question should be: what it would be like if marketers could implement ideas (not necessarily their own)?

  • by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:13AM (#34456320)

    idea people often take the form of upper management. they always assume their ideas are workable, and if their employees are having trouble rewriting reality to make them happen, then it's due to the employees' ignorance and not their own. classic ivory tower syndrome.

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

    by Ndkchk ( 893797 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:14AM (#34456330)

    A great idea that is hacked together with shell scripts and kilometers of spaghetti code can make someone a fortune and (lame as it sounds) change the world.

    Not quite. A great idea that is hacked together will almost certainly be "borrowed" and better implemented by someone else, making them a fortune. The world still gets changed, I suppose.

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

    by KingFrog ( 1888802 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:15AM (#34456338)
    I would have to disagree. The difference between wealth and having a second job isn't in whether you can code the idea. Any 15-year-old idiot can probably code an idea, unless it's very complex. How well you can do it is nearly paramount. You know, for example, that most sort algorithms max out at an efficiency of Clog(n)[element_count], as a rough description. You know who makes six figures a year? The guy who can reduce "C" by five percent. And no, you can't do that with shell scripts and lines of spaghetti code.
  • Re:As a programmer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drsquare ( 530038 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:17AM (#34456358)

    Ideas are ten a penny, it's the implementation that matters.

  • "Just" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KingFrog ( 1888802 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:19AM (#34456370)
    Really, I am already re-thinking my earlier reply. The issue here is summed up in one word - "Just". You think you need "Just" a programmer, or "Just" a marketing guy, or "Just" a salesman? You have already told me that you don't really value their contribution to the effort, and additionally that you don't really understand fully what goes in to the work they're doing. Yeah, you have a genius idea. You don't want "Just" a programmer. You want a genius programmer, preferably either with a passion for your cause, or a resume of working in coding similar things. Otherwise, your operating system is being written by "just" a database programmer, and while you will have great search times, you may find other areas coming up short.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:20AM (#34456372) Homepage Journal
    I've met people who have excellent working software, and have had it for years, and simply aren't able to make a business out of it. They think I just need an investor! And this when it would take them hundreds of dollars to actually start their business, after which they'd have a lot more value to an investor, if they decided they still need one.
  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:28AM (#34456422)

    Most of these people with 'great idea', but *just* need a programmer (i.e. people who have obviously never talked to a developer about their idea and obviously know next to nothing about the nuts and bolts of how things work) have ideas that are terrible, impossible, and/or uselessly vague (many cases of do 'something' with the 'cloud').

    If a developer acts as a production line worker, they will frequently turn out irrelevant product. It's one thing to read the specs handed down by someone who knows what they want and write strictly to the requirements listed, it is another thing entirely to really internalize the need and apply your advanced knowledge of what is possible to deliver a perfect fit above and beyond the specific requests. People will prescribe awkward workflows due to perceived technology limitations and/or steer clear of very sensible features they presume impossible.

    Clear delineation between developer and 'idea' people just doesn't make much sense except in the most straightforward cases, and none of those straightforward 'ideas' are valuable (mostly one-off customized solutions of common setups required to work with a customers uniquely evolved system).

    You really need both a solid idea and a developer who is more than just an assembly line worker to get good results of significant value.

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

    by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:31AM (#34456440)

    I disagree. A terrible idea with a beautifully executed development goes no where. A great idea that is hacked together with shell scripts and kilometers of spaghetti code can make someone a fortune and (lame as it sounds) change the world.

    A terrible idea that is beautifully executed can also go somewhere.

    But it is extremely rare to find a terrible idea executed well. The idea will almost certainly be revised (to something better) in the process. Thus great execution can make up for having an originally poor idea, as long as the idea changes in the process of the execution.

    As for a great idea... if the execution is poor enough, it will never come to fruition.

    A mess of shell script and spaghetti code will suffice for a good enough idea. But in practice, there are very few ideas thought up that are that good.

    Most ideas thought up will lie somewhere in between terrible and great, and most executions will lie somewhere between terrible and great.

    The most terrible execution possible cannot be made up by the best idea possible, and vice versa.

    Real world efforts always lie somewhere in the middle.

    There are massive amounts of good ideas, however. Executions and business plans are in short supply.

    So it is the execution that is valuable.

    And if you "just want a programmer" to implement your idea, you should probably be expecting to sell the idea to the programmer who will provide the execution, in exchange for a small share of the profits from their great execution..

    Otherwise, how would it be worth their while, when there are millions of other idea mean they can find a good idea from? :)

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

    by Firehed ( 942385 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:32AM (#34456446) Homepage

    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). Unless your implementation is at least an order of magnitude better than the competition, the first one with traction wins. Look at Twitter, and the dozens of twitter clones that came out shortly thereafter - none of them went anywhere because they didn't have the users, but I'm sure they were implemented better (since Twitter exposed a lot of the original problems). And yet ended up killing off, because it's a) 45% shorter to start and b) offers analytics on link usage which really did make it an order of magnitude more useful than what it replaced.

    At least, that's the case for startups and new ideas. When your idea is to win the Netflix challenge and hit the million dollar payoff, then it's 100% down to implementation.

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

    by zach_the_lizard ( 1317619 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:35AM (#34456470)
    If it works, and works well enough, that will make up for the tangled web of code, so long as it is not too horribly mangled. Sometimes the perfectly designed and combed over implementation loses to the patched together monstrosity because the first one is never released, or is released late, and the second one is out early enough. Sometimes economics trumps an implementation whose code could be read as poetry.
  • Ideas are cheap... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nine932038 ( 1934132 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:41AM (#34456510)

    Implementation is something else. What so-called 'idea people' don't realize is that without implementation, ideas are worthless. And you know what? Implementation is hard.

    Starting a business is hard work!

    The intangible benefits are pretty great, of course - freedom to set your own hours (clients permitting), freedom to set your own priorities, that sort of thing. That's all great. But the costs are pretty hefty. It's not just the money - though the money is a big problem too!

    It's about the stress of getting a business off the ground. It's about taking half pay, living expenses, or no pay whatsoever while the business gets off the ground. It's about hiring someone new and wondering if they're actually a fuckup who's going to pull you down. It takes grit! And after the first year, you end up wondering if you did the right thing - if working for someone else might not seem so bad after all.

    I used to guard my ideas jealously, but these days I don't even care. Go ahead, 'steal' my ideas. Then, whether you fail or succeed, I'll watch what you did. And if I have the opportunity... I'll give it my best shot to do it better.

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:47AM (#34456562)

    Unionization would be complete unsuccessful in an industry where entires countries of scabs can easily cross the virtual picket line. You can't off-shrore plumbers, electricians or jobs like that, though

  • Re:As someone... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:47AM (#34456564) Homepage

    You're either being sarcastic, or you've never heard of the countless craptacular freelancing sites all over the net, mostly dominated by inexpensive 3rd world programmers, if we can even call them such. Script kiddies with a language barrier, really.

    The biggest problem I see with such sites is they encourage sending work to the lowest (or 2nd lowest) bidder, with no regard for quality or consistency. You get stuck in a loop where the product isn't complete (or of acceptable quality), then have to haggle back and forth with the guy to get it in a usable condition. You're faced with a chunk of cash already wasted on a non-working product, where it can be difficult to cut your losses and start over elsewhere. It doesn't matter how concise your specs are, or if you provide them with ready-made test suites, they won't bother and when the tests fail, you're treated to a stream of excuses. I'm not saying they're all like that, but of the dozen or so I've tried in the past few years, no good has come out of the experience, and I've usually had to finish or redo a significant portion of the work myself. Now the good news is I'm a programmer, but the bad news is I was subcontracting because I was too busy to do it myself in the first place, whether it was a one-off job for an app platform I didn't care to learn, or a small half-week job trumped by a high-priority client. So I got doubly screwed.

    I guess if someone has sufficiently low standards and/or technical knowledge, these freelance boards could be tolerable. Better than no programmers at all, I guess. But then I look at the shitstorm of "I want a Facebook clone" followed by "I'll do it for $500" posts, and it's hard to resist the urge to set my cable modem on fire.

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

    by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:03AM (#34456680)

    What are you talking about.. Farmville is brilliant.

    I know people who have been _fired_ for playing it at work.. constantly.. AFTER BEING TOLD TO STOP!

    Every aspect of that game is cored around getting people addicted and playing continuously.

    Pre-emptive: No I don't play farmville.. I don't have a facebook/myspace/twitter account either.. but I can appreciate the pure brilliance behind these things. The pure number of people hooked on this stuff like crack is a testament to it.

  • by guyminuslife ( 1349809 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:03AM (#34456682)

    I'm a college student. Not even a Distinguished Professor. Or even a working programmer. Occasionally, I'll meet a recent business grad who will discover that I know how to write code, and say, "I have this great idea, I think there's a market for it, we should totally do that."

    Well, they know I'm cheap, so at least part of the scheme works for them.

    Mostly it involves them talking up a vague notion, which is somehow the Next Big Thing. "It's like eBay! Except it's on your iPhone! And I know eBay already has an iPhone app, but they haven't been successful with it and I will be!" And then it involves me doing all the work and them taking their big cut for the "inspiration." It's fairly easy to come up with an idea that's "like X for your Y." And so I smile and nod and discuss it a bit and then go on my merry way.

    If said recent business grad were really able to present me with an idea that really were All That and a Bag of Chips, and could be done by one college student with a twelve-pack of Mountain Dew, I'm not sure what I'd need them for. If I could implement it, I would probably do so and then, if it turned out to really be successful, hire someone else to do the "businessy stuff." Why, I mean, once you've got a product, all there is to do is market it, right?

    Fortunately, our friend doesn't need to worry about me stealing his ideas and cutting him out of the picture, because I don't think his ideas are all that hot to begin with.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:06AM (#34456708)

    Actually, I'd argue they probably don't need "just a programmer" at that point - what they need is an "Architect", and *then* perhaps on top of that architect a/some good programmer(s).

    Look at it like a building - Sure, I can have this great "idea" that I want to build this monumental skyscraper, 100 stories tall... "and all I need is some welders and people to pour concrete". I wouldn't want to go anywhere near *that* building! You need a good architect(s)/engineers who understand how to build a building, stress calculations, wind forces, etc, long before you go anywhere near "building" it.

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:19AM (#34456778) Homepage Journal

    Clear delineation between developer and 'idea' people just doesn't make much sense except in the most straightforward cases, and none of those straightforward 'ideas' are valuable (mostly one-off customized solutions of common setups required to work with a customers uniquely evolved system).

    Agreed. Most of the good tech companies, major web companies, etc. have gotten their start not because of an idea person, but because of a programmer who had an idea. Programmers (and, to some degree, non-programmer computer power users) are much more likely to have a concept of what's possible, practical, and useful in technology. The farther you get from that, the less likely you are to have a good idea. Either way, the first thing you should do if you have an idea is to discuss it with people who do have a background in programming. Don't be surprised if it gets shot down as impossible or impractical.

  • by wagadog ( 545179 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:35AM (#34456864) Journal

    Actually, the industry is rapidly realizing that offshoring only works in certain very limited situations, and that any "key performance metrics" you put in place can be easily gamed by people too far away to throttle when they start in with the malicious compliance and the stringing out jobs forever with their poor quality work.

    The key to a successful union would be to provide better quality work for a lower price overall. Would you rather work with a union rep who in his or her heart of hearts wants your enterprise to succeed and can get you the people you actually need quickly and effectively and at a fair price, with no dickering over 401K's -- and to work on-site?

    Or would you rather work with some outsourcing outfit that undercuts and way under-delivers and then has the cheek to insist that you have them fix their mistakes? Or a contracting outfit that charges like a wounded bull and whose people are no better than cheap overseas labor anyway?

  • by fishbowl ( 7759 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:37AM (#34456868)

    If your worldview includes things like "the Laws of Thermodynamics" it is pretty reasonable to keep a filter against things outside it.

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

    by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:38AM (#34456880) Homepage Journal

    I have replaced quite a few C++ and Java programs with just shell scripts, where it was expedient. Because having the guts to kill your babies whenever needed can be damn effective.

    Like instead of elegantly reduce an expensive database lookup loop by 10% execution time, you ditch it and push a diff to a local hash table instead.

    Or instead of reducing the sort across a table by 5% by choosing the most efficient algorithm, you do a Schwartzian transform and only sort the parts you need, saving 95% time even if you now do it in a script.

    Programmers often stare themselves blind at the problem at hand, not seeing the bigger picture and how the best solution is not doing what they do as well as it can be done, but doing something entirely different. Which quite often can be done just as well with a script.

    As for spaghetti code, sometimes that's warranted to. Instead of rolling back through 300 levels of recursion to return, it just might be expedient to chop the Gordic knot with a well-placed goto.

    (And no, 300 is not an exaggeration. I knew a programmer who made a web site with multiple entrances and breadcrumbs. Someone browsing the site for a few hours or days could have a linked list longer than you'd think, and clicking "go home" caused it to roll back each layer one by one, until hitting the entry page of that particular user. Which could take 5-10 seconds of unnecessary waiting. I suggested storing the entry page as a global session variable and simply Go There, and was looked at like I had grown two extra heads.)

  • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:42AM (#34456920) Homepage Journal

    Starting a business and making it successful is fairly easy - just boring and hard work. It's more a matter of not doing anything stupid. Find something that is well understood, copy everything others do right, and correct the things they suck at. Keep doing it without screwing up. Decent marketing, decent prices, decent customer service, and decent treatment of your employees, contractors, and suppliers.

    The geek need for a business buddy is just so you can work on the interesting hard parts while somebody else bothers with the boring stuff.

    Ideas are rarely that important to success. Noticing when things suck and being willing to admit they suck and fix them even if it makes you look like a complete jerk is the vital part.

  • "Just" Ice 4 all (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Yergle143 ( 848772 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:47AM (#34456954)

    "Just" quit smoking. "Just" exercise and lose weight. "Just" balance the budget. "Just" get off foreign oil. "Just" win baby.
    "Just" is the word that betrays the orders of magnitude energetic difference between the running of the mouth and the actual doing of something.


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

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @01:51AM (#34456972) Homepage Journal

    Mod parent up. The number of different people who thought up a variation on pagerank is astounding, but there's only one company that executed it well, and had the funding to get through the development of that idea.

  • Re:Hundreds? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Monday December 06, 2010 @02:15AM (#34457114) Homepage Journal
    If you have interesting software, in the age of the web, you really can start an income-producing business for hundreds of dollars.
  • Re:As a programmer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Monday December 06, 2010 @02:16AM (#34457118) Journal

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

    Wow. Good ideas don't grow on trees. Most ideas are bad ones. Some are obviously bad, but for many, it's hard to tell. And the people doing the judging tend to be arrogant sorts who severely overestimate their abilities. I've been a code monkey on several bad projects. It is infuriating to have those jokers tell you that it's your laziness and incompetence that is dooming the great idea, when it gradually becomes obvious that they never did their homework to get some data to back up their woolly, pie-in-the-sky notions.

    Last one I was on, The Man blamed poor sales on the sales people, and fired them all. Twice. When the 3rd group of sales people still couldn't sell the service, he shifted targets, and blamed it on the programmers. But it was too late by then. The company ran out of money, and could not reboot the programming group. Didn't matter. The idea had to do with project planning. It was not particularly profound, and their vision of how it should be realized was, ironically, frightfully ad hoc and not well focused. For instance, hours worked was integral to the realization. Bean counters love that kind of thing, but that's of little value for planning on larger scales like weeks and months. We did eat our own dog food. Didn't help. Whenever I asked to see what they'd done in the way of market research, test marketing, design, user feedback, and such like, they became annoyed at my supposed obtuseness. In their view none of that was needed, or it was an ongoing process. They thought their idea was so good that it was obviously a winner. No need to research anything! There was a little user feedback. The negative feedback was seen as user stupidity-- those users just weren't getting it. They took comfort from all the positive noise they were getting at trade shows, but somehow that failed to translate into sales. And I was just a stupid code monkey, what business did I have questioning their leadership?

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

    by kiddygrinder ( 605598 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @02:33AM (#34457212)
    if only you didn't infringe on 15 different broadly worded patents that that someone else magically finds as soon as you threaten them with legal action.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Monday December 06, 2010 @03:03AM (#34457376) Homepage Journal

    If you don't understand what your business is going to do, that's hundreds down the toilet, and you'll still be no more attractive to investors.

    Marketers have no crystal ball. If they did, they would stay home and clip stock coupons. The most useful data is actually trying.

  • by MartinSchou ( 1360093 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @03:21AM (#34457472)

    It is something I regret, and regret a lot.

    This is something I rarely understand. Why regret it?

    If you hadn't gone through this, think of all the things you wouldn't have learned/discovered.

    You wouldn't have discovered that your wife is extremely supportive, even in rough times.
    You wouldn't have learned that you lacked perseverance and patience, and thus know to work on them (you write lacked, indicating that you rectified it)
    You wouldn't have started working at a seemingly supportive company.
    You wouldn't be able to give good advice to people looking to start their own company.
    You wouldn't have learned, that large companies are very keen on fighting wars of attrition without their counterpart knowing it, hoping to swoop in later and have a really cheap feast.

    Unless you ended up divorcing your wife, why regret learning this?

    When I took a college class on starting your own company, the most interesting examples were always from people who had failed. A wealthy entrepreneur told of two of his companies - one a billion dollar company that's been successful for 20 years, the other a million dollar start-up that crashed, and by far the crash was the more interesting one.

    Sure, the successful one had its share of ups and downs, but the crash one had a brilliant idea, patents, proof of concept, EMEA approved human testing (on himself), a story about peeing blood, and ends up with him telling us that the then 15 year old prototype is still stored in a basement lab at a university hospital.

    Granted, he was in a much more financial secure position (helps when you're a multi-millionaire who can put more than a million dollars into an idea and not be too concerned) than you were, but at least you managed to sell your product to three clients. I don't know about the US, but in Denmark the rate of successful startups are around 10%, and luck plays a big factor.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 06, 2010 @03:43AM (#34457554)

    It's simple to see the benefits: compare unemployment in the US during the global slump, to a unionized country like Germany. []

    Hire and fire has its downsides: you get the axe when rich people decide that they want to save their money, instead of fuelling the economy and creating jobs. With looming deflation it's the no-brainer choice for them: deflation makes their existing capital even more valuable in the future. Inflation would force that capital into the 'real economy' - but inflation is decreasing right now - the US is facing japanese-style deflation.

    Those of you who rely on honest work instead of on investment income on inherited or hoarded capital: sorry, the next decade or two is not going to be to your liking. Those who are trying to survive these bad times in their country clubs are sending their condolences. (but not any cheques)

    In 1979 the top 1% earners had 10% of the US's wealth. In 2010 the top 1% has more than 50% of the wealth - and the bottom 40% has exactly zero percent. (they are in net debt)

    If you thought that such income asymmetries have no downsides you were wrong.

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @04:06AM (#34457662) Homepage Journal

    Agreed. Or, as Edison put it, "Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration." If anyone honestly thinks the idea is the hard part, that person hasn't ever tried to actually make anything. :-) That's not saying that the idea isn't important---without an idea, nothing would ever get made---and perhaps with really basic inventions, the idea actually is a significant part of the work. However, there's a rather obvious counterexample to put things in perspective:

    Hundreds of writers throughout time have thought of the idea of building a time machine. Yet 115 years after the H.G. Wells novel of that title, we still don't have one. Clearly, when it comes to any suitably complex invention, the idea is not the hard part.

    Ideas inspire genius---they give genius a reason to push the human race forward---but they are not genius. Only an idea with a working implementation is genius, or at least an idea whose implementation has been roughed out and shown to be feasible. Up until that point, it is just a thought---no better or worse than any of the other billions of thoughts had by everyone on the planet in any given moment. Sadly, as a society, we seem to give far too much credit to the "idea men" and far too little credit to the people who actually get things done. *sigh*

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @04:34AM (#34457792)

    It also depends on what you mean by "idea". Generally when people say they have an idea and "just need a programmer" they have a very simple, vague, idea like your time machine example. They haven't really done anything, they just have thought of something they think would be cool.

    There IS idea work that is more substantive and important. For example the overall design of how a program works, that might be considered an idea part of the development cycle. However to do that you need some understanding of programming and generally you wouldn't say you "just need a programmer" you'd have a specific set of requirements as to what needs to be done.

    Another way to look at it would be to consider game development. The idea side generally encompass many people. You have a number of designers, producers, writers, and so on. They do a lot of work. They create the whole game universe, the story, the decide on how the mechanics will work, what assets will be needed and so on. They then can give specific tasks to the development team. They are idea people but it isn't as though the "have an idea" and then it is done. THAT is why they make money.

    So the real difference between a business idea guy who is useful and who is a tool is the amount of work they are willing and able to put in to their project. If it is something where they've drawn up a whole design and framework, where they understand what they are asking for and have designed how things will work, well that's useful. If they just have a thought, they are useless. The useful ones generally know what they need and ask for it. They will seek specific kind of developers, or have contracts to do specific tasks. The useless ones just want "a programmer" who can do whatever magic programmers do to make their idea a reality.

  • As an example (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @04:56AM (#34457884)

    I "had an idea" for Kinect over a decade ago. Having toyed with VR stuff and motion capture and the like I though "Man, it'd be really awesome to have a device that does visual and shape capture at the same time, to be able to get a full 3D capture of a world in to an editor." I personally was thinking something along the lines of an IR laser rapidly scanning a scene (like a laser shape capture device but larger).

    Wow! Amazing! I so thought of it years before MS! I should be rich!!

    Well... No.

    All I did was think it was a neat idea. I had no fucking clue how to make it work. I just thought such a device would be great and would be doable, and had maybe a vague idea of what you might try. That is in no way shape or form something you could start development from or really anything unique. I'm sure tons of other people had the idea. What makes Kinect unique is that they got a team together, had engineers sit down and figure out how you might build such a thing, and do it cheaply, and now other people have figured out how to use data from it to reconstruct 3D scene data on a computer. The idea is not the hard part, the implementation is.

    Even in purely idea fields, having a vague idea isn't amazing or worth anything, showing its worth is. Feynman didn't win the Nobel prize because he had an idea about how the spin of particles might relate to larger phenomena (such as the spin of plates, as he talks about in his book). He won it because he turned that idea, that spark, in to a theory of quantum electrodynamics that is detailed in its construction and makes extremely accurate predictions. Had he just said "Huh, it is interesting that the amount a plate wobbles when tossed is an integer ratio to how much it spins. Maybe that has something to do with the way particles work," well then nothing would have come of it. His work was all ideas, but the important part of the idea work was developing it in to a complete, useful, theory.

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

    by mickwd ( 196449 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @05:12AM (#34457948)

    "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....."

    By the sound of it, you're actually a better programmer than 80% of the "programmers" out there. And I say this as an experienced programmer myself.

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

    by tgatliff ( 311583 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @07:23AM (#34458384)

    The problem with the above argument is what I run into on a daily basis... The person with the idea knows the business, but the consultant (programmer) typically just understands the implementation side of it. That is why high paid consultants (in their chosen industry) are worth their weight in gold. Someone else have paid to train them up on the industry (and paid for their learning curve as well).

    Also, if it is one lesson I have learned (several times actually) about doing consulting for the last decade, it would be that a good spec doc up front that is written by someone who knows exactly what needs to be built and has a "knack" for attention to detail. Programmers are supposed to be implementers and nothing more. The ideas should have already been flushed out... If this happens, then the projects typically go well. If not, then who knows what will happen

  • by gbjbaanb ( 229885 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @07:31AM (#34458406)

    He's probably not racist, so put your own prejudices away for a bit.

    When you do find though, is that the generic programmer you get from Indian development shops are the inexperienced ones. There's a very strong hierarchy in these places (and in India in general) which means that once a dev gets experience, he will expect to be promoted to a more senior supervisor/manager/etc position. Once there, coding is not part of his job description, and from what I've found the guys in these positions quickly start to resist being put back in a coding position.

    The other issue is that, once you outsource to these dev shops, you never get the same guys twice. So we take junior devs from them, take ages to bring them up to speed, and next time we need them... we get another junior guy. I'm sure the Indian chaps over there are laughing their heads off at us, yet our pointy-haired management keeps on falling for it as all they see if the immediate $$ salary costs.

  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @08:27AM (#34458600) Journal

    Suddenly all the fans scream to life, desperately trying to keep the Comet Cursor that suddenly is hanging a fricking pocket watch off your arrow like a swing ball of snot from blowing your CPU, your modems strain under a bazillion animated GIFs, while you are blinded by a neon purple background with snot green text in the always evil "OMG Ponies!" style, complete with little stardust shit dripping off their "brilliant" prose, when SLAM the overload of total lameness kills Win98 and you are staring at a BSOD, which sadly is kinda comforting at that moment because at least it ain't fricking purple or swinging snot clocks. So don't joke about Geocities pal, those of us that lived through it will end up having nightmares! That is like joking about Bonzi Buddy to PC repairman, you just DON'T, okay?

    Lived through it? Dude, I actually had to program something like that in 1999. The other folks in the team were calling the graphics designer turned app designer The Antichrist, because his ideas made everyone cringe.

    Green text on purple background? You kids don't know how good you have it. Oh, what we wouldn't have given for something as readable as green on bright purple. See, the Antichrist's idea was orange-ish yellow text on yellowish orange background, or in some parts the other way around. Even telling him that medically a lot of people will be unable to read that poor contrast did nothing to move him.

    He had an idea for navigation that thankfully got dropped because he made the mistake of showing it to some investors and nobody could understand how they'd use it to get from page A to page B. Even that was better than the idea he had for some other site, where you literally had to find a scrap of paper with the action you wanted to do in a heap of newspaper cuts. I don't even mean newspaper style scraps arranged in a neat menu, but literally finding the one you want in a heap.

    And yes, 1 MB+ of graphics per page.

    Remember that this was the age of dot-coms, when they sold such craps to investors based on the idea that browsing some site should be an "experience". You don't go to some news portal site to read news, you go to have a unique experience, see? ;)

  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @08:45AM (#34458682) Journal

    That said, from your example and mine, I'm starting to get the idea that it's not just programmers these people need. Before even needing that, they could use a few more experts, starting with interface designers and usability experts. And maybe someone who understands the business side of that idea too.

    Honestly, the more I think about it, I don't even think it's just programmers they miss. People spew all sorts of half baked ideas, and thanks to the Dunning-Kruger effect [], the more unqualified they are to judge that, the more that half-baked idea sounds like a stroke of pure genius. I've had to sign NDA's for ideas boiling down to "we'll make a portal site and have an IPO and people will give us lots and lots of money", and those people seemed to genuinely be convinced that someone would be just itching to steal _that_ pure genius idea.

    Heck, it's not even about programs. People have "genius" ideas about business, games, mods, etc. Now someone just has to do the boring trivial stuff like balancing the gameplay or making that business idea work. They did their part and had the idea, and should get the credit, right?

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @10:16AM (#34459246)

    In a sane world, you would be able to bring the guy who you brought up to speed to US on a H1-B may be and get him/her to spend the earning in the USA and pay the taxes in USA and contribute his/her kids to the local schools and thus enrich the US economy, US Government and US communities in multiple ways.

    In a sane world, the US would protect its domestic industries and prevent hemorrhaging money all over the world by making offshoring outright illegal and not allowing foreign labour into the country. As is, it's rabidly de-industrializing and going bankrupt as a result.

    But hey, the CEOs get bonuses for looting the economy, so it's alright.

    Indians love America. If only we let them come in here, work here, spend here, pay taxes here and keep the business here we will be so much better off.

    No, you won't be. An Indian accepts a smaller salary than an American because he won't be spending it in America, he'll be spending it in India. Meanwhile, that smaller salary depresses wages, which both decreases tax revenue and makes people poorer.

    Again, the only winner is the aristocracy, and again it happens at the expense of the working class.

  • by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @10:30AM (#34459398) Homepage Journal

    ...I need an icon-drawing artist. The programming's done, but the product looks like yesterday's news.

    Will the madness never end?

    Oh, wait... maybe we all need each other?

  • by CodeBuster ( 516420 ) on Monday December 06, 2010 @12:16PM (#34460586)

    The fact that Wall Street folks support free trade isn't proof it's a bad idea.

    Perhaps not, but it's a pretty good piece of circumstantial evidence. The wall street traders don't give two shits about you and your family. They will sell you down the river for thirty pieces of silver. They support what is in their best interest, country be damned, so maybe you too should be looking out for numero uno instead of saying how great it is to get a fantastic deal at WalMart while your neighbor is unemployed.

Do not underestimate the value of print statements for debugging.