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Career Advice: Don't Call Yourself a Programmer 422

Ian Lamont writes "Patrick McKenzie has written about the do's and don't's of working as a software engineer, and some solid (and often amusing) advice on how to get ahead. One of the first pieces of advice: 'Don't call yourself a programmer: "Programmer" sounds like "anomalously high-cost peon who types some mumbo-jumbo into some other mumbo-jumbo." If you call yourself a programmer, someone is already working on a way to get you fired.' Although he runs his own company, he is a cold realist about the possibilities for new college grads in the startup world: 'The high-percentage outcome is you work really hard for the next couple of years, fail ingloriously, and then be jobless and looking to get into another startup.'"
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Career Advice: Don't Call Yourself a Programmer

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  • meh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 29, 2011 @12:50PM (#37879776)
    Don't worry what you call yourself. Do good work and people will want to work with you.
  • by Mean Variance ( 913229 ) <> on Saturday October 29, 2011 @12:52PM (#37879792)

    In casual conversation among people who wouldn't know the nuances of the various "programmer"-like terms, I do say, "I'm a programmer." It gets the point across simply that most people understand.

    If I'm in a semi-professional setting of white collar adults, I usually say "software developer."

    On a resume or among those who know the industry standard, I say "I'm a software engineer" because that's my title.

    If it's tied to a conversation that might have career potential, I give the true classification at work: senior software engineer.

  • by snowgirl ( 978879 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @12:59PM (#37879840) Journal

    Because, you know, the 1000+ currently open job postings for keyword "programmer" on are just a perfect example of situations where people are already looking to fire you. After all, that's why they created the posting, just so they could waste company resources and fire someone. /sarcasm

    Sarcasm and all, this is the rantings of a single person at a single company, about his own personal view of the topic. I could probably find someone who would tell you that using the Oxford comma is likely to get you fired, and due to some forms of projection (the assumption that you are "typical", and you model everyone in the world based on yourself) they will assume that it's the prevalent opinion.

  • by babblesaurus ( 2473482 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @01:01PM (#37879846) Homepage
    . . . and 'real' engineers everywhere weep. Obviously every case may be unique, but calling yourself one thing which has a set of implications does sort of slander professionals in the field whose titles you are trying to snag.
  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @01:05PM (#37879882) Homepage

    . . . and 'real' engineers everywhere weep. Obviously every case may be unique, but calling yourself one thing which has a set of implications does sort of slander professionals in the field whose titles you are trying to snag.

    I agree 100%! As we all know, real engineers drive trains.

    chugga chugga chugga chugga choo chooooo!

  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @01:14PM (#37879948) Homepage

    There's nothing worse than retards who get a college degree in programming and start calling themselves "engineers".

    I work with these machines - design them, refine them. You could, with just the slightest hint of fancy, refer to them "difference engines". I am an Engine-er. Welcome to the English language; I suggest that you save yourself some grief and just deal with it.

    (Of course you need a license to do something useful in Canada. Woo flippin' hoo. Canadian industry is all about the incumbent industries protecting themselves from competition through regulatory capture. That's also part of why you have such sucky telecom services that you're always complaining about.)

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @01:25PM (#37880038) Homepage Journal

    Programming has one advantage over construction workers: it's mind-numbing indoor work. Most people cannot stand it. That's the real hurdle keeping people out of the industry.

  • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @01:50PM (#37880262)

    Exactly ; they've done studies [] that prove this - not everyone can program a computer. Every time I see one of those GUI programming environments designed to enable users to program, I sigh. Real programmers detest them (unless they are a mile-high model overview and they fill in the gaps), and people who can't program still can't program, so implementing them is pointless and counter-productive.

    If 30-60% of people who self-selected to go on a Computer Science course can't program, what's the percentage in the general population?

  • I'm a programmer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @04:58PM (#37881658) Homepage Journal

    I'm a programmer. I have been for over 25 years.

    I'm not going to jump on the bandwagon of "software engineer". I think it's as ludicrous as "sanitation engineering."

    Any employer who thinks "programmer" is a derogatory or lesser term is too blinded by buzzwords for me to be happy working for them anyhow.

  • Re:But ... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @05:12PM (#37881742) Homepage Journal

    I think programmer is still a fine title. In all reality titles for software developers are so varied and vague, that as long as I am getting my pay cheque, I am quite happy to be called a 'Senior Code Monkey'. At that point I am also happy to treat my boss as 'Manager Monkey' and the CEO as 'Chief Baboon'. ;)

  • by xero314 ( 722674 ) on Saturday October 29, 2011 @05:16PM (#37881768)

    I doubt that. As far as I understand it, a programmer is a low paid, no responsibilities job, mainly existing in the USA (no idea how that works).

    Read my prior statement that, just like welders and plumbers, programers (or developers if you rather) should organize and bargain collectively. Most large software projects would not be able to be completed for a reasonable cost without programers. Engineers are expensive, at least good ones, and you would be foolish to pay engineers to do what developers do. And I don't know about you but I don't want a mechanical engineer trying to fix my car or installing my heating a cooling unit. You need to know when to get the right person for the job.

    In my life I never have met a "programmer". Usually in a software development organization everyone has a university degree, aka software engineer, computer science degree, etc.

    It's possible that you don't use the same terms where you live. In the US a programer is someone that primarily writes actual software code. Sure they might dabble in design but on a large scale it's not their forte. This are the people that take the loft designs of the Engineers and make it actually work. As an Engineer, I totally understand this, and it's not at all unique to software.

    However reducing an architect to someone who does not know "how to get actual work done" sounds very strange to me. After all, how should he be able to "make diagrams and drawing pretty pictures" if he does not know how to "actually make things work"?

    I'm not trying to diminish what Architects do, but it really is just drawing pretty pictures. This is true of all fields with architecture, not just software. Architects don't build houses, they don't even design them. Architects have grade ideas about over all look and feel, or in the case of software, general structure. Architects draw pictures and make models. This then gets fed to Engineers who spend their time trying to figure out how to turn that architecture into a useable product. Engineers draw the schematics. Then the technicians, be it carpenters, or programers, take these schematics and use them as the basis of the final product. Usually you can follow the schematic pretty close, but there will always be one or two changes that have to be made, like some required part being out of stock or some customer need was not addressed, or some component is to expensive to implement in IE.

    Each part is important to the integrity of the over all product. If architects built buildings they would fall down. If engineers designed the aesthetics of them they would be functional but no one would actually want to live or work in one. If technicians designed them they would end up as a big unstable pile of mismatched parts.

... though his invention worked superbly -- his theory was a crock of sewage from beginning to end. -- Vernor Vinge, "The Peace War"