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Things That Scare the Bejeezus Out of Programmers 641

itwbennett writes "Software developers are, by and large, a cool and analytical bunch, but there are a handful of things that strike terror in their hearts. Phil Johnson scoured developer forums looking for an answer to the question: What's your biggest fear as a programmer? The answers clustered into 5 broad groups ranging from being forced to learn or use a specific technology to working for and with incompetents. What's your biggest fear?"
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Things That Scare the Bejeezus Out of Programmers

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  • Outsourcing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:36AM (#44173641)

    Because I'd rather work at McDonalds for $8/hr instead of $2/hr as a programmer, but then again I'd probably just go live in solitude in the mountains somewhere, away from technology should she betray me in such a way.

  • No backups (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blackpaw ( 240313 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:40AM (#44173655)

    And all the corporate client data gone ...

  • So many fears.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mendax ( 114116 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @03:53AM (#44173721)

    There are many things to be afraid of. I think my biggest fear is being irrelevant, something I feel greatly sometimes as the young hotshots come up from below and as more gray hairs appear. And because of my ADHD and dyslexia, I fear not being able to use my intelligence when I need to use it because my brain refuses to work.

    But there are more terrible things to fear. The wrath of my evil cat when I step on her tail and what she leaves in the kitty litter that I have to clean up are two such horrible prospects. And when I was married, my wife was quite scary at times.

    But really, when one looks at the big picture, the only thing to fear is fear itself (as FDR said). Accepting life on life's terms and not wasting time on trying to change things that can't be changed is what's important to me.

  • I fear... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @04:03AM (#44173757)


  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @04:32AM (#44173873)

    Yeah, I hate working with white trailer trash as well.

  • Bad multithreading (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bertok ( 226922 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @04:37AM (#44173887)

    Debugging multi-threaded code liberally sprinkled with delays instead of locks. I still have nightmares!

  • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @04:37AM (#44173889)

    You assume that algorithms to spy on people work.

    They don't, that's why despite MI5 knowing personally a terrorist they still managed to miss the fact he was a threat when he committed a violent murder in the name of terrorism on the streets of London a few weeks ago.

    This is why many people including me dislike said algorithms, not because I have an inherent problem with them spying on people if there is just cause and they are an actual threat, but because I know that their algorithms when run against everyone and anyone can't possibly accurately separate real threats from innocent people and will result in manpower being wasted investigating, harassing and harming innocent people whilst simultaneously missing the real actual threats.

  • by thisisauniqueid ( 825395 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @05:10AM (#44174037)
    Average programmers being forced to write parallel code scares me more than anything else. "The multicore dilemma is actually a substantially worse problem than generally understood: we are headed not just for an era of proportionately slower software, but significantly buggier software, as the human inability to write good parallel code is combined with the widespread need to use available CPU resources and the substantial increase in the number of scientists with no CS background having to write code to get their job done." --The multicore dilemma (in the big data era) is worse than you think []
  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @05:16AM (#44174059) Homepage

    They just can't leave the damn language alone.

    Enough! Its already got a spec probably more complicated that the space shuttle , just let us get on with using it instead of throwing in ever more useless features that only ever seem to get used in job interview questions!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @05:19AM (#44174065)

    This happened to me. There's just no joy or pride left in my work. I'm in a slow useless never ending zombie mode. Struggling doing something as simple as opening up a code editor. Been looking to change my job for the last year, but I can't find anything of interest. I'm sick of programming, but it's the only thing I'm good at (or used to be good at). Retraining at age 40 to change my career? I think I'd rather just drink myself to death.

  • Web Programming (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @05:22AM (#44174075)

    Seriously, web programming is for chumps, and it just keeps getting worse and worse.
    Let's talk about having to support multiple version of multiple browser on multiple versions of multiple operating systems on multiple platforms, all with multiple sized screens.
    Let's talk about the expectation of being an expert at a horrendous number of technologies like HTML, CSS, Javascript, Ajax, GWT, Java, JSP, EJB, XML, JSF, Facelets, JPA, JPQL, EL, SQL, PL/SQL, Regex, BASH etc. etc....for the one fucking project!
    Let's talk about the expectation of being an expert at optimising different servers like Apache, Tomcat and JBoss.
    Let's talk about the expectation of being an expert at load testing using various load testing suits.
    Let's talk about the dismal state of Flash and Java Applets and HTML5.
    I pity the poor web programmer (such as myself), for his or hers is surely a tortured life.

  • by Lennie ( 16154 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @05:42AM (#44174127)

    The previous person working on that code also had a fear, a fear of losing his job. So he or she thought job security could be increased by not documenting and not adding tests ;-)

  • Re:I fear... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @05:50AM (#44174169)

    I would never suggest doing things ad-hoc. I've worked in such organisations, one had around 6,000 systems and even more users, with a number of distributed sites and I worked in an IT support role at the time and currently in a similar organisation but now as a developer.

    I think processes are good, but some of the stuff ITIL mandates is just stupid and sometimes even counterproductive.

    Hiring people with common sense and ditching those without doesn't mean doing things ad-hoc and completely without process, it just means having processes that make sense and adapting/destroying them when they don't. Too many organisations blindly follow ITIL even when it works against their interests.

    ITIL assumes one size fits all, but that's a fallacy.

  • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:05AM (#44174213)

    Being given a big pile of code and being asked to maintain it with no test suite.

    Each time you change it you could theoretically be breaking a ton of features. But there's no way to be sure.

    I have an idea...write a test suite for it! Or no...perhaps that's too radical an idea.

  • by tinkerton ( 199273 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:08AM (#44174227)

    Being thought of as 'just about any worker.'

  • Re:I fear... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @06:47AM (#44174355) Journal
    ITIL, and redundant processes in general, are part (or the result) of one my fears: the dumbing down of my job to the point where there's no need for or chance to excel (as in doing a good job and making a presonal difference, I don't mean spreadsheets!). Large organisations need process and structure; they do not need ITIL.

    ITIL is still very much around though. Many large companies are reorganising IT and other knowledge work, creating increasingly specialisatized and compartimentalized jobs and teams that appear to be easy to plan, manage, measure and outsource (but aren't in practice). Much of IT is being turned into an assembly line, which might be ok for making cars (although even that industry has thought better of dumbing things down too much, a long time ago), but in my experience works very poorly for knowledge work. It's an attempt to reduce some of the inherent uncertaintly in our line of work, and the effort of managing a diverse set of highly skilled people, by dumbing down the work and replacing intelligent decisions and judgment calls with process and SLAs. Someone coined the term "predictable mediocrity" for this. The result sucks but you know what you're getting, and most managers (the MBA types) actually prefer this.

    This way of working adds red tape and communication overhead, as you'll be dealing with more and more specialized teams, and reduces project buy-in: no one gives a damn about any single particular project anymore. I've recently been involved in a project where the ratio of process to doing actual work was around 20:1, I kid you not. And I do include producing useful documentation, agreeing on a support model, and hammering out specifications in the definition of "actual work" here. My fear is that this is the future of IT.
  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:01AM (#44174423) Homepage

    C is a fairly simple language to code in and debug. If you have problems with pointers - ie memory addressing - then seriously , find another vocation or stick to HTML because programming computers is not for you.

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @07:54AM (#44174685)

    There is nothing to fear but fear itself.

    What does that mean. We as a culture have gotten very fearful within the past Decade. The fact that we are afraid of so much stuff has created more problems to be fearful of.

    Polarized Government: With people so fearful about a lot of things they will try to pinpoint the government as the major contributor. If you are right of center than Big Government is out to make your lives worse. If your are left of center then it is those Corporations that are out to make your lives worse. Those people who support your opposing side must be corrupted in some way. So they need to be stopped!

    Obesity: Lets not leave the confines of our own homes because there are dangerous people around the corner who wants to kill, abduct or mug us. So you stay inside where it is "Safe" after a while you start getting out of shape, then you don't want to go out even more because you are out of shape and are afraid of being insulted by people who don't like the way you work. You would go to the Gym, but only after you lose 20lbs first (so you are not the Fat Guy at the Gym), but losing those 20lbs is hard because you are not going to the gym.

    Economy: We need small businesses who can innovate (and much more than silly mobile apps). However people are afraid to start businesses because there is a chance that they will fail. Or get some lawsuit for stepping on some bogus patent or make a product that someone misused and hurt themselves. Combined with the fear trying to meet current regulations that you don't know about. Also fear of looking for an other better job because of uncertainty on how well other companies will last combined with companies fears about the same thing preventing them from hiring.

  • by anyaristow ( 1448609 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @08:08AM (#44174779)

    There's nothing in that list (with the possible exception of "being forced to use a specific technology") that wouldn't apply to just about any worker.

    Programmers fear incompetence because they see it everywhere, even where it is not. They just don't recognize the value of thinking that isn't exactly like their own, or skills they don't have. So, this one applies to many, but to programmers more than anyone.

    Programmers fear screwing up because they are in the business of automation. They can screw up many things all at once. Complete failure over a trivial error, because computers don't have common sense to ask, "are you sure you meant to do that?", or, "what does this mean?". This one also applies to anyone building something that can injure people, but not to most other people. Most people can only screw up one thing at a time, or have people receiving the product of their work, who can sanity check it.

  • by Curunir_wolf ( 588405 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @08:25AM (#44174917) Homepage Journal

    If you are right of center than Big Government is out to make your lives worse. If your are left of center then it is those Corporations that are out to make your lives worse.

    ... And the extremists on both sides see the ever-increasing collusion between the two as the real culprit. There's still competition between corporations, but it's competition for influencing the right politicians or bureaucrats, instead of being better at serving customers.

    Jeff Immelt has become very adept in this environment. Far from being vilified and sanctioned for the massive migration of GE jobs overseas, he actually has Obama going to foreign countries promising billions of dollars for infrastructure investments [], of which the vast majority, of course, will not only go into GE's pockets, but actually create a huge new captured market for GE [].

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @08:53AM (#44175135) Journal

    They just can't leave the damn language alone.

    Well, no.

    There's things we know after 15 years since the previous standard that we didn't know before. It turns out that the world has moved on and knowledge has advanced.

    ust let us get on with using it instead of throwing in ever more useless features that only ever seem to get used in job interview questions!

    And besides, I like not having to type needlessly long and verbose things like

    for(blah<blah>blah::blah::template blah::blah<blah>::iterator i = foo.begin()...)

    I mean the new "auto" syntax is clearly just *designed* for job interview pedants rather than making the life of the everyday C++ programmer less tedious and error prone.

    And the lambdas. Those are so rare in mainstream programming languages that it's just clearly an academic circle jerk rather than another feature to make programs shorter, less buggy and more readable.

    Oh yeah, and honestly, I used to really love pwning n00bz when they got heaps of compile errors for using >> instead of > >. The committee has now spoiled my favourite smug git pass time.

    Its already got a spec probably more complicated that the space shuttle

    Funnily enough you never hear the same complaints about Java. Fun fact, excluding libraries and the JVM, the latest java language spec is now slightly longer than the latest C++ spec.

    The thing is that all languages start off nice and simple. The world however is never simple.

  • My greatest fear (Score:4, Insightful)

    by the_saint1138 ( 1353335 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @09:23AM (#44175439)

    Working at a place where I don't have admin rights on my development machine.

  • by asylumx ( 881307 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @09:33AM (#44175573)
    Or perhaps project management pushed deadlines way too hard and the devs did away with the useful-but-time-consuming stuff like tests & comments.
  • Re:Outsourcing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @09:44AM (#44175755)

    I've heard a lot about outsourcing but from my personal experience outsourcing in real life is pretty much akin to the $5 hair cut. If you don't know what that is basically: A guy runs a barber shop and charges $20 per haircut. He notices that a barber shop is opening up across the street with a big sign that says "$5 Haircuts". So instead of panicing and dropping his price the expereinced barber puts out a sign that says "We fix $5 haircuts".

    And in my experience that's usually what happens. Someone gets the idea that outsouring a project would be cheaper and just as good as hiring someone experienced to do the job. To go and take the bargin basement bid from some Indian firm, then inevitably the project goes over deadline, the developer requires more and more money to finish the project, and then they finally bring in a consultant to look at the project, they request the code and the code is usually an unsalivagble mess. Experienced developers fix $5 haircuts, or crappy outsourced code.

  • Re:Outsourcing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jockm ( 233372 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @11:39AM (#44177217) Homepage

    First off there is a difference between Outsourcing, and Offshoring, which is what I think you are really referring to. Secondly I have yet to find a country where you can higher a programmer for $4160/year ($2/hr * 40 hours * 52 weeks). Yes I know this is 1) The internet, and 2) Slashdot, and 3) I am replying to an AC, but hyperbole just makes it easier to dismiss what you say.

    Like everything, there are upsides and downsides to both Outsourcing, and Offshoring. I am a consultant, which means that every single one of my clients has decided to outsource some or all of their work. However because I am domestic, that makes it OK?

    It is far better to ask why are they outsourcing? I once worked with a company that decided to move QA to india. The reason had nothing to do with cost savings, but had everything to do with having two teams 12.5 hours apart (well sometimes 13.5, daylight savings). The point wasn't cost savings by offshoring, but to streamline development, and for them it worked. If you look at the world of VisualFX, many of the larger companies are setting up divisions all around the globe so they can have work the "follows the sun".

    And then there are companies that do it for the wrong reasons. The think it will save them money, and it can, though not as much as you seem to think (or likely the people whose kneejerk reaction got you to a 5, Insightful at the time of writing this). If you just throw work over the fence, don't provide oversight, don't show that you care, then you are going to get the horror stories you hear about. I've seen that reality too, I have been paid a lot to fix messes like that.

    You can outsource and/or offshore for the right reasons, or the wrong reasons. It can be a boon, or it can be disastrous. There are no universal absolutes here. The term you used is too big, too general, and you too — seemingly — misinformed to make a blanket good/bad statement.

    Also how would "outsourcing" be a result of technology betraying you? Technology is a tool. Tools don't have to assure you a standard of living, that is a societies job.

  • Re:Outsourcing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jythie ( 914043 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @11:49AM (#44177351)
    The part that can really hurt US developers is the middle ground. While we have all heard (and many of us cleaned up after) disaster stories of bargin bin outsource companies, there really are quite a few out there that are both cheap and have skilled developers. For better or worse, the US has a high cost of living and thus you can pay off shore people less while still having robust competition between those firms.
  • Re:Outsourcing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zalbik ( 308903 ) on Wednesday July 03, 2013 @12:29PM (#44177895)

    I've heard a lot about outsourcing but from my personal experience outsourcing in real life is pretty much akin to the $5 hair cut.

    Funny, my experience has been more with the $300 salon that takes 3 hours to do the job, and still screws up.

    The outsourcing firms I've worked with have typically been the larger three-acronym types, working for clients who have become so terrified over IS and IT solutions that they outsource the whole thing to a big, well known firm and pay a pretty penny doing so.

    I've found the technical people at these firms are often either
    (a) right out of school, and just earning their stripes until they can find a decent job.
    (b) new immigrants, and just working their until they can find a decent job
    (c) outsourced entirely, with all the disadvantages of communication and time zones
    (d) terrible at what they do, and just hiding out

    I've seen a few good people, but the firms always seem to add a bureaucratic mess of processes that do nothing but slow down the projects and increase the billable hours for the outsourcer.

    And what do these companies offer to command such high rates?
    Better salespeople.

    I'm convinced that many outsourcing firms spend far more time and money hiring and vetting salespeople and PM's than they do on technical resources.

    They one thing they are fantastic at is convincing upper management that projects:
    (a) will take longer than expected
    (b) will be more complicated than expected
    (c) need more resources than expected
    (d) fail due to circumstances entirely outside their control

If it's not in the computer, it doesn't exist.