The Dark Side of Programming



As member of programmers’ extended community, it’s hard to accept some of the views that inconsiderate programmers and their work. In some contexts, maybe the critics reveal some truths. It’s in human nature to generalize some of the bad experiences people have or to oversimplify some of programmers’ traits in stereotypes, however the generalizations and simplifications with pejorative connotations bring no service to the group criticized, as well to the critics.

The programmer finds himself at the end of the chain of command, and he’s therefore the easiest to blame for the problems existing in software development (SD). Some of the reasoning fallacies are equating the process of programming with programmers’ capabilities, when the problems reside in the organization itself — the way it handles each step of the processes involved, the way it manages projects, the way it’s organized, the way it addresses cultural challenges, etc.

The meaningful part of the SD starts with requirements’ elicitation, the process of researching and discovering the requirements based on which a piece of software is built upon. The results of the programming process are as good as the inputs provided — the level of detail, accuracy and completeness with which the requirements were defined. It’s the known GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) principle. Even if he questions some of the requirements, for example, when they are contradictory or incomplete, each question adds more delays in the process because getting clarifying the open issues involves often several iterations. Thus, one must choose between being on time and delivering the expected quality. Another problem is that the pay-off and perception for the two is different from managerial and customers’ perspective.

A programmer’s work, the piece of software he developed, it’s seen late in the process, when it’s maybe too late to change something in utile time. This happens especially in waterfall methodology, this aspect being addressed by more modern technologies by involving the customers and getting constructive feedback early in the process, and by developing the software in iterations.

Being at the end of the chain command, programming is seen often as a low endeavor, minimizing its importance, maybe because it seems so obvious. Some even consider that anybody can program, and it’s true that, as each activity, anyone can learn to program, same as anyone can learn another craft, however as any craft it takes time and skills to master. The simple act of programming doesn’t make one a programmer, same as the act of singing doesn’t make one a singer. A programmer needs on average several years to achieve an acceptable level of mastery and profoundness. This can be done only by mastering one or more programming languages and frameworks, getting a good understanding of the SD processes and what the customers want, getting hand-on experience on a range of projects that allow programmers to learn and grow.

There are also affirmations that contain some degrees of truth. Overconfidence in one’s skills results in programmers not testing adequately their own work. Programmers attempt using the minimum of effort in achieving a task, the development environments and frameworks, the methodologies and other tools playing an important part. In extremis, through the hobbies, philosophies, behaviors and quirks they have, not necessarily good or bad, the programmers seem to isolate themselves.

In the end the various misconceptions about programmers have influence only to the degree they can pervade a community or an organization’s culture. The bottom line is, as Bjarne Stroustrup formulated it, “an organization that treats its programmers as morons will soon have programmers that are willing and able to act like morons only” [1].

See also:
Misconceptions about Programming - Part I & II

[1] “The C++ Programming Language” 2nd Ed., by Bjarne Stroustrup, 1991

® Originally published on sql-troubles




IT professional/blogger with more than 19 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management