Sunday, December 23, 2012

Basement Hackers and Developer Elitism

I have read a lot of blogs complaining about the state of affairs among developers. Jeff Atwood asks, "Why Can't Programmers.. Program?" Jason Gorman goes so far as to say:
Consider that not all developers are equal, and some developers achieve more than others. In reality, 80% of the working code in operation today can probably be attributed to small proportion of us. The rest just get in the way. If anything, if we thinned down the herd to just the stronger programmers, more might get done.
Certainly, skill level varies among developers. But to make ridiculous claims like this is nothing more than a case of developer elitism and almost sounds like some sort of ethnic cleansing campaign.

What's really going on is that, due to the advent of affordable PCs and the internet, it's possible for someone who has never set foot in a university to learn to code from online tutorials. Тhe barrier to entry is lower than ever before. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But I can see why it would cause the older folks to become bitter.

The same thing happened with photography. It used to be that in order to become a photographer, you needed access to a dark room. You needed to know about the different chemicals. You needed to work for some time as an apprentice.

When digital photography and photo editing came along, the barrier to entry became significantly lower. And, of course, some seasoned professionals are now bitter that legions are becoming photographers without ever needing to enter a darkroom.

A traditional education in computer science is extremely helpful. It's important to have a foundation in algorithms and data structures. But there are plenty of people who are successful developers that have obtained their education through different means.

Instead of pointing fingers at newcomers and attempting to "thin down the herd" as Jason puts it, we should welcome to the fold those who truly have a desire to become great programmers.

Now, were I in a position to hire developers, I would definitely test their ability to code. This is one case where it's appropriate to evaluate skills and make a judgement call. But to make blanket statements like those above is just plain ignorant.

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