Software Development

Why do programmers often fly under the radar?

Why do we get so little respect? Is it that we do not toot our horns enough? Do our managers fail to understand our work, so they can't evangelize it properly? Do we make relatively more money than most other folks in the company, so someone assumes that we do not need praise? Or is it that no one sees what we do directly?

While reading Mark Miller's Tekkie blog, I came across a humorous post with funny spoofs of "motivational" posters. It really got me thinking. I am sure you have heard of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, pioneers in physics and math. You might even be familiar with Edward Teller or Robert Goddard (nuclear bombs and rockets, respectively). But can you list the achievements and accomplishments of any of these people, or what they are known for?

  • Donald Knuth
  • John McCarthy
  • Alan Kay
  • Martin Fowler
  • Ada Lovelace
  • Edsger Dijkstra
  • Alan Turing
  • James Gosling
  • John von Neumann

"Old men with beards" does describe everyone on the list except Ada Lovelace (who is a woman). However, the correct answer is that almost all of them are all on Wikipedia's List of pioneers computer scientists. In other words, they are in the canon of the patron saints of programming.

It's sad that only a fraction of the programmers out there have actually heard of any of these people, let alone now what they did. To be honest, I am only familiar with about half the names on that Wikipedia list. My "excuse" is that I mostly sidestepped formal Computer Science. Even if I had gone that route, there is a good chance that I would not have learned much about "historical" Computer Science or theory.

Why is it that more software developers can recognize a physicist than a pioneer in their own profession? To be honest, programming really is not a path to riches and fame. It can get you to middle class without a doubt, but definitely not rich, unless the dot-com era returns. Name someone who became wealthy as a programmer. Charles Simonyi (who invented Hungarian notation) is the only person who comes to mind, and he is fairly close to being a celebrity, mostly due to his relationship with Martha Stewart.

I simply cannot think of a field of study with so many practitioners and yet so little public recognition. At big meetings, things like, "Suzy in marketing did a great job on the brochures" and "Jim in operations resolve $3 million in waste due to a bad process" are common, but when was the last time you heard "Holly's performance improvements in the code reduced our need for new hardware by 20%"? In the movie Independence Day, Will Smith's character is a lot more interesting than Jeff Goldblum's character. Heck, I can name more former American Gladiators (Turbo, Laser, Nitro...) than famous programmers or computer scientists, and I have only seen three episodes of the show more than a decade ago.

Why do we get so little respect? Is it that we do not toot our horns enough? Do our managers fail to understand our work, so they can't evangelize it properly? Do we make relatively more money than most other folks in the company, so someone assumes that we do not need praise? Or is it that no one sees what we do directly? Let's face it: The IT department has massive overhead, but IT generates zero revenue directly unless your company sells software or support. Sure, there are a few other departments can survive without us, and we (hopefully) increase their efficiency, but measuring direct ROI is a lot tougher than measuring sales.

Of course, when things go wrong, people suddenly are quick to remember our names. "Oh yeah, I remember Joan saying she was doing some database work late at night yesterday" or "Victor said he might try improving that code last week; I guess he messed it up!"

What can we do to raise the positive visibility of developers?

J.Ja

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

61 comments
Mark Miller
Mark Miller

I don't know what the percentage is, but I think one reason why a lot of people have never heard of those names is because a lot of people who work in the field never took computer science. Some never went to college. By the time I got to college I already knew who Blaise Pascal, Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace (they worked together), Joseph Jacquard, Herman Hollerith, and Grace Hopper were. I'm sure I'm leaving somebody out. This was only because I did my own research on computer history (I used research paper assignments as an excuse). I also heard about George Bool through some study I did of Boolean algebra. When I got into CS in college I learned about John von Neumann, Alan Turing, Donald Knuth, Nicklaus Wirth (because of Pascal), Edsger Dijkstra (in algorithms), Kernighan & Ritchie (because of C), John Backus and Peter Naur (because of Backus-Naur Form (BNF) for specifying language grammars), Ken Thompson (because of Unix), and Bjarne Stroustrup (because of C++). Alan Kay's name may have been mentioned when I took a course that briefly covered Smalltalk, but I kind of doubt it. OOP was just beginning to come into the curriculum by the time I graduated. I don't think I even heard of John McCarthy, though we briefly covered Lisp. As for why programmers don't get more recognition, I think it's because the higher ups don't understand the technology. They wouldn't know how to compliment us except maybe to say we improved productivity. What I've discovered is oftentimes even this is debatable. Sometimes I think this is our fault, and sometimes it's the fault of decisions made by others, like our predecessors. Maybe our activities increase productivity, but how often is it more than marginal? This isn't to say it can't be done. I've sometimes wondered how much computing, as it's been implemented, really helps organizations or just helps them be nearly as efficient as they used to be, but with different technology. Sometimes we can't help it because companies insist on using legacy technology that just naturally slows things down, in order to "recoup investment", but this is like holding on to a falling stock in the hopes that someday you'll make your money back. An idea I'm "waking up to" is maybe the reason we get little recognition is because we aren't doing much that's interesting. I don't mean interesting to us, because in many cases I'm sure it is. I'm talking about whether it's interesting to those who aren't on the inside of the IT/tech field. If you think about the invention of the GUI for computers, the form of word processing and DTP that came with it, and spreadsheets, I think that was genuinely interesting to a lot of people who weren't in on tech to start with. What's common about these inventions is when they're done well they try to act as extensions of the mind. They assist us in bringing our thoughts and experiments to reality. That's what's interesting about computing, not "We imported the G24 dataset to our database, and displayed it in a table." Talking like that we might as well be electricians or system installers/maintainers, not system developers; not innovators. I think you got off on the wrong foot saying "Nobody ever got rich programming". There are some who did, though usually they have more of an entreprenuerial spirit. Some of the early Microsoft programmers (I'm talking from the 1980s) are very rich today. I think Steve Wozniak (another programmer) is doing quite well today. I'm sure there are many others who created their own software products or their own popular web services (Digg, MySpace, Facebook, etc.) who are doing very well. Perhaps what you're getting at is the corporate programmer within a typical business. And there I would agree with you. That is not the path to riches.

Justin James
Justin James

I especially like this: "As for why programmers don't get more recognition, I think it's because the higher ups don't understand the technology. They wouldn't know how to compliment us except maybe to say we improved productivity. What I've discovered is oftentimes even this is debatable. Sometimes I think this is our fault, and sometimes it's the fault of decisions made by others, like our predecessors. Maybe our activities increase productivity, but how often is it more than marginal? This isn't to say it can't be done. I've sometimes wondered how much computing, as it's been implemented, really helps organizations or just helps them be nearly as efficient as they used to be, but with different technology." No one ever got frustrated by a new marketing brochure or thought that the accountant that did the taxes did them right but used a horrible font and should redo them. But we get that. It goes hand-in-hand with your second point there. I think we *do* increase productivity... in terms of the problem we were asked to solve. I think all too often we decrease productivity somewhere else, and it often comes out to break even or even a loss. Look at email. My messages are fast and reliable. But at the same time, it is easy for someone to become overwhelmed, eliminating their capacity to work. We solved the messaging problem while making the time issue worse. Or Office 2007... it may be much more usable for someone who never used Office, but it is very unusable for long-time Office users. Switching a desktop user to Linux is another example. It is cheaper by $149 compared to Windows, but if someone loses 3 or 4 hours of work getting used to it, the lost productivity makes Windows look like an equal (if not better) deal. I think it is a huge part of the lack of recognition. It is hard to get praise when the CEO gets annoyed by the password complexity requirements. :) J.Ja

rclark
rclark

Life of both software and employee. We had a problem with organization and productivity monitoring in the ER. So the powers that be decided to automate so they could get some reports that highlighted the problem. Everyone knew where the problem really was, but hey, it is reality time, and you can't prove it without the stats. Cannot hold someone responsible unless you have metrics that show responsibility. So we put in a package and the howls of indignation started. All the way from DRs to clerical workers. Over time, integration was acheived, then processes redesigned to take advantage of the new system and the volume came down, but still a lot of grumbling occurring. Now we are going to a full EMR and the howling is starting again because the existing workforce is going to lose their departmental package (which all of a sudden they love and can't imagine doing wihtout) and they will have to work with a standard solution. It would be funny if it were not so tragic.

Justin James
Justin James

Stuff like that is why I am down on a lot of the more "rapid" or "agile" or whatever methodologies. They require a special, one-on-one relationship between the company and customer, and the people in the two companies. Furthermore, they require special people who are very understanding that mistakes will be made, and nothing will ever be perfect. That is just too rare of a combination in reality. J.Ja

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

I was in a company where my department was attached to a new acquisition. I asked a few questions that apparently angered some people from the new acquisition. You know, questions like "What server do you use so your customer service people can mimic what your clients have?" The response came back as "Well, it's obvious you don't understand RAD." My response was, "It's not a matter of understanding RAD -- it's a matter of understanding the clients and how they work. They'll have questions you can't possibly answer unless you can recreate it here. Without a server maintained at the level that is in the field, you can't do that." About a year later I found out that the new acquisition which knew oh-so-much about RAD got blasted in a customer survey for not being able to replicate the environment the clients have. Seems that the software had some issues (big surprise) and customer service couldn't recreate the issue. So the CSRs told the client it'd be fixed in the next release. Problem was that it wasn't fixed. The CSRs just didn't know how to determine whether they were doing EXACTLY what the client did or not. I just shook my head and walked away with a heavy sigh. As I walked away, one of the people from my department who heard my response said, "At least now they know you were right." I replied, "Yeah, but they could have listened to me earlier and avoided a lot of problems with the clients -- not to mention the political ramifications of that bad survey." But, hey, I was only a programmer. It's not like I could possibly know anything about "the business". ;) Soon after, a new server was set up in the new acquisition's location for Customer Service to use with the version of software that is being used by the clients. I won't say that RAD is bad all the time; nor would I say that agile is totally bad either. These approaches can work well for web development and some (but not all) in-house development. But they definitely don't work for desktop development that is for clients outside your control (like what the new acquisition above did). Like it or not, that's where more traditional "releases" work best.

Justin James
Justin James

Nothing anyone likes more than a high ratio of developers-to-users in order to be "responsive" to user input. Yeah, that is efficient or cost effective. Only for Web based apps or thin-client apps, where you have a single install/rollback point. Just try "agile" for a desktop app, and the sys admins will shoot you if the users don't find you first. :) J.Ja

alaniane
alaniane

After reading all of the comments and thinking about the matter, I'm not sure I would want the celebrity recognition. I have a hard enough time reading my laptop screen without all the Paparazzis' flashes going off. Also, I can see the nightmare of trying to get spec from a user while being surrounded by bodyguards. Nope, I think I leave all the glory to somebody else.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

, still waiting to see my butt in the tabloids next to a 22 year old blonde bimbette though :( Guess it's back to photoshop and that press cutting of Girls Aloud, ah dreams.... On a more serious note, of it doesn't suit your personality don't do it, you'll just be uncomfortable and it will show.

Justin James
Justin James

I wouldn't mind being the "Brad Pitt of IT", particularly if it lands me the "Angelina Jolie of IT". Then again, headlines like "It's true! Justin James really uses drag 'n drop HTML editors!" would just really annoy, because I know it isn't true... J.Ja

SnoopDoug
SnoopDoug

Your comment "nobody ever got rich programming" is sorta true. No working grunt ever gets rich working for someone else. Oh wait, that's not true. How about the 100s of Google folks who got rich from their stock options. I guess that doesn't count since they did not actually realize their riches directly from programming. I suppose the same argument could be made for Brin and Page. They didn't get their billions from programming. They got their billions from going public. This is splitting hairs. Many folks have become wealthy from programming, but it almost always has to do with taking a gamble and working for yourself or a startup. If you expect to find a risk-free position that leads to wealth, good luck. Most wealthy people work for themselves. And why the hand-wringing about no respect? I don't hear the construction worker whining about not getting respect for the wall they built or roof they nailed (stapled?). The architect/builder gets the credit. That's how it is. Programmers/developers are no more than the construction workers of software. We may get more money, but we are considered interchangeable cogs on the wheel. To continue the analogy, respect comes with closeness to the end user/customer/buyer. It's the sales folks who get the ink in most companies. The realtor in the housing market and the salesman in the software industry. But that's not fair you claim. Balderdash. They get paid commission. They make a million because they sell millions. How could we translate that into software development? Impossible. Would you gamble your salary against gross sales? I doubt it. Lastly, we are often our own worse enemies. We let our people skills languish. We do not actively seek out customer feedback or have little or no interest in how our work is eventually used. We keep our heads down on the keyboard and tolerate "mushroom" treatment. doug

Justin James
Justin James

"I don't hear the construction worker whining about not getting respect for the wall they built or roof they nailed (stapled?). The architect/builder gets the credit. That's how it is. Programmers/developers are no more than the construction workers of software. We may get more money, but we are considered interchangeable cogs on the wheel." The $10/hour construction worker who doesn't bother putting the bolts on tight enough causes a $50 million dollar bridge to collapse. The coder who can't meet deadline or is sloppy in their work sinks a million dollar product. And programmers are *hardly* interchangable. The loss of a developer costs a company tens of thousands of dollars and months of delays, depending upon the project. And if that person is senior enough, it could be months to replace them, adding up to months of time that could have been benefitting the bottom line. In even the largest construction project (and many other types of work), the workers are indeed interchangable because they do not need to become familiar with the ins-and-outs of a particular construction company or project. If you've roofed one house, you've roofed them all. The same cannot be said for development. I may also add, without developers, there is nothing for salespeople to sell. Without constructions workers, there is nothing for the real estate agent to sell. It's the old hoe-and-the-handle principle. The two cannot exist without each other. I do agree that too many developers lack people skills; indeed, too many developers lack even basic writing skills. It is hard to get "around the room" when you stutter in a room full of people or cannot clearly express your thoughts in an email. J.Ja

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

but I'd have to have confidence in the sales team and that I'd realise my winnings. A 'good' businessman would leave me with less than I thought he'd sold me. :D That's why he's a good businessman and I'm a poor tech. :(

gmiller1018
gmiller1018

Unfortunately a lot of sales people get commission for sales regardless of what the cost of the sales is so they do not care what is sold and for what price as long as they get booking credit. I saw this in the custom software business where what was sold did not even cover hardware costs let alone development costs.

Justin James
Justin James

I have seen that a lot too, salespeople getting commission on gross sales, not net revenue or profit on the deal. I have seen a TON of unprofitable projects that someone made commsission on. I know if I walked into the office, took a company check and made it out to the order of the customer with a big number on it, I would be fired. But a salesperson will get a commission for giving away work at a loss. I must know too much math for my own good. :) J.Ja

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Then there are places that sell stuff you haven't made or were never going to make, or better yet can't make ever. You made something at cost and it turned out the market for it was a figment of someone's imagination ? Are you sure people want to buy this? Oh yes , say's suit, look I've done this spreadsheet. If we make it for this and sell it for that, we will make millions. If you don't belive in it yourself, don't substitute some marketeers belief. You'll end up with a turd, no money and the blame for not realising their dream.

gmiller1018
gmiller1018

I read through all of the prior messages to get an idea of where this was going so I could better understand flow of though. I do recognize the names, but I have been at this professionally since 1976 so I am not a spring chicken. As was stated you generally do not know all the names externally of those that solved all of the problems on any technical project. You might know them if you were internal to the project but that is not likely either. Programming is creative problem solving process and as others have said self promotion is one way of getting you name out. I also thing that it is the job of the manager to (sorry for the phrase) sign you praise, not only to support team members but also as a way of providing job satisfaction. I have had good and bad (all from my opinion) managers that either supported my efforts or used my efforts to get somewhere. I have been treated as a replaceable resources or a valuable member of a team both ways impact my job satisfaction. I am not sure how far up the corporate ladder I would want to be visible (for my success all the way) because being human I sometimes screw up. Our work is such that a number of internal and/or external customers could depend on our work and screw up can cover a lot of ground. I find this thread of thought interesting and it has started me re-thinking some ways I approach my work. Thanks for the ideas ...

s.goel
s.goel

We techies focus so much and for so long on the detail and intracacies of our work. Generally, we lack the skills of diplomacy everything being either black or white. We treat our work as a matter of fact, something that we ought to do and in the doing of which we gain much satisfaction. Instead of advertising the achievement we prefer to move on to the next good thing, seeing the 'tooting' as a possible waste of time and hoping that the more we do the more we'd be noticed or perhaps that its not our job but the manager's job 'to notice' and 'recognize' and award our efforts. If we do speak of our achievements, we perhaps lack the skill of convincing managers about the worth of our achievements and end up having lowered our credibility - our talk being taken as mere boast. Then there is also managers who probably avoid praise to avoid boosting confidence which they think may be followed up by a request for a raise or promotion which perhaps they're unwilling for.

vikaskashikar
vikaskashikar

As I look at it in terms of Business applications usually, a programmer who has experience in the same industry, keeps growing in importance and visibility especially when his/her domain knowledge keeps on increasing. This usually happens because the BUSINESS MANAGERS cannot understand technology to an extent where they know the difference between a good programmer and a bad programmer. So a good programmer would be one who can understand the business problems and provide technology solutions to resolve these business problems. A good programmer with the necessary domain knowledge will make a killer combination and will ensure that s/he is always on the radar.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If you want to be visible, many don't seem to. You have to put yourself about. Blow your own trumpet loud and long. Course the winces from the odd bum note will be heard just as much as the tuneful serenade. My ambition in any company is for every bugger to know who I am. Hopefully for more than a poor rendition of Souza's Liberty Bell.

Justin James
Justin James

"My ambition in any company is for every bugger to know who I am." I am legendary throughout my company. You do not want to know what for. Trust me. Just trust me. It has nothing to do with my technical skills, either... be careful of what you wish for! J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

... that the CIO of my company sent an email to the President and the facilities manager requesting some upgrades to some shared space in my office in order to accomodate an issue... it was fairly funny, in a 13 year old boy way. J.Ja

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I was discussed in board meetings :D I'm working on it now with my new employers. Having to lassoo some of them. Current phrase to describe Tony is Tactful Nuclear Strike I do not have the technical ability to build TNW, but I do have a suitable dettrent to those who choose to look clever wasting my time.

hercules.gunter
hercules.gunter

It's quite simple: the people who do the significant design work and solve the technical challenges on just about anything are invisible: the engineer who designs the suspension, the steering system, the transmission of a car, the mechanics in a tape deck, the circuit board in an electronic device ... without them, there would be no product, but they don't get named. The only industry I know of where everybody gets named is the movie industry, where the guy who holds the clipboard for the director's assistant gets a mention, but then there are too many credits to bother reading anyway!

Justin James
Justin James

... I read *all* of the credits. Even for CDs. But that's just me, I like looking for linkages between films, particularly with bit actors. :) J.Ja

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

man will get kudos from the director though. Course most film directors came up through the industry and are aware of the technical aspects!

hercules.gunter
hercules.gunter

Perhaps I have been fortunate - the people for whom I have done work directly (users, user-department managers, my own managers) have expressed their appreciation for my efforts. However, the organisations in general have been oblivious to my existence. Then again, the most important workers in my life are unknown to me: the guys who collect the garbage, maintain the roads, run the sewage plants, etc. The important people in our society are seldom known, recognised, or appreciated. Programmers are not alone, and if they do their jobs well, are in fact invisible - people notice lousy software, and accept good software unquestioningly, which is what one hopes to achieve. If you're invisible, you're doing your job well!

Justin James
Justin James

When I worked Help Desk, users were VERY thankful... but also very quick to lash out even if it was not my fault! A few years ago, I was working at a third-party development shop, and the IT staff at one of our customers was so grateful for our work, they got us Amazon gift certificates and paid for them out of their own pockets... substantial sized ones, too! That let me know we were doing well. It meant a lot more to me than the bonus I received, which was for a heck of a lot more than that gift certificate was worth. J.Ja

djl4fzw
djl4fzw

???it's usually the dead ones that get the glory. In IT, many (if not most) developers are creative & artistic. Development isn't an assembly line type job. Sure, it has timelines and goals, just like any commissioned work of art. So the key is to "sign" your work (thus easter eggs). So when the museum curators come around and start digging into our code, they'll know into which wing they can put our work.

Justin James
Justin James

I've always heard the word "artistic" attached to programming, but 98% of the time, I just do not see it. Sure, there are times where I need to think about a problem from a ton of different angles. And I do find a certain beauty in code elegance. But I have never really thought of programming as an artistic enterprise, I have always found it to be a mathematical one. Then again, the most difficult prolems I have encountered, I treated like a bad chess position, a tough Sodoku problem, or a tricky part of a video game. What are my options? What are the facts? Do the facts create options that are not obvious? Etc. I doubt Easter Eggs are the solution either... can you name a name you ever saw in an Easter Egg? Neither can I. I think the trick is to get caught up in a super big stock accounting scandal. And if you don't get caught and become famous, you'd have to settle for "filthy rich". ;) J.Ja

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

There was a point in time I considered programming/development to be something other than artistic and not particularly creative. Through a series of steps (I won't bore anyone with all of them), I came to realize that programming is highly creative and does indeed have a high artistic component (or it can have an artistic component if that is how the developer works best). The culmination came when I was reading "Rise of the Creative Class" by Richard Florida. In that book, he classified programmers as being in what he calls "the super-creative core". Part of the reason for this positioning, IIRC, is that programmers often create things that other "creative" people use to do their creative jobs. FWIW, after I read some books on creativity, I think my development skills were boosted. I also think of programming/development as a craft. There is a lot in common with the traditional crafts. Ever built a code generator? How about letting Excel build a repetitive series of commands? This is a programming variation on the old craftsman's adage "if you need a tool and you don't have it -- build it." It is also equivalent to the concept of a "jig" -- a device that allows you to accurately make multiple copies of the same item (and, yes, jigs are often built by the craftsman). In general, I tend more toward "craft" than "art" (except for some UI or web aspects). But either way, it is definitely a creative career.

Justin James
Justin James

I definitely see it as a "craft", like carpentry or masonry. It is not a fully applied science or engineering, there is still a ton of leeway and room for personal style and personality, but at the end of the day, there are certain fundamentals which never can change. J.Ja

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

as in drawing mauve and tangerine squares all over the my UI. There is as much as art as science in good design though. Some times the canvas and the paint brushes don't match, actually they rarely do.

greg.ware
greg.ware

I do not think our work can qualify as Art, but Software in my mind surely qualifies as a Craft. As for any craftmanship, some can blotch it badly, and some can raise the bar to confine to pure Art. Hw you see it is a matter of personal standards and taste for clever designs and efficient implementations. There are parallels that can be made with Europe's strong historical background for companionship, where a Master would teach the Craft to a novice during a long apprenticeship. If you think about it, there are lots of commonalities: 1) To appreciate the Craft to the height of its value, you must have been initiated to the hidden beauties, invisible to the mere non-programmers. 2) There's also the 'dark side of the force', those Masters turned evil, using their mastery to get a revenge by wreaking havoc. Some apprentice sorcerers may also give it a try and liberate the evil. 3) S/W can look like pure magic to casual onlookers. Can rapidly turn to black magic (call-in support!) 4) You can have nearly religious wars of opinions on petty details (as well as grand designs) 5) You name it... Could write a book about it! My motto is 'Software as a Craft'. Even if that does not pay... Greg.Ware - SoftwareSmith

Justin James
Justin James

"Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet. One of the characters raises a craft to the level of "art", to the point where is causes a lot of problems amongst the other craftsmen. Sounds a lot like what happens in a code shop where one programmer knows their stuff really well, but strays too far, too often into "artsy" code, to the frustration of those who maintain it later. J.Ja

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

At the risk of being accused of stereotyping, most programmers are introverts. Often, it is a part of why they became programmers -- it lets them do something that doesn't require dealing with people. (Yes, I know there are exceptions, but go with me for a moment.) Such introversion could be part of the problem. Suppose you have a truly brilliant programmer who is introverted. He or she may be doing great things for the company, but will rarely say anything to anyone (in some cases this may be literally true). The worst introverts may be truly mortified if there was any kind of public recognition. Unfortunately, if you don't promote yourself, most people won't promote you either. And since introverts won't self-promote well, nobody else does either. Since many programmers are introverts, that would account for a lot. Somewhat related to the introversion, perhaps, is that the programmers get enjoyment from a job well done, whether anyone else recognizes their efforts or not. This might also explain why programmers don't do much for self-promotion. Then again, as I write this, another thought came to me regarding the self-promotion. Again it is two-fold. Maybe most of the programmers are simply too busy working to self-promote. Not to mention that if they did self-promote, they may be expected to do even more work (sometimes, staying off radar can be a good thing). Another aspect of this is that most modern programming is done by a team of programmers working for a corporation. Unless you have an unusual work arrangement, the corportation will take credit for the program; which confines the visibility of the individual programmers to the people within the corporation (at best). What would it take to get a programmer famous like I think you looking for? Well, I think it would involve finding the right kind of programmer, who begins some kind televised (or webcast) show about programming issues. And that introduces a Catch-22. To do this, you have to be rich as the show will have to be self-produced because you won't have any sponsors. But, you also need to know programming to the level that you can only accomplish by doing it 40+ hrs a week. Yet you won't get rich by doing programming. So, it would take a programmer who is good, likes the idea of a TV show about programming, has the talent to make the TV show work somehow (with a wide appeal) and who was either born into wealth or wins a big lottery to become famous. But then again, would a TV show about programming appeal to many people? Not likely. Same thing for other media. There are plenty of programming magazines, websites, books, etc. but none have a critical level of circulation so as to create a true celebrity. Now, if such a thing were to happen, this programmer *might* serve as a leader for reforming our education system and even getting more young people interested in a technology career. But then we are into marketing -- something programmers are often lousy at.

rortega007
rortega007

I agree with a majority of what you are saying. I have been developing code for the internet since I was 13, but added my business skills when I went into tech retail at 16. I remember getting passed for positions because I didn't tell my managers anything. I thought that was conceded and boastful; I figured out later that managers have to oversee a lot of people. So even if you do a great job (business/programming) you need to speak about it a little while being humble. Also, I'm really into the Open Source scene and that is a community for programming introverts that want peer-recognition. The peer-review that happens to work and code in the Open Source community is similar to researchers/doctors in other fields. Keep it gangsta. -Richard Ortega

Justin James
Justin James

"But then again, would a TV show about programming appeal to many people? Not likely. Same thing for other media. There are plenty of programming magazines, websites, books, etc. but none have a critical level of circulation so as to create a true celebrity." Because unless you have your heart into it, programming (and the rest of software development) is bloody *boring*. Imagine an "ER" with sys admins instead of doctors, and dead servers instead of patients? Snoozefest. "Jim! I need another redundant Cisco PSU, two 64 meg DIMMs, and a Flash card containing the router config. Stat!" Umm, yeah. Everyone else delivers a tangible product. Even the janitor. When we do our jobs right, no one notices, because things work right. When we screw up though, it's painfully obvious. So, the logical resolution is for "situation normal" to be "all fouled up", so when things work, it seems truly miraculous. :) J.Ja

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

To have a TV show that would reach mass appeal, you'd have to fictionalize and possibly dramatize it. It'd also probably have to be more about IT in general than programming specifically. You'd also have to bring in at least one (possibly more) well-known Hollywood stars to get the initial viewings promote it like crazy and hope for the best. You'd probably also have to link it up with some other hook. Maybe military IT units in Iraq or something who brave incoming artillery rounds to help you establish your e-mail connection so you can send your mother a birthday e-mail. Or link it to IT in a hospital (borrowing your ER example), being sure to include scenes where the IT people are informed that some patient may die because the network failed. I suppose you could do something like "American Networking" (similar to "American Chopper") where you show a lot of confrontation that happens in meetings and so forth regarding a particular project. Or it could be "Monster IT" (similar to "Monster Garage")where each episode is a different challenge to be overcome in a set period of time. Or, maybe, make it a complete lunacy comedy. A total farce of the IT industry. Manager: "I want that server's hard drive replaced in 10 seconds." DBA: "I'm a DBA, I don't do hardware." Perhaps have a data-shell game; Hardware guy: "I have here three hard drives. Keep your eye on your data, which hard drive has your data"; [shuffling of hard drives]. "Now, which hard-drive do you want in your machine?" Whichever concept you take, I'd give it at most two seasons; and that is if you are VERY lucky -- as in minor miracle happening lucky. All of the above are probably better suited to movies rather than TV series. As for books or other media, they wouldn't be able to make use of a Hollywood star's ability to draw in wider audiences; hence the reason you need that star for a TV show or movie.

tamran
tamran

Where can I sign up for Monster IT? It sounds like winner to me!

nwoodson
nwoodson

Let's hurt some feelings, shall we? Managers are the "important" (air quotes) people...not the technically competent. Cube city, the server closet, etc. are all cliches based in the reality that business and society are glitz, hype and fashion driven. It's just like hearing about the fashion designer but not the tailor/seamstress that actually produced the item. To most, programming is a craft....nothing more. You are right, Justin, but nobody really cares how things work so long as they do. Think of the old military adage, 'Sergeants win wars, Generals lose them'....and who gets remembered in the end?

ramsey
ramsey

this is how it works, i dont know the name of a single editor but I can name a whole raft of directors. As an IT recruitmant consultant for 10 years developers never get the recognition they deserve, project managers just dont understand the tech side of things (to be honest niether do I), the results are not always tangable, but they they can make a masive difference to the overall running of a business.

abardai
abardai

Some programmers: 1. give the aura that they are demi-gods, that they are the techies, that the end user doesn't know "anything" 2. believe that users don't know what-the-heck-they-want or need 3. don't devote adequate time to understand the end user needs from the program or application 4. develop applications that are cumbersome to use unless you just "know" how to respond to cryptic data input messages that an application may display In other words, programmers often get caught up in the development technology and forget that someone has to navigate the code they develop. Many end-users also don't understand the descipline required by a "pure" programmer in order to write code. Hence it is easy for them to ignore the programmer's contribution to the "bottom line" - they do not, I believe, "pooh-pooh" programmers but they overlook contribution of the code-writers.

SnoopDoug
SnoopDoug

From your comment I suspect you've never had to manage anyone or you would not denigrate "managers". This is exactly the sort of attitude that gets technical folks ignored. Managing people is orders of magnitude more difficult than writing code. Don't think so? Then try this experiment. Ask the next 10 coworkers you meet what the value of PI to nine places. Then open Excel and put "=PI()" into 10 cells. "Gee, the computer seems to come up with the same answer each time, but I get random answers from people". You might even get some hostile or blank looks. Multiply that by 1000 and you start to get an idea why managing people is a lot harder than you think. doug

Justin James
Justin James

You are spot on with the quote about sergeants and generals. Luckily, I have found that it is not universally true. It really depends on the corporate culture, and whether or not the manager is technically inclined. I have had some managers (including my current one) who certainly do not gloryhound for themselves... but the department itself still feel minimized many times! J.Ja

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's idea that counts and the visble side of it. What happened to games is probably one of the best descriptors. Tetris for instance. Any reasonably competent programmer, with a bit of thought, and some learning could code Tetris. How many of us could come up with the concept though? The look and feel, the marketing, packaging.... Generally we implement ideas. Not often the idea is new. It's new that get's you famous.

Justin James
Justin James

Actually, I can almost remember the name of the person who did Tetris, it was Sergei something or other. And for a bit of time, Peter Norton was a minor celebrity (when Norton utils would have a picture of him on it, and it was "Peter Norton's Ghost", not "Norton Ghost"). Wow, I am slightly arguing against myself. :) J.Ja

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