On dignity and self-respect of a profession

Yesterday I stumble upon this tweet:

Which is part of a bigger movement that keeps selling the idea that anyone can easily become a programmer and/or software engineer. And please, let me be clear, that I am not pointing my finger against this tweet specifically but against the whole movement.

I personally believe that is true that anyone can be a programmer or a software engineer, but I don’t think it is so easy as it is advertised on social media.

To be a professional programmer we need to study the fundamental of our craft, we need to know about algorithms, complexity, protocols, hardware, standards just along other dozen of things.

The improvement made by hardware (thus by electronic and hardware engineers) in the last years greatly diminish the business value of great software. Indeed, most of the time, a simple nested for loop over the few thousand lines of a company database is the right solution, and nobody mind if some poor soul need to wait some minutes instead of few milliseconds.

But still being a programmer or software engineer is much more.

There is a lot of work in areas where good programming practises have small business values, no one really care if some random app is down until a poor engineer on shift reset the server. Or if a small online business cannot receive orders until a costumer emails them signaling an error in the checkout.

But on some of our work depends millions of private money.

Or worse, on the work of some of us, programmers, depends millions of investements of public money, money that could as well be used to build road or hospital or other infrastructure.

Or even worse, on the work of some of us, programmers, depends the life of people. Life of peoples with a family, life of people with friends, with dreams and aspiration. Lives that can be shattered by wrong software.

Just because what you do is not so critical, it does not mean that your whole profession don’t need recognition.

Writing software is a wonderful career, it can be self-taught and, at least at the moment, guarantee a great income, however there is a risk.

If we keep lowering the barrier to access the industry more and more disaster are going to happen because of bad software. And we risk that software development will be regulated.

Regulation of software development could means that we will all need a college degree and pass a bar exams just to post code on github or to obtain a HTTPS certificate. Can we imagine how our industry will be transformed by this?

I am more than welcome for anyone who want to enter the profession, but we all need to remember that software is much more that few crappy apps or small online stores.

Mixing all software development together and keep selling the idea that entering in the industry is a simple path to a great income is helping nobody. If it was the case there would be many more programmers around.

Let’s keep our dignity and start to respect our own professionalism.


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3 Responses

  1. Javier Isassi says:

    Good software is analogous to solid science: Involves extensive testing and peer reviews. I called that been professional. Writing dangerous code has to do more with lack of experience rather than lack of education.

  2. Kyle Yandt says:

    My two cents.

    You’ve made good points in your article on topics I’ve often considered myself, and I think one of the issues is that Computer Science is still such a relatively young area that, indeed, it lacks some sort of structured way of grouping all the varieties of development that exists. Software is everywhere and its grown so fast, oversight is lacking and can, as you say, lead to devastating consequences if something is written without the proper experience.

    On that same note, I for one don’t have a college degree in C.S and will probably never get one, I am one of those people that college just doesn’t work for, but at the same time, am passionate about programming and learning to be better at it in all respects. I also have a good enough grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses that I would never want to work on something critical that involves the safety of life or even financial data, the idea terrifies me of messing that up.

    What I think I’m getting at is that yes, for certain situations, the right qualifications are definitely needed, but the sheer variety in what we can do with software leaves a huge gap in understanding of who really can (and should be allowed) to do what. An industry so huge and large could benefit with entirely new career paths solely based on helping developers of all levels find appropriate paths for them.

    • siscia says:

      Thanks for your comment that really adds to the discussion.

      I agree on all the point you raised, and indeed, the field is very young and immature.

      To include people for whom college doesn’t work for whatever reason, the community should self-respect itself.

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