Friday, January 23, 2009

Why We Need Programmers

Every few years, it seems, there's another push to obsolete programmers.  Sometimes it's overt, like COBOL was ("We'll make it so the businessmen can just say what they want done!"), and sometimes it's more subtle, but it always gets attention from the industries that depend on programmers.

The problem with all these efforts is that we're still a long way from being able to take a fuzzy natural language description of the desired solution and turn that into a working program.  That means that someone who is not a programmer has to write the code for the program in some programming language.  And that leads to all sorts of issues:

  1. Naive code - someone who has not learned about programming practices will write code that is difficult to learn and modify.
  2. Incomplete or inefficient programs - someone who has not studied programming will lack knowledge of algorithms, and will lack experience of gap analysis.
  3. Just plain shoddy work - the erstwhile programmers will not want to be programming, because they want to be solving their real problems.
The explosion of spreadsheets and database query languages exposed many domain experts to a small facet of programming, and as studies have shown, most people think they are more competent at things than they really are, and the least competent are really bad at seeing their cluelessness.

Programmers will have the background to recognize O(n2) algorithms; they will be familiar with the tools like code versioning systems and parsers; they will have passion for the code itself, so that it will be easy to maintain and modify.

I guess it's rather like plumbing.  It's not hard for a homeowner to run a little length of drainpipe, but when it gets to plumbing a whole house, or handling a sewer  connection, they prefer to use a professional.

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