Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 3:34 PM

What "coder" means and why it's bad

  • A story#

    • August 1941, London.#

    • Winston Churchill has an urgent message for Franklin Roosevelt.#

    • He calls his assistant, someone named Jones, who takes dictation. #

    • "Franklin, we need your help!" says Churchill, which Jones dutifully records on paper. #

    • Jones rushes down 8 flights of stairs to the sub-sub-basement, where a Navy coder named Richardson is waiting at her desk in front of a telegraph key. Jones gives Richardson the paper, and she translates the English sentence into a series of Morse code dashes and dots. #

    • Meanwhile in Washington, Richardson's American counterpart, Davis, also a coder, writes down the decoded message as Jones, back in London, keys it in. Davis then delivers it to Roosevelt's assistant, Parker, who wakes up the President and gives him Churchill's message. #

  • Discussion#

    • The act of turning the English words into Morse code is coding. #

    • That is what coder means. Someone who encodes things. #

    • There was a time when you'd write your code on big sheets of paper, and then sit down at a machine called a keypunch, and transfer the instructions from paper to 80-column cards with holes, that machines could read. It would be fair to call this coding. But we haven't done development that way for a very long time!#

    • Developing software involves a lot of thinking, and trial and error, learning, experimenting, listening to users, getting feedback and trying new approaches. The coding part of it, if we still did it, which we don't, would be a relatively insignificant part of the job. #

  • Why it matters#

    • One of the big problems in the tech world has been a lack of understanding of how developers work. If you watched a programmer doing his or her work, you might not see much happening. Most of what we do is intellectual, and isn't visible. It's thinking work. Reading. Learning. Listening. #

    • A lot of managers think that programming is a menial job, and hire people accordingly. They value subservience. That's where the word coder comes from, and why it's so bad. In the world of PHB's, the thinking is done by non-technical managers, who then tell the coders what to code. They see themselves as Churchill and the coder as a mechanic who translates their words from human language to computer language. This is not what is happening. And it makes it harder for developers to do the real important and difficult work of making systems that work for the people who use them. #

    • One of the reasons software is so often crap is this lack of understanding. Now they want to create a whole generation of coders, automatons who will take orders from PHB's. This is not a formula for success. #

Last built: Sun, Mar 22, 2015 at 5:51 PM

By Dave Winer, Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 3:34 PM. When in doubt, blog.