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There Are No Famous Programmers (sheddingbikes.com)
303 points by suraj on June 8, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 196 comments



If you want to be famous, go be an entertainer, athlete, or politician.

If you want to be a programmer, check your ego at the door. The two biggest roadblocks to success in programming are incompetence and attitude. BigEgo = BadAttitude.

I measure my success not in fame, but in the value gained by those who use my software, and the value gained by those they serve, and so on, and so on. I don't know them and they don't know me, but I'd like to think the world's a better place because of all the ones and zeroes I've arranged. They are the stars and that's good enough for me.


Doesn't everyone have an ego? Isn't it really hard to check it at the door? I think students of Buddhism have been trying to figure out how to do this for centuries. I don't think it's as simple as checking it at the door.


"Doesn't everyone have an ego? Isn't it really hard to check it at the door?"

My thoughts exactly. The parent comment is the sort of "advice" that is easy to dispense and makes everyone feel good, but is fundamentally useless. These platitudes are the honeypot comments of online forums -- everyone votes for them because they "agree", but they might as well be voting up a picture of a kitten hanging from a tree branch. It's comforting to think that we're somehow above the base human need for recognition, but not very close to the truth.

For example, why is it okay for entertainers, actors and politicians to pursue fame, while programmers must toil in selfless obscurity? Are we supposed to be martyrs?

Also, not for nothing, but when the guy with the top comment score on HN -- the guy who wore a t-shirt bearing his HN login name at Startup School -- tells you to abandon your ego, well...I'm no english major, but there's a certain situational irony there.


The parent comment is the sort of "advice" that is easy to dispense and makes everyone feel good, but is fundamentally useless.

Thanks for the feedback, timr. As the author of the parent comment, let me see if I got this right...

1. In response to OP's post about fame and programming, I shared some of my innermost feelings about my vocation. I absolutely believe that it's the software, not me, who is the star. No matter how long I do this, I am still in awe of the entire process and thank my lucky stars that I was born when I was. Energy comes to me from some unknown place, goes through my brain and finger tips, and results in this untouchable thing that affects so many lives. What can be cooler than that? I have never desired fame for this and only want to get paid properly and see my work put to good use. (OK, an occasional pat on the back would be nice.) I am perfectly content, and in fact function best, when the code is the star. I shared these feelings, fully understanding that others may not feel the same. Nothing I said was intended as "advice".

2. Others voted this comment up. I can only hope that some of those people have shared my experience and feelings.

3. You presume to know what others were thinking when they voted, which is not what I hope they were thinking.

4. The purpose of the tshirt was identification. It was my first trip ever to SV and it worked beautifully in a crowd of 700 programmers. I met 27 people who I already knew online, but none of us had any idea what each other looked like. I have stayed in touch with most of them even though I try to maintain my anonymity online. The only question is why didn't I meet you?

Sorry you feel this way. I don't need fame, but I do need to build cool stuff and I do need to see that it's going to good use. I think that other programmers feel that way too. The best thing I can wish for you is that you feel that way too someday.


I think my original comment was pretty clear, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time responding, except to say that I think you're trivializing the conversation.

Ego is a complicated subject, and the driver of many of the things we do. Perhaps you've attained an elite level of ego-free, techno-monastic selflessness, but it's unlikely that the rest of our society will do the same. Until they do, "abandon your ego" is a rather trivial bit of advice -- far easier said than done.

Most importantly, however, it's not clear that it's actually good advice: most people are more effective in life with a bit of recognition, and geeks, in particular, are famously limited by their lack of talent for self-promotion. Is it any surprise that they'd like the inference that self-promotion is an evil to be avoided? (Personally, I like to be told that women love, pale, gangly guys who are good with computers. Alas.)

Finally, while I'm quite sure that your t-shirt was effective for making yourself known, I (like everyone in attendance) had a name tag, and found that it worked equally beautifully for identifying myself to others. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best.


I think my original comment was pretty clear, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time responding...

Good. Especially from someone who remembered an event from 26 months ago to launch a personal attack today. I hope you find something a little more constructive to do with your time.


I didn't accuse you of anything bad or call you names -- I just pointed out the irony in the situation. It was intended as an illustration of the difficulty of following your own advice, not as an insult.


He was looking for gratification and external approval. The comment was designed for that, and his defensiveness and unwillingness to engage in a deeper discussion of the issues only proves it, because anyone who meant what they said would own up - "Yeah, I guess that's true, I can't get it right either. Like this one time I..." and instead we get "ho ho, no, you have it all wrong, grasshopper. The code is everything, I am nothing. armfold"

Yes, that makes it ironic.


I wish more people would have identified themselves with their HN usernames somehow at last year's startup school.

It sucks to find out that there were a bunch of people from HN there and I missed out on the chance to talk to them in person because I couldn't make the connection based on their name.

Although to be fair, I put my twitter address on my name tag which happens to be my username here... So I suppose I'm guilty of doing whatever it is you're accusing edw519 of.


"Although to be fair, I put my twitter address on my name tag which happens to be my username here... So I suppose I'm guilty of doing whatever it is you're accusing edw519 of."

Not really. Fortunately, the world is not binary, and there's a fairly large, practical gap between "writing your ID on a nametag" and having a t-shirt custom made.

That said, I'm not accusing him of anything bad -- it was a clever self-promotional ploy. I'm just pointing out the irony.


For example, why is it okay for entertainers, actors and politicians to pursue fame, while programmers must toil in selfless obscurity? Are we supposed to be martyrs?

I think it is because we all realize programming will never be sexy enough to gain any recognition from the public, so acting like we don't care about recognition is the next best thing in terms of preserving our egos.


As an alternative you can go into game programming or the demoscene for a small chance of fame.


Checking your ego (against reality) and getting rid of it completely are 2 different things.


"Reality" is the key word here. The more programming you do, the more you'll know your limitations.


I read Zed's post as being about recognition which can be a positive force. It is a smart move for a company or a language community to reward individuals who have made a positive contribution. This is an issue related to ego but is not exactly ego.

However, it is also true that often the contributions of certain people are not commensurate with their recognition. Sometimes they deserve more recognition and sometimes less. This is often a function of PR. I posit that Zed gets less recognition than he deserves in part because of mismanaged PR. This doesn't make him deserve the recognition any less. It also points to a way he might get some of the recognition he deserves.


I posit that Zed gets far more recognition than he deserves because he puts himself out there and actually does manage his PR pretty well.

There are people at the Googleplex that have done amazing work - filesystems, webservers, machine-learning algorithms, core changes to the ranking algorithm, all significantly higher performance & quality than what Zed has written, stuff that gets millions of queries per day and is crucial to folks' everyday existence. If you Google their names, you might come up with a lone blog post on the Googleblog giving a 5-minute soundbite on what they do, or an academic paper from 1994 detailing some obscure technical contribution to a programming language that nobody knows.

I remember that when I was working for startups and small companies, I thought that most software development happens "out there", in the open-source cloud, and really looked up to the prominent figures in the open-source world. Then I got to Google, and realized that what I knew from the public papers was barely the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Now I have to assume that other large corporations - other tech companies, Wall St. - have similarly impressive secrets locked up behind their confidentiality walls, stuff that we'll never know about but that is far better than the best open-source alternatives around.


> Now I have to assume that other large corporations - other tech companies, Wall St. - have similarly impressive secrets locked up behind their confidentiality walls, stuff that we'll never know about but that is far better than the best open-source alternatives around.

Which also shows the power of open source, as a tool for enhancing your reputation.


No need to assume. I know such awesome stuff exists.


Until I read this comment, I didn't realize it was a Zed Shaw post. I must have skimmed right past the byline. I read the whole article without even knowing it was written by a famous programmer.


Probably because the headline of his blog is no longer "Zed's So Fucking Awesome", with the attendant imagery that complimented it so well.

He's remarkably relaxed these days. :)


I was just pissed that I got tricked into reading Yet Another Angry Zed rant. Changing domains lets him get around my brain's douche blocker.


Agreed. When you have a really hard programming task, you need to be in problem-solving mode, and a lot of times you have to find errors in your own thinking. A big ego will only limit your capabilities to find misconceptions you hold true.

A big ego might help to project an image of how cool you are, but computers couldn't care less.

It also explains -in my opinion- why geeks are not the aggressive type. It's just a waste of energy when you're dealing with a computer.


"If you want to do good, work on the technology, not on getting power."

- John McCarthy, inventor of Lisp (and the term AI)


Did you mean: discoverer


This is such a bunch of crap. I know people here won't appreciate this - but I had to say it.

Just because you can string up words that sound good doesnt mean they make any sense.

Being famous is not vocation or job, it's a side effect. Or are you suggesting that all entertainers, athletes and politicians are only doing what they do because they want to get famous?

PS: How do you measure the value gained by those who use your software and so on, and so on? Seriously!

Note: plinkplonk who actually had something to say is way down on the comments.


Many of them are primarily motivated by status, yes.


To be fair, the author wasn't talking about people who seek fame. He pointed out nobody gets fame from just programming. Maybe we need a Nobel prize for it.


Well, it's not exactly a "Nobel Prize" but there is the Turing Award:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_Award


How about just recognition from users? I think users of a good piece of software would be wise to encourage more of the same.


some ego is healthy. it's one of the characteristics that allows you to stick to your beliefs in the face of opposition.


To know you are right when you are right doesn't require ego.

Usually, when people go with the opposition even when they think they are right, it is so to protect their egos by placing the responsibility for being right or wrong with their opposer. They became followers.


It's not about ego. It's about getting your fair share. I think he's saying he doesn't get his fair share.


I don't think the quality of your code has anything to do with your ego. You can be a total jerk and yet a brilliant programmer. Not even correlated based on my personal experience.


I respectfully disagree. Many of the programmers I respect have ego, some larger than others. That does not detract from their value.

I remember the movement for "egoless programming", an effort along the lines of your suggestion. I am still waiting for the "Egoless management" movement, but there doesn't seem to be much traction.


[deleted]


Almost none of those people are known outside of tech circles.


>I measure my success not in fame, but in...

money, primarily I measure it in money right now.

Excellent programmers always recognize each other, "regular" people don't get it any more than we get artists.


"Let's try an experiment. Think of a project you use all day. Maybe it's Rails or Python or something. Now, name 4 people on the core team without looking them up. I can't do that for anything I use. Alright, let's say you can do that. You know a myriad of things about the people who make your tools, but can you honestly say you know as much about them as you do about the tools they made you? Be honest with yourself and really look at how much you know about the people behind your gear as you do about the gear itself."

This is very bizarre. Isn't this true for all tools/man made artifacts we use? I have no idea who exactly designed my car, my guitar , my cellphone, or even the apartment I live in. And when I do know their names I certainly don't know them better than I do my tools. Why should I want to?

"I still have to do programmer interviews like everyone else. No matter how much code I put out, I still have to solve stupid puzzles about coconuts and manholes. No matter how many web servers or email frameworks or database servers or chat servers or assemblers I write I still have to prove I can code. No matter how many copies of my software get deployed I still have to prove I can make reliable software."

I wouldn't want to comment on what Zed's personal experience is , but I know many programmers who wouldn't have to "prove that they can code". "Fame" sees to correlate inversely with having to jump through hoops. I doubt if anyone really wants to test Linus (or Carmack or DHH or any other "famous" programmer) for "ability to code". Outside the MegaCorp, and especially in startups, a reputation for Open Source contributions helps you avoid stupid questions/tests etc, at least in my limited experience. It is often the undistinguished guy with the undistinguished cv that has to go through the technical nitpick interview.

I think this experience may be somewhat unique to Zed. No harm in that of course. Just pointing out that is far from universal.

Just my perception, but Zed seems to get weirder with every post he writes. I don't mean that he is crazy or anything, just that the logic in his posts seems increasingly frayed.


"This is very bizarre. Isn't this true for all tools/man made artifacts we use? I have no idea who exactly designed my car, my guitar , my cellphone, or even the apartment I live in."

I think you're making part of Zed's point - better than he did, in fact. There are no famous car/guitar designers, cell phone engineers, or construction workers either. People like Linus, Carmack, and DHH aren't famous because of their code - they're famous because of their products.

Of course then he dives off into this strange diatribe about being forced to interview the same way we peons have to despite his previous works - nevermind the fact that most of the time there is about a 0% chance the hiring manager has read the code to mongrel (most of the devs using it haven't either, for that matter).

I also think he is wrong on this latter point as - even though I'm completely non-famous - my meager contributions to the open source world have opened a lot of doors and given me more credibility than I otherwise would have had.

"Just my perception, but Zed seems to get weirder with every post he writes."

I'll agree with you on that one.


the fact that most of the time there is about a 0% chance the hiring manager has read the code to mongrel

Just wait a minute here! Isn't this weird? It's like hiring designers and refusing to look at their portfolios.

The interview process puts people through all these weird contortions so we can (among other things) get some indirect indications of how they code. Why not just read their code? We want to know if they can collaborate on a project, why not look at the result of projects they collaborated on?

I think in the corporate world at least, programming has become a commodity.


"Why not just read their code?"

I agree. Unfortunately I think interview processes are designed to accommodate the majority of applicants - and in the corporate/enterprise world, the majority of applicants have zero open source work.

I think/hope this will change over time.


I highly doubt that hiring managers are going to have the time to read code. Very few people go through a candidate's code before an interview.


Then I would ask: why is it that designers almost always have their portfolios looked at when they are getting hired? I think we're being slaves to an illogical social pattern.


For one thing, a visual portfolio can be looked through in the time it would take to dig into one complex method.


In the context of is thread, I read this as, "We're trapped in an illogical social pattern, because we are lazy."


I'd agree with that, but I'd prefer the term "energy conserving."


"I think you're making part of Zed's point - better than he did, in fact. There are no famous car/guitar designers, cell phone engineers, or construction workers either. "

There are famous car/cellphone/guitar designers, (I am not sure about construction workers!) but they (like programmers) are famous within their communities. Even Linus would probably be better recognized by a programmer than a non programmer I think. There are also many many programmers who have contributed to the Linux Kernel and don't have that kind of celebrity. I see this as perfectly fine way for the world to work. Zed seems to expect (or crave) something else.

I agree that engineers of products are often unknown (as people) to their consumers. As other people pointed about that is almost the definition of how a product works, except in very rare cases.

I was addressing Zed's (implied) expectation this state of affairs was somehow surprising, unexpected or bad, and worth bewailing. At least that was the vibe I got from the post.

The idea that we should (in some normative sense, in an ideal world) know the people behind the products we know "better than we know the products" at the risk of being "second class citizens" was what I found bizarre. He takes an obvious truism - most normal people don't know much (or anything) about the creators of the products they use - and then goes off on a rant on how he still gets asked "meaningless" questions for his job interviews. What I was trying to say (no doubt I could have written it down better) is "But that is as it should be".

"People like Linus, Carmack, and DHH aren't famous because of their code - they're famous because of their products."

I mostly agree - except that a good part of their products (or their leadership position on their products or "fame" ) is or results directly from the code they wrote.

" even though I'm completely non-famous - my meager contributions to the open source world have opened a lot of doors and given me more credibility than I otherwise would have had."

That is my experience too.


People like Linus, Carmack, and DHH aren't famous because of their code - they're famous because of their products.

I think Zed could've ended this sentence at aren't famous. If you ask anyone who doesn't closely follow tech who these folks are, you're likely to get blank stares. Maybe they'll recognize one of the names, but not be able to list specific achievements.

As plink says, these people are famous within their communities. Just like I don't know who designed the stability systems on my car, someone else might not know who designed the graphics engine for Doom.

I do find it interesting that Zed writes a piece about how there are no famous programmers, while simultaneously being voted to the top of HN and (again, in his sphere) being a fairly well-known name.


"The idea that we should (in some normative sense, in an ideal world) know the people behind the products we know "better than we know the products" at the risk of being "second class citizens" was what I found bizarre."

We're in agreement there.

"I mostly agree - except that a good part of their products (or their leadership position on their products or "fame" ) is or results directly from the code they wrote."

Certainly they wouldn't have been famous without coding anything, sure, but at the end of the day the quality of their end result is what mattered - not the code they wrote to get there. Okay, maybe that isn't true so much with DHH due to the nature of Rails... but Carmack is famous because people like to shoot Nazis and zombies. Romero is (okay, _was_) just as famous, and I've never heard much about his programming skills - he seems to be famous purely for having been co-founder of Id.


OTOH, many people think that every cool innovation from Apple comes straight out from Steve Jobs' brain.


Maybe not, but it goes through Steve's brain and stop there if he does not like it, and that has served Apple well.


Sure. Though Jonathan Ive has gotten a fair amount of credit/exposure of the years, too, for the industrial design side of things.


"Just my perception, but Zed seems to get weirder with every post he writes."

I don't think this one is that weird. It is a logical extension of the rant about not getting paid:

http://zedshaw.com/blog/2009-07-13.html

when he found out how many people were using Mongrel commercially without even putting him in the credits.


Which is a childish rant (like most of his posts).

He chose a license that explicitly permitted what he's complaining about, and then cries that what happened within his own terms of usage...isn't what he had hoped for. If you want money for your code, you explicitly ask for it via an employment agreement or a software license.

He's weird because he's obviously intelligent, due to the code he's demonstrated, but at the same time, he fails so hard at anticipating the obvious repercussions of his actions (i.e. his "Rails is Ghetto" debacle he's trying to pass off as a joke post).


Zed's thesis is flawed. He set out to be famous--ostensibly because he didn't get enough respect in Ruby-land. It's not clear what his goal was, but now he's jumping to the conclusion that fame doesn't bypass bureaucratic red tape. However Zed wasn't satisfied with his small notoriety, and instead chose to accelerate it by deliberately becoming a flaming asshole writing vitriolic rants full of personal attacks.

I enjoyed Zed's rants, and I thought they were fairly insightful. I certainly never interpreted them as being completely out of line, or that Zed was a total asshole. He explicitly stated that he was testing the theory of being an internet blowhard to get attention. Fine.

But the problem is now he's famous for being a blowhard. He went from being moderately famous (and misunderstood) among the Ruby elite, to being widely famous for writing snarky articles. Well, that's obviously not going to get you past any technical interviews. Also, he decided to burn his bridges in the Ruby community, where I guarantee you he could have gotten plenty of jobs without an interview before. Nowadays, as someone who does a lot of hiring, I can tell you that I would think twice before hiring Zed for fear of what kind of drama he would bring to the team. That fear may be totally unfounded--I don't know him personally--but where before I knew Zed as "the guy who made Rails deployment viable", now I know him as "the guy who thinks he's god's gift to programming and hates a lot of shit."

Zed hasn't discovered anything about programmer fame, he just learned that internet-famous is worthless.


Sadly, no. " Also, he decided to burn his bridges in the Ruby community, where I guarantee you he could have gotten plenty of jobs without an interview before." I think Zed made it pretty clear in the discussion around the "Rails is a ghetto" article that he did not, in fact, get any jobs period. My understanding is that the article was the outcome of his frustration at not reaping any rewards, particularly financial ones, for contributing a pretty important piece of technology to the rails stack.


Fame is a distraction. 'Nuff said.

As far as coders becoming factory workers - I think this is true, depending on the route you take. Do you just write code? Or do you also manage people, make great presentations, or define business models?

Just because you can write code, its hard to think about something invisible, and no one else in your business can do it doesn't mean you're a rock star. This requires a programmer to walk around thinking they can do everyone else's job but not vice versa.

If there was only one thing about (us) programmers I hate the most it is our collective attitude. Our holier-than-thou more-technical-and-logical-than you bull shit. Then we complain about accolades, accomplishment, social standing.

We are what we make ourselves. What we do does not define who we are or what we think we are entitled to. I agree it takes a lot of distinguishing to get noticed as a programmer but I would say that's true whatever you do in life.


Wow, I really needed to hear this right now. Thanks.


I was stunned to read that this guy wishes he were more famous, and that the purpose of said fame would be to get him out of coding interviews, especially after his first paragraph made it sound like he really was happy being nerdy.

Hacking a x0xb0x (did I spell that right?) sounds pretty cool. Only after googling around for a bit did I learn what Zed is 'famous' for, as he refers to it later in his essay. Only after reading the whole essay did I learn he thinks programmers are second class citizens.

This just seems silly to me; if you want to be famous, go do something that captures hearts and minds, (and have a good press team.) Or, get really rich, (and have a good press team.) Or, get a job in the media, (and have a good press team.)

To me, his essay reads like he wants respect, and thinks it will come with fame. I feel sad for him; this probably won't work for him, just like it doesn't work for anyone else.


Proving yourself at a new company is a huge pain point. No matter how good you are, you always go through the slow process of earning rights in order to get some freedom to work autonomously within the framework and procedures of the company.

That the OP wants to avoid this pain is understandable. It's probably just not realistic.


But this is true for senior executives on down to office admin staff. Even a hotshot CEO should be closely watched by the board until he/she has earned trust and proven an ability to execute, lead and inspire.

Wanting out of that cycle seems juvenile to me.


Wow, I've never come away from a HN article embarrassed for the author before.

I had expected from the title to see an article explaining why there don't tend to be a lot of famous computer programmers. I was completely unprepared to read a complaint from a guy who thinks he should be famous, yet isn't treated with the deference he thinks he deserves.

Yikes! I had to stop after 3 paragraphs.


You must be reading a different essay.

I interpret that the author's fame doesn't help the author at all and that fame is a pointless asset.


It could simply be that the author isn't actually anywhere near as famous as he wants to think he is.


Indeed, that would be the case if the author were indeed famous. But he's not.

Fame is defined by people knowing who you are, yet this guy's issue is that nobody knows who he is. QED, he's not famous.


In that case, most celebrities arguably aren't famous. All people know is a fiction and nobody knows who they are.


I have always thought that programming fame might be a ticket-punch that you get and then no one questions your abilities from then on. I guess it isn't so. Thanks to the OP for treading this road and reporting back.

Maybe this is also true for web-famous entrepreneurs? Anyone ever start a somewhat well-known company that folded and you had to go work for someone else? Did you still have to earn respect from scratch at the new company?

Now I think I understand what I've wanted isn't possible. There is no way to prove yourself once-and-for-all. The only solution is to solve the money problem once-and-for-all, and then you never have to bother with proving yourself at a new company again.


re: "Solve the money problem once-and-for-all".

You will still need to prove yourself at a new company if you ever want to produce something again. Life is long; early retirement can be REALLY REALLY long. At some point, you have to do something that you will find meaningful, however rich you are. At that point, you'll have this 'prove yourself' thing coming right back at you.

It's easier if you have a track-record of success, but 'proving yourself' is something that everyone is doing, constantly, with their loved ones, their workmates, in a way, even their local barrista.

If you want to work with people, you will need to earn their respect, admiration and trust. Being rich eases that path (for some), but it doesn't take away that fundamental truth.


But if you're financially independent, you can just do whatever gives you meaning; whereas if you're working for someone else, you've got to prove you'll add value in return for your pay.

Sadly, programming by itself will very rarely make you financially independent, especially if you're giving away your code.


That's how I understood it, too.


2nd time for me. First was 'Rails is a ghetto'. Same author. I remember thinking "Wow, this guy looks 10 years older than me and I'd be embarrased to have written that when I was 15."


I personally actually find myself agreeing with pretty much all of this article.

The point is, is that it is not about fame, that is tangential to point, which is that programmers don't celebrate other programmers, that they don't value other programmer's work.

This is the only industry I know of, where people give away so much for so little, and they don't ask anything in return, because none of you seem able to appreciate the effort involved in your own or anyone else's work.

I don't think that it is absurd to know the name of the person who created the tool you use EVERY day, when they are from your OWN industry, only other programmers have the capacity to appreciate the craftsmanship and work involved.

That is the saddest thing about the programming industry, that you all can’t see how much difference you can make, you give a project attention, hey, maybe you even donate some money and express some gratitude that someone went out of their way to work in their spare time, to give you something that you don’t even have to pay for and you all reap dividends.

Maybe it’s because this industry is so young, but something has to give, or you WILL be relegated to the positions of machinery, actual real people have to sit there and code this stuff, they give up evenings and weekends, they sacrifice time with family and friends, non-programmers don’t get this, YOU do.

This industry needs to learn how to appreciate and stop attacking those who put their creations out there, the one man band who spends every weekend keeping a ruby gem up to date matters, the handful of guys coding frameworks and platforms and libraries and everything else matter, because you guys use their work, regularly.

They should get your attention, not Jobs who has his billions to play with, or Linus, who has his enormous Linux universe to maintain, or any of the guys famous by association with big companies, products or projects. The little guys, who keep the whole shebang ticking over, who work endlessly, in the shadows of your attention, creating awesome, cool things for you play with, tools for you to work with and games for you to relax with.


Reading more recent comments, I see a common theme, the "I don't code for glory", this isn't a rant about fame, it is a rant about recognition, from within the industry.

I worked as a dog groomer years ago and we had competitions and awards and yes there were even famous dog groomers.

Nobody codes for glory, lol, but recognition is a different thing, I read once "people will crawl over broken glass for recognition", which is funny because it seems that programmers run away from recognition.

The things you write do not need to be ground-breaking, game-changing or revolutionary to garner recognition, you deserve recognition for putting the time in, for creating something that people rely on, that works.

Somewhere there is a disconnect, everybody DESERVES recognition, it is not about ego, or fame, or fortunes, or groupies, it is about connecting with someone within your own field and saying "hey, you did a good job, I appreciate it".


The key to opensource is that professional programmers contribute time, paid for by their companies, to a project that benefits all parties in the long term.

Whilst a single programmer start make something great, it won't last without others contributing, patching, documenting..and using the code.

If you don't like people using code, don't release it as opensource..


"I still have to do programmer interviews like everyone else. No matter how much code I put out, I still have to solve stupid puzzles about coconuts and manholes. No matter how many web servers or email frameworks or database servers or chat servers or assemblers I write I still have to prove I can code. No matter how many copies of my software get deployed I still have to prove I can make reliable software."

I still think that's an isolated fact though, and most software shops would offer Zed a job without asking him 'What is a pointer?' questions if he was, for instance, being interviewed by some rubyist (given the notoriety of mongrel). Maybe as he says, I'm wrong. But it could also be just like the guy that offered Ninh Bui a job where 'the candidate must have some experience with Phusion Passenger' (Ninh is one of the creators of Passenger). Some employers just mess up, and having offered Zed a sysadmin job might just have been that, an isolated fact.

Now, I would risk on saying that famous programmers could be made more of 'web presence' and 'open source code' than commercial code. Like, Zed's famous for mongrel and his other open source works (lamson, etc), but I'd say that, in my opinion, he's also famous because of his blog and being a prolific writer and, at the same time, quite controversial. Curiously, he's working on a very cool project commercially, Dropbox (very cool in my opinion anyway), but I don't think that has anything to do with how famous he is, even though, in my opinion, that might be the skill that's most relevant for me, as an employer, to know if I wanted to hire him (as most software shops are making apps, and not email frameworks or web servers).

So maybe, just like the first step on being famous is having lots of blog readers and open source projects (rather than having made a great contribution to a commercial product), the second step is getting funding, being to parties, etc. (and I just don't notice that because I'm not famous, or because I'm not on SF)


I think Zed should know by now that the tech interview is also a personality screen. It's helpful to know if you're hiring someone who rolls his eyes when asked to do something he thinks trivial. Or who wants to be treated like a rockstar.

Also, it's a way of getting team buy-in, even when hiring a lead. Whatever the team rituals are to establish respect, the new guy has to pass them. If it's dumb questions about missionaries and cannibals, that's lame, but so be it.


In short, ritual justifies lameness?


No, he's saying lame rituals help you avoid hiring prima donnas.


It may also scare away those who do not like lameness.

I once had an interview for a Smalltalk position, where, after the 3rd question, I asked, "are all of these questions from the well known list of Smalltalk interview questions? I already know those."

I suspect that this lost me the position, which I think is strange, but fortunate. The lameness of an interview is often a good indicator of how bureaucratized or politicized the corporate environment is.


> It may also scare away those who do not like lameness.

This is precisely the point ekanes was trying to make. It's not lameness, but perceived lameness. If you perceive the company as lame, you would not be a good fit anyway.

But rest assured that, if I were the interviewer, your recognition of a known list of interview questions would not cost you the position.

And my interviews are neither lame, nor only about coding skills.


No, they were separate points.

1) Teams screen for personality with interviews in person. Often by putting the candidate into a situation where they have to deal with someone vastly superior, or sometimes inferior, in skills.

2) There are ALSO the ritual parts which achieve team buy-in. Sometimes these are silly puzzle questions. Other times there are more useful methods of scoring the candidate.

Was this really unclear? I'm not being sarcastic, I'm amazed that someone thought I was making a single point. I guess everyone thought I was dissing Zed obliquely (...kinda, but not really) and of course everyone loves personality conflict. :(


> It's helpful to know if you're hiring someone who rolls his eyes when asked to do something he thinks trivial.

I'd rather have someone who rolls their eyes at something trivial (then gets it done) than someone who appears to simply find any task engrossing and worthwhile.

If you don't find trivial and repeated tasks mundane and irritating, you're probably going to be a worker bee who spends more time acting as an automaton than thinking.


Interesting post from Zed there.

It's even gone so far that people demand that we use the BSD license (or any license) that doesn't require credit for using your work. Other programmers don't want to have to put your name in a credits section of their applications.

Counter opinion (I realise this is only a subset of Zeds point, which I do agree has some useful points)?

The reason many of us like to see libraries, frameworks and support structure (as opposed to software which has an end use) licensed under BSD or similar is less because we actively desire to remove attribution.. but because we like to have control over our own code licensing choices. Generally programmers are pretty good about credit. More importantly the GPL does not force you to mention anything in the credits... at all... you can just leave all the references in the code - and in many cases people just won't read that. So I don't buy this argument much at all.

(side point: I maintain a couple of FOSS/Open Source projects and love the idea of stuff I find interesting being used in all sorts of ways. I couldn't really care less about whether someone makes $100 Million using it in their app. In fact I do care about that; firstly I care positively about the fact that I helped them with their success. Secondly I kick myself that it wasn't something I thought of doing. Doh! I prefer to trust that someone will use my code ethically; by which I mean a) tell other people about the cool piece of code X that they are using and b) contribute back to us. But I personally don't like the idea of forcing that behavior :P

Although; it's understandable why people do use the GPL for non-software code).

You know; on a related note I think the section before the above quote was interesting. And he has something of a point - that we don't think enough about the people making useful code for us. I don't think we are stealing their soul :) but there is definitely a lack of communication (even when the GPL is in use).

tl;dr - I don't buy the idea that certain licenses address the problem of programmer fame.


Everyone knows that BSD requires you give them credit. Right? Right? I hope people are fulfilling the full requirement of the copyright and not just #1

"2. Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.

3. All advertising materials mentioning features or use of this software must display the following acknowledgement: This product includes software developed by the <organization>."

For example in safari click Help/Acknowledgments


The "advertising clause" is only found in the old 4-clause BSD license though (or licenses derived from the 4-clause BSD). But that style has gone out of favor, as people found the advertising clauses caused problems, such as a proliferation of required attributions (especially obnoxious in the case of "badgeware" clauses which require something displayed as part of the UI), and not being GPL compatible.

But as long as you maintain the copyright notice (which is required by the vast majority of licenses) then attribution is implicit... you just have to read the code to find it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BSD_licenses#4-clause_license_....


The third clause was removed in 1999, although apparently some software is still using the 4-clause form.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BSD_licenses


I'm not sure that insists on credit being given on, say, the credits page of your website, it refers to the source release.

If you don't mention that you are using X on the site then there is no requirement (as I interpret it) to say "X is made by". (Most people do link the X's website though, which I would call courteous attribution).


For some reason, this very strongly reminded me of this scene from Entourage where Johnny Drama has to audition. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIHC57rdYMM

"Still I have to sing for my supper."

It's like Zed Shaw is really angry and yelling at the hiring manager "Do you know who I am?!"


I read a story on HN a while ago about a guy who was connected to a powerful politician who was getting hassled at airport security, who didn't care about this name-dropping, and his ego got the better of him and he just flipped and started screaming "Do you know who I am?!" at them over and over. The response of the security guys was to casually call over the radio to the drag-you-away-for-a-free-prostate-exam TSA hardmen "I think you better come down here, there is a guy who doesn't know who he is".


To be honest, if it was for a Rails or Python gig, that would be a reasonable question. Zed has a lot of projects, people active in either community should know who he is. As they should, say, Jesse Noller, or Joe Stump, or other well known programmers.


I'm not convinced that Zed was suggesting that programmers should be famous for what they do (or that anyone should). The idea of programmers being like rock-stars is wholly preposterous. It's much harder for us to convince anyone that we're cool. I highly doubt I will ever get a coterie of groupies and sycophants to feed me drugs and sleep with me because I have a high wpm and can write a 2000-line report script without a single bug or syntax error.

What I do think he is suggesting is that industry should give us recognition for what we do. I honestly don't know who designed the car my taxi driver drove me to work in this morning. However, I'm pretty sure that if the design of the car was a significant feat in engineering then the engineer who designed it probably has a shiny little trophy above their desk. And if that person ever went looking for a job I doubt their interviewer would waste time asking them questions to ascertain whether they're an engineer. This person would have the industry recognition to open certain doors implicitly.

There is some industry recognition, sure. Amongst us programmers. I just finished reading "Coders at Work" not too long ago. There are names in there that I'd expect most geeks would know and be familiar with. It was a very inspiring read.

Now as an experiment, ask your boss if they know what any of those people are recognized for.

I know I'm probably begging the question. The point I'm trying to make is that the people we work for that make so much money off of what we build... they don't know who these people are. They don't take time to familiarize themselves with these sorts of things.

I think industry awards, trade publications, and the like would go a long way to bridge that gap. It has worked for pretty much every other industry. Why is programming such an exception?


It's a good point that programmers only become famous among non-programmers because of non-code reasons, but the same applies to specialists in almost any technical field (except for maybe physics and math).


Including physics and math. With very few exceptions, you only know about scientists when they step outside of their specialized fields and make an effort to popularize their discipline to the general public.


The only exception I can think to this is 19th century engineer Brunel - he came 2nd in the BBC's 100 Greatest Britons.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isambard_Kingdom_Brunel

By way of comparison, TBL was 99th.


It's somewhat similar to how Malcolm Gladwell gets all the credit for popularizing ideas discovered/researched by other people (10,000 hours, etc). Fame takes work, just like everything else.


> It's a good point that programmers only become famous among programmers because of non-code reasons

There, fixed that for you.


Actually, a lot of programmers are famous for what they've created (code reasons). Think Linus Torvalds, Guido van Rossum, Larry Wall, etc.

To be honest, Zed Shaw seems to be the exception since he's almost certainly more well known for blogging than any code that he's written.


> Actually, a lot of programmers are famous for what they've created (code reasons). Think Linus Torvalds, Guido van Rossum, Larry Wall, etc.

Not at all: "Let's try an experiment. Think of a project you use all day. [...] Now, name 4 people on the core team without looking them up." Can you name 4 people on Linux, Perl, etc. core teams? I'd bet you can't. Or do we think that Torvalds, Wall, etc. wrote the software they are famous for on their own? That's what Zed is talking about.


I was responding to the poster I responded to, not Zed's post. Specifically, I think most famous programmers (at least among other programmers) are famous for what they coded.

That said, I can actually name 4 core contributers to Linux although I'm not sure what the significance of that might be (Linus, Ted T'so, David Miller, Andrew Morton).


Linus, Chris Mason (who's doing BtrFS), Ulrich Drepper (because he's really angry all the time), and uh, that British guy who's number 2.

Damnit, you're right.


All of those guys are famous for leading a project not the code they have written for those projects.


"All of those guys are famous for leading a project not the code they have written for those projects."

Well duh, what made them leaders of these projects in the first place?


People skills? I didn't get into Linux until much latter but from what I understand Linux as written by Linus wasn't that great. It was submissions and work by people better than himself that made Linux what it is today. His ability to code may have grown since then but his super wonder coding powers aren't what got Linux off the ground.


"People skills?"

classic Office Space scene http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ti53kjHsAas


I can't name the architect for the office building I'm sitting in. Or the designer of my (distinctly average) car.

Having said that, I know that Tim Berners Lee created the Web, Jon Resig built jQuery and James Dyson designed my vacuum cleaner.

I don't think creating something "you use all day" should qualify you for being famous. Doing something new and very innovative sometimes does though.


Are those the people that really created the products you use today though?

Tim Berners Lee may have created the web, but he created it without fonts tags, images, layout and so on. The web exists because of the millions of people who put a lot of work into it including Amazon, Altavista, Google, Yahoo, Netscape and so on.

jQuery lists 21 people in it's team and 8 past members: http://jquery.org/team

Did you buy the very first Dyson vacuum cleaner? (the DC01 in 1993) or one designed by one of it's 1500+ staff http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_%28company%29

Most products are built by a lot of people but just have a famous leader (who may or may not have made the very first version that you probably never saw).


In the interest of securing our oral history about the web, Tim Berners Lee had layout and images. And built-in click-to-edit. http://info.cern.ch/NextBrowser1.html


In 1991 it looked like this: http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/T...

In 1992 Erwise, ViollawWW and Lynx were created and Mosaic in 1993, Netscape in 1994. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_World_Wide_Web)

That picture was from 1993, though I'd concede I got a few inaccuracies in my comment, however Tim Berners Lee, didn't create the whole web by himself, even in the very early days there were others creating it too, that have now been forgotten.


Re: TBL, I totally agree with you.

Re the links: Interesting -- http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/M... has an SGML DTD for HTML, which mentions images, but that DTD is dated 1995, many years after TBL was speccing the web originally.

An interesting bit of history lost, the first DTDs for HTML, as well as some canonical first pages.


But by this argument, no "group" is famous. Even musicians. Sure you can name "Miley Cyrus", but can you name her producers, sound engineers, bass keyboardist, vocal coach (no, not, I am TPain)?

There's always a figurehead that people know, but there's usually a long line of less glamorous people that helped them get famous.


Linus Torvolds as well - There's a number of reasonably famous programmers out there, and they're often known for revolutionising the areas of industry as opposed to their celebrity lifestyles. Not sure what the writer is on about here really.


I think this post nails down what I think is a recurring issue with us techies. We concentrate too much on what we do, and too little in being known for what we do, which, according to Chris Lytle, is the third reason of success:

"The third secret of success is that you have to be known for what you know. Other people have to know you know what you're doing. When other people know you know what you're doing, they come to you for help and advice, not just for your low price."

What about the former two reasons of success? Here they are:

"The first secret of success is that you have to know what you're doing. There are a lot of people who fail simply because they don't study their industry. They don't go to seminars. They don't read. And they fail. [...] The second secret of success is that you have to know you know what you're doing. Success is a process, and repeating successful behaviors over and over again is key. But you have to know what is working so you can repeat what's working."

(from The Accidental Salesperson, a book about selling I highly recommend)


Jeffrey Law, Richard Kenner, Mark Michell, Ian Taylor.

That wasn't hard. I apologize for any misspelling, as I went by memory. On the other hand, I don't know the names of any startup founders more recent (or less successful) than facebook.

I believe Hacker News attract a certain non-typical brand of programmers, if they are more likely to know about "VCs and term sheets" than about who made their tools.

Of course programmers are rarely famous (for programming) outside their profession. That is a fate programming share with just all but a select few professions.


Yeah, that definitely struck me as the odd bit in the article -- being jealous of the "fame" that startup founders get sure seems like a pretty specialized breed of envy!


I'd prefer to write an application which made me wealthy, than an application which made me famous. Wealth is a useful thing to have, fame is more of an annoyance surely...?


I dunno, fame can be useful. Just imagine all the groupies that came after the publication of The Geek Atlas.


I really don't want to image what those groupies would be like.


Fame is wealth. You're talking about money.


But there is Google. And plenty of people have Googled me and I've been told in job interviews that the interviewer had downloaded code I'd written and read it.


The very definition of a product is an artifact that doesn't require a human relationship.

If you need to be in touch with the people that made it or maintain it, that's called consulting. (You may want to be in closer contact, for instance, to shape the direction of the Linux kernel or something. But you don't need to have such a relationship to use Linux.)

Excellence in product design means anonymity for the people who made it.


Yep, just a system administrator

Well then. Nice to know Zed looks down his nose at operations.


I was going to mention something along these lines; there seems to be a fixation on titles in his rant, possibly as a function of his argument that programmers don't get a lot of respect. That position doesn't gain much traction with me, when he pooh-pooh's the idea of someone offering him a mere systems administration position with such disdain.

I've self-identified for years as "something resembling" a systems administrator, but I've never been a glorified button-pusher, which is what rants like this would suggest. I think there's a good deal of confusion on the part of some programmers as to the value a good systems administrator/architect/integrator brings to the table, probably because (as with programmers) there's so few of them (but plenty of bad or mediocre candidates).

I certainly don't equate the role (beyond a certain career level, anyway) with operations; they're just as critical a part of the development process as anyone else involved in building a product.

(Some of us are actually passable programmers, too. ;-)


  I hate it when people call me a programmer, I'm a *developer*; I don't *do* IT. I have better things to do than re-install Windows all day.
...is the title of the next rant I expect to read from Zed.


What's wrong with wanting to make stuff rather than work around other people's buggy software?


IT and programmers do more than "work around other people's buggy software" all day long.


It is interesting to see that someone arrived at a similar conclusion as me. However, I went a totally different way of arriving there. By now, programmers kind of feel like pioneers and/or drainers.

Think about this for a second. Did Ruby On Rails enable you to venture into new lands, because you are able to program your web application more efficiently? I think so. Does RoR make your daily programmer life easier overall? I think so, too. Thus, someone ventured into a place and built roads and paths for people to come there and to live comfortably.

However, did anyone really remember the pioneers in germans marshes, in america? Does anyone see the drainers maintaining the life support systems in the cities? No. Does anyone remember the first person to write a web framework, to write a next generation language, or maintaining libraries which easen your daily life? No.

I think this is a striking similarity.


Wait a moment.

Aside from a few exceptions, most product design is unattributed. Can you name four people who worked on the mobile phone you use? Or indeed any appliance you use?

Of the programmers and engineers I do know about, I don't know about them because I use the product, but because there's something interesting or unusual about the person.


Noone designs mobile phones or appliances in their free time.


Uh... so what? Are you saying people can only be famous for work they do in their free time?


I'm not saying that and you know it.

If someone uses fruits of your passion for free, it would be nice to get an acknowledgement for that, wouldn't you agree?


"I'm not saying that and you know it."

I had no idea what you were saying. Your point wasn't very clear.

"If someone uses fruits of your passion for free, it would be nice to get an acknowledgement for that, wouldn't you agree?"

Certainly, but acknowledgements don't make you famous.


But you're asking for things to work differently there than everywhere else. Humans are creatures of habit, and a product is a product.


"The famous programmers aren't really famous for programming anymore, but instead because they created some business or non-profit. Their code can't stand on its own as awesome, it has to be paired with some non-code fame formation and then people can grok their concept."

Anyone read Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age? There is a scene where they are discussing tech innovation and someone says there are always three parts, the money, the tech and the artist.

Money finances the tech, and the artist humanizes the tech. You're the tech (drummer/bassist? linebacker?) and you're envious of the artist (lead singer? quarter back?).

Edit: and the reason he's not really famous is because none of his consumer facing products are GREAT. (I wont debate if they are good or very good or whatever, but outside of his technical work he really isn't GREAT).


If you use something enough, and truly want to understand it, then I assume you know all about some programmers, and that enough others are like you that these people can be considered famous.

It also seems laughable to think that those programmers who are considered famous do not benefit from it in the industry.

Off the top of my head: John Resig Matz Steve Yegges Shawn Hargreaves _why

And assuming you have been to one conference, or dug a little bit deeper, I am sure you know much of the core team and library teams around a technology too.

I am not sure what qualifies someone as famous, but I would be surprised if these people did not qualify given the right fields.

Just because you don't know about them doesnt mean thousands of other people don't.


Haiping Zhao, the lead on Facebook's PHP compile-to-C++ project, is in Fast Company's "100 Most Creative 2010" list.

http://www.fastcompany.com/100/2010/16/haiping-zhao


There are famous programmers, but Zed's right that they don't become famous because of their coding ability. I'd say they become famous because of impact. And I'm thinking of the really famous (to us) coders here: Thompson, Richie, Fred Brooks, Dijkstra, Knuth, Larry Wall and so on.

These people had an impact for market reasons, not for their code in itself: a need; an idea for a tool or product; and a benefit of it that met that need (not saying the need is first chronologically). In some cases, that "product" was something they wrote about programming, not their code at all.

Programming: unimportant. Meeting needs: important.


Wikipedia seems to think his fame is not quite as clear-cut as the man himself sees it:

This article may not meet the notability guideline for biographies. Please help to establish notability by adding reliable, secondary sources about the topic.


If he's a famous anything, he's a famous blogger, not a famous programmer.


At least Mongrel should be enough to make the man known for his code, come on. Give credit where credit is due.


"Famous" is also relative. I'm a programmer, and I'd never heard of him or any of the projects he mentioned.

If you go down any particular niche, I guess everyone's famous to somebody.


Wow, so weird...

I'm constantly having my friends and family give me astonished looks when they see what I can do with a computer!

I get tons of recognition! I do a good amount of web work for free... for friend's bands, small businesses... for people that I know and love who don't have a lot of money...

... and they love it! They get this look in their eyes like I'm some sort of magician!

It's awesome. :)


In my experience, programmers can attain a certain amount of fame at the local level.You can become well-known for being the author of a key piece of software that your company uses. Unfortunately, it just means people know who to talk to when their is a bug or a feature request.


" Following his life is pointless because he's poured his life into the software and now they get to keep it.

You've stolen his soul like an old sepia tone photo of a Cherokee warrior."

He's conflating life with soul, and ego with both. I think his logic error occurs right there.


For me, my soul, if it exists, is in what I create.


You should care about people using and enjoying what you build.

I don't really care whether my users know my birthday or what my favourite dessert is.

Actually, I'm pretty happy they don't know anything about me.

The author of this article needs an attitude adjustment.


I got recognized in an airport on a city I've never been to just this week.

There are degrees.


Why would you want to be famous?

I could think of little more inconvenient than complete strangers thinking that they know / understand me in some way or identify with my life or work. This could be emblematic of my general misanthropy but I'm perfectly happy to be the guy behind the curtain.

I'll take the money and maybe the power, chasing fame is the milieu of the inherently insecure. Coding is one of the most empowering things a modern human can do; not waiting around for other people to make something for you, but to get the making done yourself.


Well, this is the entire point of art, right? You are building an artifact for people to interact with. Sometimes the artifact reveals aspects of the creator's personality, but generally that is done subtly. You're trying to suggest and seduce, not overwhelm and assault.

(Even the arts which aggressively push the author's persona - think: a lot of hip-hop, and a lot of standup comedy - are about selling persona, not person. Performers play characters. Even when they are playing themselves.)


Reminds of Hunter Thompson. He eventually got to the point where when he gave a speech or public appearance, he didn't know if the people wanted Hunter Thompson or "Hunter Thompson," and I think he began to have some difficulty distinguishing the two.


There should be an Academy Awards or Tony's or Grammys for programming.

Perhaps Github and Bitbucket and Google Code can get together, select the core contributors to the most 'watched'/downloaded programs, allow those people to vote for/select other coders/programmers/contributors who should be allowed ballots and allow them to vote for people in different categories for awards.

If entertainers can merit an awards ceremony, surely code slingers and algorithm designers can as well.


"[Being famous]... makes it harder because now for some bizarre reason people think my fame means I can't code."

So true. When I hear of any famous programmer, I think the same.


There is no question Zed is a talented hacker, but it is obvious he's still bitter after his confrontational departure from the Ruby world. Which, IIRC, was partly precipitated by the fact he felt he didn't get enough recognition for his work on Mongrel.

See the license terms at the end of this post: http://sheddingbikes.com/posts/1273859940.html


"Maybe it's Rails or Python or something. Now, name 4 people on the core team without looking them up."

Wrong. I use python and I do know the name of at least 20 core devs. May be because I hang at #python-dev or follow them at twitter, but I do know. As a matter of fact if I love any project I'll know the core devs. Sorry Zed, you lost me there on that part or else I was loving your article.


You're certainly an exception, not the rule. In my immediate circle of python programmers, most of them would name Guido, Beazley and maybe on a good day Alex Martelli.

I have to agree with Zed on that point.


I don't read python-dev and I could name 7 core Python devs without even thinking. (Guido van Rossum, Alex Martelli, Raymond Hettinger, Martin van Loweis, Jeremy Hilton, Georg Brandl, Fredrik Lundh) (I'm really bummed that David Beazley didn't come to mind right away. Sorry David)


I don't think this is necessarily true. Who, involved in RoR, doesn't know about _why. It may not be his real name but many a person still knows about his existence. I honestly don't think he was going for fame though.


Eccentricity often leads to fame, even if it wasn't intentional. People like a freak show (No negative connotation intended, but he was certainly strange).

For example, the only thing I really know about Howie Mandell is his OCD about germs, but that's more than I know about most celebrities.


> Yep, just a system administrator. Still.

There Are No Famous Sysadmins ;)


Well, there /is/ the BOFH :)

http://www.theregister.co.uk/odds/bofh/


What? I have a poster of Mark Pilgrim on my wall.


I'll do my best to spread this message in my mind and in others. What we do is art, it always has been.

Say it: I'm with the awesome!!!


Who's Zed Shaw?


Creator of the Mongrel web server that is used for Ruby web apps. Also, the creator of Lamson, the email framework for Python and several other projects. He has a reputation for speaking his mind, regardless of how you may feel about it. Personally, that gives him some serious marks in my book; saying what you mean, _and_ executing on it is an admirable trait.

I'm not trying to be an apologist here, but he's accomplished far more than I have on a good week.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zed_Shaw


I'm not trying to be an apologist here, but he's accomplished far more than I have on a good week.

I don't know if you were going for a backhanded compliment there, but it sure seems like one ;-)


I wasn't. I really do respect Zed and his contributions.


I was trying to be sarcastic there. Guess it didn't work


You didn't use a SarcMark (tm)! Apologies for the misunderstanding. Hopefully the information helps others who read the post and were confused.


  Whose motorcycle is this? 
  It's a chopper, baby. 
  Whose chopper is this? 
  It's Zed's. 
  Who's Zed? 
  Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead.


If Microsoft Word were written by a single programmer that programmer would have been famous!


Which Word? The newfangled Word for Windows thing or the old one that even ran on Unix variants? ;-)


Most of Microsoft Word was written by one programmer, the late Willoughby Whigginton, formerly of Microsoft.

"Will", as his friends knew him, despaired and committed suicide after the 8,234th time an unwitting stranger greeted him yet again with the expression "Word®, Dude!".


Well the point I was trying to make was that people become famous when they can be linked to something that a lot of people care about. We see this in the entertainment industry where it's easy to associate a blockbuster film with the stars or directors of the film.

This is not typically the case in the software industry where the Blockbuster software so to speak are produced by Companies and not lone programmers. That is to say the company is the face of the software.

I used Microsoft Word (maybe I should have used Office) because it's an example of a software application where the company that makes it is well known and I thought if it were possible for one person to create an application with as large an impact as Microsoft Office has had in the world then surely that person would be remembered.

One notable exception to the rule I think is Linus Torvalds. He still remains the face of linux although what linux is today is due to contributions from a large number of people.


Raymond Chen tells a story that Notepad won some industry award in the late 90s, but no one at Microsoft could remember who the original author was: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/archive/2009/11/02/99159...

And follow-up post: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/archive/2009/11/17/99233...


Useless rant that doesn't add anything to my life, or probably yours.


Zuck isn't a celebrity? Gates? Jobs? This article is finnicky


Bill Gates, Steve Jobs


im not sure why this got downvoted. jobs, gates, zuck, brin, page, all of those guys are (are at least were) productive programmers and now have celebrity status.


Jobs never coded, to my knowledge.


did a little research and you are right, my bad!


"name 4 people on the core team"

Name four people on the core team at Facebook.

This is ironic seeing as the author is in part famous for being a terrific programmer.


Ada Lovelace?


i puked a little after reading this


I read the article differently than most of you. I think Zed is still grumpy that contributing a big piece (if not irreplaceable, but unarguably useful) of the rails stack didn't lead to more recognition and, more importantly, the type of recognition that's useful when it's time to pay the rent. Hence his rails is a ghetto post -- I read it as something like, "This rails shit has worked out well for DHH but a bunch of other people have contributed and we haven't gotten shit. This sucks."

This post is an elaboration -- having written a bunch of big projects that are freely available for anyone who wants to to review the code, Zed still has to answer the usual weeder questions. It's kind of insulting, frankly. And from his perspective, his contributions to open source and the community at large haven't done that much for him.

I think this is part of a general problem in programming that a blog author I follow pointed out and another poster in this thread mentioned: open source has worked out well for eg Larry Wall or Linus or DHH, etc. But there are a lot of people that contribute -- maybe not as main authors, but who eg make sure all your rails db gems work with new revs of the databases and contribute lots of little pieces -- but who don't get enough out of it to financially justify the contribution. See the creator of Clojure essentially begging for donations on his website in order to continue development. Sometimes, it comes down to the simple fact that open source contributions might be fun or useful or intellectually gratifying, but they don't pay the bills. The industry as a whole, IMO, needs more ways to channel money to the masses of OS contributors who aren't famous and aren't paid to do it, but who make lots of contributions.

links I mentioned: http://enfranchisedmind.com/blog/posts/commercial-grails-plu...

and

http://www.anyware.co.uk/2005/2009/12/11/do-we-need-a-commer...


John Carmack is famous, kinda.


Probably because he worked on things which were entertaining, and not "tools" to people, simply. You can find plenty of famous people in the video game industry, recognized for their work. But you can be a wonderful tool programmer, make wonderful databases, webservers, and else... Ultimately, those are only tools. And people don't have especially respect or excitement for tools, they just use them.


That's definitely a factor, but he's still remembered. It would have been easy for the programming to have been ignored and Carmack to have been overshadowed by Romero, but that didn't happen.

Amongst game programmers, we certainly pay more attention to who writes the code, not just who designs the game or draws the art. Most gamers are more likely to know of Cliff Bleszinski than Tim Sweeney, but programmers are more likely to know of Sweeney.


Actually, nowadays, you know game designers, more than actual programmers, at least for the big industry. You know the programmers for most indie games, though (but there they are often designers themselves).

Besides, true that you don't really know the "big shot programmer" in games anymore, mostly because there is not anymore one programmer, you see a full team creating an engine. so they blend in the product.

About Carmack and Romero, I guess it also helped that Romero made a fool of himself after the "breakup".


Like any budding game programmer who cut their teeth on the object-oriented, endlessly flexible game creation system "ZZT", I will always see Tim Sweeney as a personal hero.

Perhaps a little off-topic, but if you're interested in a slice of history, have a look at what Sweeney made before the Unreal engine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZZT


I think we are getting to (what I think is) the point: You will be recognized only if your work excites your users so much.


On an indirectly related note, it helps if people hear your voice or see your picture.

I find this podcast really interesting, because you hear stories from people who are otherwise just another name on the credits: http://irrationalgames.com/insider/irrational-podcast/


Does Shigeru Miyamoto program?


To my knowledge, he hasn't ever written a line of code, but if he did he would've been an excellent example.

Bill Gates is also an interesting example - he is known to pretty much everyone for a number of reasons, among those, probably the least, but still, for the versions of BASIC he wrote.


On the other hand, I've written Rails tutorials for newbies and people constantly think I'm a Ruby badass and ask absolutely no further questions.

Perceived character, reputation, and the way you make a person feel has more to do with whether they innately assume you are good, than sheer fame.

It's so easy to choose the wrong variable when you're trying to figure out a (social) system.


..just as there are no famous scientists anymore. Seriously, how many of you can remember the names of Nobel prize winners after the 1960s? Fame is almost as fickle as Luck and in many ways more so. In our day and time, being recognized by our peers is fame enough. Aspiring to be famous well beyond your chosen discipline requires more than genius. The right moment in time. A moment right not just for you but for your entire field. A moment that captures the imagination of people who have nothing to do with your work, but can still feel its impact. And sometimes, even that is not enough. Case in point: How many of you know the name of the person who discovered/invented/designed Viagra? :-)


Also: outside of chess fans, who the hell would recognize Anand? He's the world's best at something, and he'd probably be able to walk down any street in America unnoticed. What does Zed expect?


Zed is to now as Eric S. Raymond was to the 90's


ESR got people to understand that GPL/BSD/etc apps were real software with real licenses they needed to respect, rather than Public Domain Shit From The Internet. Also: Zed's made a bunch of innovative stuff (I use his mailing list app) that shits all over Fetchmail (which is a single hack for a limited problem).




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