Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Poll: Are you a Programmer?
95 points by Ardit20 on July 24, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments
We all have an interest in the internet I think that is obvious, so I mean specifically programming, like C+, JavaScript, etc.
1606 points
137 points

My undergraduate degree is in computer science. I discovered during my college days that I love the pursuit of hacking as a sort of art form; I love writing Lisp and I love making beautiful things. I don't love, at all, working as one coder among 100 on a big project; I don't like implementing someone else's ideas.

So I'm not a programmer by trade, if that's what this question means. I took another of my passions that I did enjoy performing on more of a mercenary basis, and went to law school, and am presently a very happy lawyer. I write appellate briefs all day in a quiet office and when I come home in the evenings, I unwind by putting some music on and writing something that'll never make any money or do anything except make me happy with how beautiful and elegant it is.

I'm not committed against the idea of writing code as my trade, but I'm happy that I don't have to do it unless and until the right opportunity comes along. Maybe it never will, and I'll go on like this forever---that seems most likely, and would also be just fine with me. It will mean that I never let a great artistic love be ruined by stamping out CRUD database apps all day until I couldn't bear to start emacs. (Plus, emacs is great for writing briefs in. I also think I'm the only lawyer in the Department who's ever filed a brief formatted in LaTeX. Looked great.)

I've often wondered why attorneys don't use LaTeX. Especially when you consider all of the different requirements for formatting that are required by different courts. Seems to me that you could hire someone to write the templates, and then the lawyers can stick to what they're good at.... lawyerin'

Yep. You've got it absolutely right. I'm also amazed that people who write and edit words for a living go without keyboard shortcuts for delete word and delete sentence. Not to fetishize the tools or anything, but come on, I use those a thousand times a day. "This sentence blows. M-k"

I code, but it hasn't been advantageous to call myself a programmer for a while now.

This tallies with my pet hypothesis about programmer career paths. It is commonly observed that programming is a young person's game: there are lots of teenage and twenty something programmers but fewer and fewer as you look at older and older age groups. This is sometimes blamed on age discrimination, and sometimes on the idea that programming is an exceptionally terrible career.

My hypothesis is that the "problem" with programming is that it has too much upside potential: If you learn to program, have a couple more skills than just programming and can keep your wits about you, you can find lots of business and professional opportunities... most of which carry job titles other than "programmer". You move up to "software engineer", and then you become "manager of X" or "founder of Y" or maybe you're just "the guy who does Z" where Z is something that makes money for the company, like marketing or strategic research or manufacturing operations.

The most significant piece of code I ever wrote was written when my official job title was "product engineer", which kind of means "troubleshooter". My job title and description had nothing to do with software; software just happened to be what I did all day, every day, (not to mention a fair number of nights) in order to help make the company millions of dollars by finding manufacturing bugs more quickly.

I agree, strongly. It is the same story in languages, too -- the difference between a "translator" and a "international business consultant" is a better suit and about, oh, $200~300 an hour.

you can find lots of business and professional opportunities

We (Python Ireland user group members) recently held our own PyCon and I got chatting to a recruiter who confirmed what I was already thinking: that the "recession" hasn't really affected software devlopment jobs. Apparently there are loads of development jobs out there that pay above average.

But, like you said, few of them have "programmer" job titles.

Yes there are loads of programming jobs in Ireland, which should help since I'm looking for a python job soon myself!

Were you at PyCon Ireland last weekend? If you were, I was the guy that looked passed out form lack of sleep :-D

If not, you'll be happy to know that the Python job market is growing. A lot of the government type organisations seem to be switching from legacy systems to Python-based web apps. For example, a friend works for the Royal College of Surgeons replacing their legacy systems with a Django based web app.

No, alas I wasn't at PyCon, I was at the Ubuntu-ie geeknic instead. I'm glad to hear python jobs are available, should make a change from all this PHP at the moment.

This is because we become managers :)

Here's the thing: no-one can make you be a manager. You might be aware of the downsides, sure, but managers aren't pressganged. So by and large, the people you find in management ranks are the people who wanted to be managers and not programmers. This is important because these people hold the budget and ultimately make hiring and firing decisions. Another factor is that angling for promotion is a full-time job in its own right. You can't do the maneuvering necessary and produce code. There just aren't enough hours in the day to schmooze at meetings and do work at a comparable rate to your peers who are mainly working.

A manager considers him or herself "successful" and looks back at their own career and doesn't see that they were perhaps a mediocre programmer themselves (or actually bad and given a promotion so they wouldn't be able to break stuff[1]). Then they look at a candidate who is still programming after 20 years and they see a "failure". That's why ageism is rife in the industry.

[1] It's very very difficult to fire someone these days. So you "promote" them sideways to get them out of the way. Problem is a couple of years later everyone has forgotten that, and their next promotion is a real one...

My response to what I do is "computer stuff" and then I change the subject...

My title is technically "software developer", so I just use that. Most jobs nowadays seem to use "software engineer" instead.

I generally am not a fan of software engineer, because most software seems to involve a much higher level of trial and error than traditional engineering disciplines. To me, engineer implies a level of guarantee that usually can't be provide in most software systems.

In extremely critical software systems the developers are probably software engineers, such as if the presence of a single bug in your code would cost someone their life or waste billions of dollars.

> I generally am not a fan of software engineer, because most software seems to involve a much higher level of trial and error than traditional engineering disciplines.

Software engineers just have a very high standard for "it is now complicated enough". If an engineer is forced by circumstance or insanity to add lots of features to an analog circuit, they end up in the exact same tar pit as the software engineer. Ditto for chemical processing plants, jet engines, etc. In fact, the usual approach these days is to move a lot of non-software complexity into software when possible, so trial and error becomes a feature.

Why not? What do you find advantageous to call yourself instead.

At my former job, a programmer is the guy who transforms this instruction into Java code: "The 16th digit in the CSV is a field with 1 representing that the student is excused from the English speaking exam. Such students are to have their English written exam score proportionately increased such that it makes up 100% of the point allocation for the English subject, but it is not to be altered in reports showing sub-subject scores." A software engineer wrote that instruction. My company hired me as a software engineer, not a programmer (to the extent we had any of those, they worked in low-wage countries).

I do not call myself a programmer around consulting clients because I charge much more money than my programming skills can justify. Most of them do not need a title to understand my skill set, since they asked for me in the first place, and to the extent I have one it is as "the guy doing X for us" (X is usually a combination of programming and marketing).

"Founder" isn't too big in Japan, so I usually introduce myself as some variant of "Owner of a company." It is ridiculously superior to "programmer" in terms of social status and sets me up for an automatic conversation topic (given my age and pallor, "How the heck did that happen!?" is a common one).

Ouch. That sounds like a painful project. Once I understand the problem to that level of detail, I can generally write the code faster than I could explain it to somebody else. Of course, I use terse and expressive programming languages.

Don Knuth's title is "Professor Emeritus of the Art of Computer Programming". If "programmer" is good enough for Knuth, then after two decades of writing software, I aspire to be worthy of the title.

Interesting. At my job, a programmer (well, software engineer, but there's not all that much of a distinction) is someone who translates this instruction into some combination of C++, Python, Sawzall, JavaScript, and various custom languages:

"Make users happy."

This may be a philosophical point, but unless you're a game designer, that sentence has to end with "...by increasing the odds that, and the ease with which, they will succeed in their goals." You can make people happy by just giving them opiates :)

That's actually a good but controversial point. My employer has recently made a number of changes that measurably increased the odds and ease with which users achieved their goals, but were met with widespread user unhappiness. Similarly, there was one recent feature I was involved in that was universally lauded as being a fun little easter egg, yet wasted several million hours of productivity worldwide. It's an interesting balancing act between giving people what they want and giving them what they need, and while we tend to err on the side of giving them what they need, it can sometimes be hard to do so when they hate us for it.

> Similarly, there was one recent feature I was involved in that was universally lauded as being a fun little easter egg, yet wasted several million hours of productivity worldwide.



Ah, in that case, I should add a third possibility: in any large-enough user population (where the users could theoretically switch to an alternative—not like, say, an enterprise Lotus Notes installation) there will form a small, yet vocal, counterculture that dislikes every change you make to the software, no matter how small.

They do this not because it affects their productivity negatively (they have even less of an idea about their individual productivity than you do), but rather because it is a hit to their familiarity, and an easy rallying point to demonstrate their "consumer identity" to others. Facebook has gotten the most unlucky with this kind of problem (I think because Facebook's core 15-25 demographic are the most likely group to protest, riot, and generally shout at things), but Google has it nearly as bad, being the "front page" of the Internet to many.

There are two basic reasons an expedited process can create unhappiness: either

1. You're providing too many knobs and dials at each step in a workflow (see the TED talk[1]; solving this is basically where UX design and game design merge into one field),

2. Or there is a certain minimum level of strategic thought required for your business process, and you've removed all the "ruminance gaps" that allow users to have those strategic thoughts while believing that they are working. Instead, they have to just sit there and look unproductive while they ruminate, which creates stress. (You can also cynically call this the "users don't really want to do their jobs, so the more bureaucracy, the better" problem—but it still applies even to the most dedicated workers.)

You can solve the first problem with a re-design, but the second problem is actually a social one, related to how people are perceived, and how they perceive themselves, while working, and needs to be solved at the company-policy level.

As for easter eggs—I would say that it isn't your job to entertain your employees. You shouldn't be paid for releasing features which don't contribute to overall productivity (though, of course, you can do it anyway, on off hours; and keep in mind that increased morale has the same sort of effect on productivity that advertising has on brand-building.) But, on the other hand, it's also not your job to make sure that your users aren't entertained. Instead of releasing easter-egg features, perhaps just install some good games (not Minesweeper) on their workstations, and let them relax that way. Again, company-policy issue.

[1] http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_ch...

just install some good games (not Minesweeper) on their workstations, and let them relax that way

How about a game that rewards employees for completing work tasks? Like, for every customer-reported bug triaged or minute of audio transcribed, you get x gold to spend in the game. Maybe even integrate the work tasks into the game, like that old Atari game where you had to send the right meal orders to the right tables -- show categories as buckets, and bugs as falling descriptions. Earn in-game rewards by correctly categorizing bugs faster than the average.

Heck, if someone wants to work on this idea, I'd probably put my current project on hold and join them.

Well I'm in the parent's shoes - and I usually call myself a "Founder" or something along those lines.

a hacker.

I call myself a coder because I write code.

I don't hack, crack, or (verb)script-kiddie, so I won't refer to myself as a hacker, cracker, or script-kiddie.

*sigh I would hope people would understand the title of hacker on this website. Hint it has nothing to do with security

But wouldn't it be nice if some script kiddie misunderstood and got hooked? A sample IRC log might look like this:

  SC1: yo dog, long time
  SC1: still haxoring Wordpress modules?
  HNer: naah man, WP is gey
  HNer: I am busy hacking Supply and Demand
  SC1: wtf? the economic model?
  HNer: yeah, making something people want
  -- SC1 has quit IRC (Quit: Leaving.)

It would be wonderful. But my point on not calling myself a hacker is not because I don't "hack supply and demand," but I don't "hack" stuff in general. Hack can be used correctly in two totally different contexts (not mistaken with crack), and that is the good helpful kind of hack.

Sure, but this thread was about what it's "advantageous" to call yourself. Calling yourself a "hacker" in front of 99% of clients is not going to get you off to a good start.

except in front of silicon valley MBA types who're vaguely familiar with four steps to the epiphany

Turing Completionist?

I am just a graduate student, i want to code more, but in fact i don't have to code. I just have to write damn papers, i hate it. So, i am not a programmer actually

What are some better titles career-wise (in the US)?

Well, I guess so, as I do write code on a regular basis. But again no, because part of me thinks "programmer" should describe someone whose job it is to produce software, and my code is not the purpose of my work. I'm a scientist: my job is to translate experimental data into meaningful statements about the systems I study. It just so happens that this requires a lot of new software! :)

Which makes me wonder how many HNers who code are what might be described as "professional software developers"? And how many write code, but only because they need to in order to accomplish the rest of their job?

(this might also be a poor framing of the question, but I don't have a better one in my head right now)

You'd probably be better off asking a more general question. Non-programmers are not likely to click a link, "Are you a programmer," while programmers are probably 10x more likely to click such a link.

It might be tacky, but it would work well-enough to just rephrase it as "How many non-programmers read HN?" and have a single voting option. We can assume that HN's uniqs/month, minus that number, are the number of programmers.

No, it would drastically underrepresent non-programmers. That only works if every single person that visits HN this month will see this poll and will take the trouble of voting (possibly having to create an account to do it) if they are a non-programmer. It also requires the uniques/month number to be accurate.

I'd guess that you would get an answer 2 orders of magnitude too small doing it that way, and that might be a generous estimate.

someone should make the "are you a non-programmer" poll.

Nope. I'm a web designer and I have some interest in programing, but all I know is a little Actionscript.

I come here for the high quality discussion on the articles I do understand, and I read the occasional programming story just to see if I can get anything out of it.

Have you noticed any desire to program more since you started coming here?

Oddly, I'd say it has the opposite effect to a certain extent (Similarly, I'm pretty familiar with front end web development but am most definitely not a hacker)

StackOverflow produce concise and clear answers, Rails webcasts insist (sometimes not entirely convincingly) that everything is quick and easy. HackerNews is frequented far more by programmers with serious breadth and depth of interest and far less by people looking for a quick fix or help with the learning curve. The resulting fondness for arcane languages and esoteric solutions can at times be overwhelwing even for the motivated novice.

On the one hand I think it's important for even non-tech people interested in that startup ecosystem to gain a basic understanding of how hackers think and the choices they face, which is my chief motivation for reading a lot of the programming articles posted here.

Not really. I've had a slight interest in programming for years, but I'm more interested in design.

I'd like to develop an iPhone game, but I don't think I have enough motivation or focus to make it up the steep learning curve. I made a Pong clone in Actionscript, that was as far as I got. The only project idea I have right now is pretty complex; I think I'd need a more modest goal to start with.

(I'm in a similar situation) I've learned bits of PHP and Java in the past, but I wouldn't call it being a programmer.

Thanks to HN, I've decided to properly learn to program.

I'm buying a book on Python (http://amzn.to/bUMPCP), and I'm taking C++ in the upcoming semester.

1) Learn python with these two resources: a.This is for absolute beginners http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/electrical-engineering-and-comput....

b.Do these exercises for some extra oomp - http://code.google.com/edu/languages/google-python-class/exe.... there are some video lectures if required

They're much more better and practical than any ole paperback.

Finishing with .../electrical-engineering-and-computer-science/ works for first link (although google also shows a much longer link for a python course from the same url) http://code.google.com/edu/languages/google-python-class/ works for the second. Thanks.

Cool, hope your journey goes well.

I am a dishwasher but like this community as well.

I always expected a toaster to be first.

When I was about 8 I got a Commadore 64 and learned how to program with the trade magazines that came with it. I hacked around on computers until about 12 or 13, at which point I cut that hobby out and tried to learn how to become "cool," whatever that meant.

About 10 years later I found Hacker News after watching a talk by Jessica Livingston and then reading Founders at Work. A few years into getting my news everyday from HN, I have learned Java, built a few programs in VB, and built a couple scripts in Ruby, and am starting to dive into Rails for a startup that I'm doing some initial modeling/planning for.

When I am with "business people," I become the "tech guy." When I'm with a bunch of alpha-geeks, like at Founders and Hackers the other week, I am suddenly a "business guy." Seems I wear a different hat depending on the crowd.

I think I enjoy the challenge of both startup marketing, sales, etc., but also really like spending time finding programming solutions to the business problems we have. Like the other day I wrote a Ruby script to help automate a process that they were doing manually where I work. It saved the team hours and hours of busy-work every month, and felt really good to build. So it was trivial to many here, but solved a problem and forced me to learn more about Ruby. And I liked it.

Anyway, I guess I'm saying that I see business in general as a big exercise in problem-solving, and I enjoy that process immensely. Whether I happen to be using a Ruby script or my background in sales/marketing to do it, I don't care. I like the creativity and stimulation that come with both.

I am a programmer. I am not a developer. I write little programs and tools that make my job and my peers' jobs easier. I write bits of software for fun when tinkering. I like playing with different programming languages.

I do not do well in IDEs. I don't collaborate well with developers on large projects. I think part of it is because developers have a mindset I don't usually find myself in.

I'm a systems and information security guy by trade, though. People like me are in a strange spot where we usually have to know how to automate and code, but we're not expected to develop applications for the public to use.

A lot of the commenters seem to be programmers by passion but not by trade. I'm both. I got a BS in Computer Engineering but have always been a programmer at heart so I took a job 3 years ago working from home developing desktop applications in C#.

I came to Hacker News after I heard it mentioned in hushed conversation on reddit about alternative news aggregators. I enjoy HN because it seems that content is a higher priority than karma.

Nope. I'm a hardware guy, but I found this place to be a great source of good news and reading.

Rather than code, I do machining, CAD, and design control.

Actually its kinda funny: Ever since I started a company with a friend of mine a year ago, I've been calling myself a programmer, even though, officially, we're both co-CEOs of our little startup.

Before that, when I had a day job as a programmer - I used to come up with longer descriptions and alternative titles for what I did at the firm that I worked at.

Odd huh?..=)

I do occasionally program stuff, even though that's not what I prefer. I'm a sysadmin really, and to some extent, I'm sometime a dba, a network admin, a web designer, etc.. how do I call myself something without limiting myself. Also I'm wondering how much of the HN crowd are more sysadmin than programmer.

I voted for both because as a programmer I sniff out bugs like last night's leftover curry.

I write HTML and CSS. So, no.

I program in C. Also Assembly, I have programmed in CHILL also. Sometimes for fun I call myself a research engineer. When people idly ask me what I do, I tell then I grow flowers.

I'm a "Developer"... and only Developers knows the difference between a Programmer and a Developer ;) I'm kidding... nevermind... :)

I'm a programmer that knows I'm not a developer, if that counts for anything.

I code, therefore I am.

I never much liked the term "developer", since it sounds vague and wooly. I generally prefer "programmer" or "coder".

I think it was in the book Coders At Work that someone said coding is to software as brick-laying is to buildings.

I am a copy-paster. All problems have been "solved", I just have to mash together a working solution for the task at hand.

Just quit the business after 20 years writing embedded C code, but it remains an avocation. Now I teach high-school math.

Computer Science, I'm a hack as a programmer. But a real Systems Analyst

I think many people would identify as a hacker before a programmer.

Sadly, yes.

medical student

even if you can program you'll generally earn more money and respect if you call yourself something else, like manager or entrepreneur or software engineer or architect. unfortunate but often true.

Hm, what's this poll trying to find out or measure by asking this? Also, what's "C+"?

> C+

One of my coworkers used the term for a program consisting of a core that was a C library and a GUI that was in C++/MFC.

The author of a book I started reading (http://www.amazon.com/Tricks-Programming-Gurus-Advanced-Grap... ) used it to describe his style of writing mostly C but using a C++ compiler and taking advantage of some of things like stricter type checking, new/delete syntactic sugar, etc.

But I'm guessing it was a typo.

Pretty simple ... what proportion of this sites readers are programmers. (it doesn't really matter what you call yourself)... a snapshot of HN's reader base.

Probably looking at demographics on HN, to get a feel for the community.

if you program with jquery and want to work on http://infusedindustries.com then send me an email! we're hiring. brian@infusedindustries.com

I didn't down vote you, but I am guessing that the reason is because this is off topic. You are welcome to make your own thread though!

I'd say it's the combination of low karma, a fairly new account with not much interaction, an off-topic post, and a spammy looking site and twitter account (http://twitter.com/infusedindustr)

What about the twitter account looks spammy? What about the website looks spammy?

(Agree that he should've been downvoted - but curious about these points.)

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact