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Even Non-Techies Aim to Learn the Internet’s Language (nytimes.com)
77 points by branola on Mar 27, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 25 comments

  Parlez-vous Python? What about Rails or JavaScript? 
It seems interesting to me that Rails (rather than Ruby) is often listed as a language in popular publications. I guess the framework is more highly promoted than the language it's written in. Are there any other examples of cases like this in popular or "near-geek" culture?

While not a framework per se, .NET is often termed a "language."

.NET is a framework. Most devs and knowledgeable people refer to it as such. There are a number of languages such as VB.NET, C#, F# which are supported by the framework.

.NET isn't a framework?

Seems like ".NET" encompasses more than just a framework, but there is definitely something called "The .NET Framework." [1][2]



I am happy to hear that one can be a developer and understand TCP/IP and not be a "techie" since the dimunitive nounized form of tech, "techie", always has a condescending air about its use. Likewise "coder" and often even "geek". When my partner stays up all night reading wikipedia I can humorously say "Looks like you had a major geek-out session." This is taken in a very different sense than when a touring MBA says "So is this the cage where you keep the geeks?"

That last bit struck a nerve to me. I think the dichotomy between "suits" and "geeks" really hurts a lot of companies.

A former boss loved mentioning things his "engineers" have accomplished when he's on teleconferences, but when he's upset at something done at the technical level, he refers to them as the "geek squad".

I see the same thing when I'm surrounded by the engineers. They all refer to management as "the suits" and speak condescendingly of non-engineering work.

This difference seems like it's transcended a bit in startup culture, which is one of the most attractive parts of it to me.

I use the term coder for myself, because I think it is more accurate than any other phrase. I will never be a software engineer. I don't think of myself as a Real Programmer, and I don't expect to ever publish any program that will be used by my grandmother.

I like doing stats, and making sure that I really understand how things work, and at times automating parts of my life. At most I will end up knowing three of the programming languages that currently exist, and those only to a moderate level.

Calling myself a coder is, I believe, an accurate summary of my skill set and desires. Is there a better term? Is it condescending only when applied to engineers or programmers?

I despise it when people call me a "techie". Pushes my buttons like few other things. Seriously? Yeah, I'm the "techie" and you're the "widdle manager-wanager"

Aside from the cheesy opening line, it is nice to see an author that does a decent job writing to a nontechnical audience (as well as one who provides examples of the value of programming to readers). With increasing publicity, it will be interesting to see if more people actually sign up for and complete online courses (from sites like Codecademy).

Smells like another bubble in the making to me. Investment money has nowhere else to go but startups and Joe blow is learning html again because he thinks its going to be easy money. Feels a lot like the early reports of people lining up around the block for Manhattan condos in 2006.

No, this is just capitalism at work, and it's normal. Demand exceeds supply for software engineers, because humans need more software than ever before. Unemployment is high. Unemployed workers in other industries want to retrain as software engineers. This is exactly what's "supposed" to happen when workers are displaced from one industry.

You seem to be trying to imply that companies are hiring unqualified workers. I don't see any evidence of that -- do you?

Demand only exceeds supply because too many people think they're going to make a quick buck with their new social recipe sharing startup. I strongly suspect the supply of those kinds of services currently far outstrips real demand.

The demand from what you dismissively call "social recipe sharing startups" is an insignificant fraction of the demand for software engineers. Techcrunch is not a good proxy for the job market.

How many people do you think are actually getting paid to write social recipe sharing software? Maybe 1000? There are ~1.5 million software engineers in the US alone. Even if you think that there are 10000, that's still less that 1% of all positions.


Joe blow is learning html again because he thinks its going to be easy money.

I don't think so: I think Joe Blow is learning basic coding skills because he realizes that virtually every job, or at least every intellectually engaged job, is going to need those skills soon, if they don't already. His company isn't going to fire him if he's the only one who knows how to update the blog and he's the one who wrote script automating that tedious task everyone else has to do.

How soon before this trend starts to wind down?

How long before computer programming skills become as everyday as basic vehicle repair knowledge?

I guess its not really the same thing, because computer programs aren't as homogeneous as car guts (although I wouldn't really know) and cars aren't being engineered in repair shops. But if you look at common frameworks like Rails or plain HTML or WordPress then you could almost think of those areas as being like their own mechanical specialties.

Point being there are a lot of relatively high-tech devices that we maintain where those careers aren't considered particularly prestigious, and I wonder if at some point software development will be a little more like that.

I mean in the first few decades of the development of motor vehicles (I know, computer programs aren't combustion engines, they are much more varied and complex than that) there was a lot of invention and innovation and those people were probably considered to have fairly elite skills and knowledge.

There are certainly people who predict that this will happen. (Example: http://www.whattofix.com/blog/archives/2012/01/programming-i...)

Ironically enough one of my goals is to cause this to happen. Which while sounding like some sort of betrayal, is really an enrichment of human creativity. Concentrating the heart of what defines the 21st century into a sort of weakly protected oligarchy makes me feel nervous about the future. The thing about cars is that they represent a different revolution, one which doesn't necessarily require people to join in on what would probably be called "hacking" if the equivalent tasks were done on a computer to have their full effect.

Part of the power of the home computer and electronics revolutions is that the programmability of the computer is itself a medium. A largely underutilized medium that has more potential than most others. To have this medium marginalized by a widespread belief that it's beyond peoples capability is really...depressing.

That's kind of one of my goals too. I am thinking about composable widgets for web applications.

How do you plan to make programming easier (or whatever it is your goal is exactly)?

While I understand that a modern technologist can sometimes be a tinkerer and a maintainer of code, and that can lead to equivalences to the auto mechanic of the early days of auto, I think you hit quite well on the difference: autos aren't made in auto shops. They are engineered, and those engineers are quite a different creature than the auto mechanic.

Not all hackers are great software engineers, capable of planning and building a product that people will enjoy and pay for, just as not all mechanics and hobbyist engineers are capable of designing the next great automobile.

For hackers, the barriers to entry are lower, and the reach of our quickly-developed products is vast indeed. But there are still the human barriers, those of willingness to succeed, passion for work, and raw skill.

That hacking is becoming more widespread is not a bad thing for the field, or a harbinger for its twilight. It's part maturity, and it's mostly success.

There's a huge difference between having a surface understanding of HTML and Javascript and having the right kind of abstract thinking ability to do non-trivial programming. In my experience most people just don't have the knack for large-scale abstract logical thinking that programming requires.

The big difference between programming and auto repair is that auto repair consists of executing a few well-defined procedures on a known, consistent device whereas non-trivial programming is always a matter of solving a new problem.

Which begs the question: what can an individual programmer do to prevent turning into a "commodity"? Is this threat serious enough that we should all start learning new disciplines now?

On another note, I think there's an analogy to be made with mathematics. I bet that mathematics as a "profession" has been declining in the past few decades with the rise of math education. My impression is that most mathematicians nowadays have solid domain knowledge in at least one other discipline. Anyone care to (dis)confirm this?

As a non-technical learning to program on my personal time, I think this article captures the rise of programming tutorials accurately, and hints at the greater trend of the internet enabling a new kind of renaissance person that can know a little bit about a lot- at least enough to know "how these languages function within the internet". That being said, I don't think codecademy, at least as it's currently developing, is enough to turn the layperson into a programmer.

I'm not sure if the world would really be a better place if more people learned JavaScript, but I do hope that at least some of the alleged "surge" goes towards learning about basic rules of security on the Internet. Like, "Don't click Yes on that thing unless you're sure what you're saying Yes to."

In fact, I'd much rather not share the world with people who know how to write JavaScript but not basic rules of security. They are so much more dangerous than people who know neither!

Sad to see San Francisco's own Dev Bootcamp not mentioned here: devbootcamp.com (and my own writing about my experiences with the program douglascalhoun.tumblr.com). By the way, our hiring day is Friday, it's not too late to tell your founder/ recruiter friends: devbootcamp-spring2012.eventbrite.com

I don't see this as a trend, people who want to know how to program will learn. It's the same as if cars were just invented 30 years ago and people start learning how to work on cars. The auto mechanic didn't go out of business, in fact I think he got more work as people realized that they don't need to go out and buy a new car every time their old one is broken, they can hire someone to fix it.

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