I don’t program for a living. However, I know a bunch of programmers, as part of my job I talk shop with Computer Science people, and programming languages interest me from the standpoint of logical systems.
I was chewing the fat with one of those aforementioned Computer Science folk this morning, and I offered a classification system for programmers that he found entertaining. Since I needed something to write about to get me back into the blogging gig, here it is for your consumption, with some embellishment.
Class One: The Directionless Hack
How to recognize them:
These people don’t know much about anything. They’re the type who learned how to program by reading “Java for Dummies”, or by hammering away at their computer to get something specific done (like, building the web site for their band or their buddy’s motorcycle shop). Edited to add: as Corey points out in the comments, you can have a degree in Computer Science, from a reputable university, and still be a directionless hack. How you learned what you know is less important than what you haven’t learned, and “just getting this next thing done” is a very common approach to formal education, too.
In and of itself, self-taught programmers aren’t necessarily a bad lot (many of the below classes started here), but these yahoos haven’t got an enormous amount of intellectual curiosity about how programming works and their “self-taught” skills stop precisely at the place where their current problem ends. They generally keep solving the same problems over and over, as they fail to realize that the problem that they’re trying to solve is something that someone else already solved a couple of decades ago.
Common statement: “Well, it works for me.”
Class Two: The Directed Hack
How to recognize them:
These are the people who know they need to get something done, but figured out somewhere along the line that it might be a good idea to pick up at least a couple of books about programming concepts instead of just “howto” manuals. If they graduated with a CS major, they paid enough attention in their theory classes to grasp what “layer of abstraction” means, although they may not be able to explain it. Like the directionless hack, they usually need full access to most things to get anything done, however unlike the directionless hack they’ll have learned enough about at least some things to know they don’t want to mess with it any more. If they have more than 5 years of experience, they’ll have some comments in their code (precisely at the location where most of the bugs are), because they occasionally want to go on vacation. They program in whatever language is currently en vogue wherever they are, or they will default to Perl or Python. They will have an opinion on what the best language is, but their strength of their opinion will be directly correlated to whether or not they’ve worked primarily on writing their own code (in which case they will prefer an unstructured language), or supporting the code of someone else (in which case they will prefer a much more rigorously structured language). Depending upon the stage of their professional development, they will work well with systems administrators, database administrators, or networking personnel, but never all three at the same time. These people actually make up the bulk of systems administrators, industry-wide. Programming editors vary wildly.
Common statement, in comments: “# I know this sucks, but it works. Do it yourself if you don’t like it.”
Class Three: The Mercenary Professional
How to recognize them:
They know Java, ASP.NET, and/or C#. They’re at least conceptually familiar with SOAP and/or Ajax. They hate whichever database they’ve relied upon that had the least competent DBA, and like whichever database they’ve relied upon that had the most competent DBA. They want version control, they want detailed specifications, they don’t want to have more than two meetings with the customer. They regard most of what they learned in college (if they were a CS major) as useless and unnecessary. These people want to get stuff *done*, and they don’t want another phone call about it afterward. They regard systems administrators and networking staff as necessary evils. They will love good DBAs, and set fire to bad ones. They will have a love-hate relationship with XML. They will likely prefer Waterfall development, and use NetBeans or Visual Studio IDE.
Common statement: “File that bug report with the maintenance team,” or “That’s not in the spec.”
Class Four: The Cabalist
How to recognize them:
They have a very, very strong opinion on which language is teh best evar, and the list of candidates includes Lisp, C, Modula-3, and Haskell. They will be able to write up at least six different logical diagrams of any project before writing any code… although they probably won’t write up logical diagrams because they can move from one layer of abstraction to another, on the fly, in their own head (or at least, they think they can). Their first approach to most software projects will be to suggest a complete re-write in a language that doesn’t suck. They will hate most programming languages, including any language that is proposed by anyone on their programming team that isn’t a Cabalist or a Professional. Good Cabalists will work well with good DBAs, but bad Cabalists will annoy the hell out of them by offering suggestions on how to improve the database. They will often argue with systems administrators or networking staff about technical limitations (of the systems or network) as if problems with deviation from RFCs are the technical staff’s fault. They will likely prefer some sort of agile programming methodology, and have a strong preference for their particular favorite incarnation. Cabalists typically will use Emacs (and have a very strong preference for a particular incarnation of emacs), and sneer at any IDE.
Common statement: “Only a complete idiot would do it that way.”
Class Five: The Theoretician
Closely related to The Cabalist, the Theoretician goes one step farther. They will have done one of the following: written a major software program in Assembly, written their own compiler in a language *other* than Assembly “just to do it”, written their own programming language, installed a C compiler on their HP calculator, contributed a driver or a chunk of the kernel to either the Linux, FreeBSD, or NetBSD projects, or installed and run Plan 9 on their home network un-ironically. These people are nearly useless in a team environment as nobody else can understand them except a Cabalist, and Cabalists and Theoreticians rarely get along. However, they also can be the sort of Free Electron that can re-write an entire application over a weekend. Almost all Theoreticians use vi.
Common statement: “Yeah, I wrote about that in the 2001 issue of IEEE Interactions between Compilers and Computer Architectures”
Class Six: The Weary Wise One
These guys and gals used to be one of the above classes, but have passed into programming Nerdvana to Enlightenment. They will have opinions, but no longer care about the strength of those convictions. They will re-write the entire code base, but only if necessary, or hack it if that’s the best way to get the job done. They will cheerfully reuse another programmer’s code (even bad code), or buy an off-the-shelf component if that’s legitimately the best way to get the job done nearly on time, basically on budget, and with quality good enough to make everyone happy. They will hate most operating systems, programming languages, and programming methodologies equally. Typically they will prefer vi or emacs over an IDE, but will use an IDE if it gets the job done.
Common statement: “This is still better than my dot-com days.”