Missing the Point

Is it just me or has Jay Fields gotten awfully elitist lately? First, he starts telling companies they should hire developers and not hackers (where hackers are people who write a lot of very good code but may not be very sociable) which is pretty ridiculous in and of itself given the fact that lots of software companies would love to have just one uber-hacker on their team. Then today, we get his idea that 50% of all people doing software development should find a new profession. Lord, that’s an elitist thing to say in public. I wonder if he’s a Democrat. I kid! Sort of.

Anyway, he seems to miss the point that his ability to work his way up through software to his lofty position giving out dumb advice was directly related to the fact that so many other bad programmers were working. If you eliminated half the programmers in the US, he would have had a much more difficult time working his way into the profession. One of the beautiful things about programming is that, contra Joel, you actually can do a semi-decent job of it without any formal training. Some of the best developers I’ve known haven’t had formal computer science training.

People like Jay want software development to be like medicine, i.e. it takes 12 years to basically even get your foot in the door. Now I can understand this mentality a little because in theory, I can see having my own company and then I’m going to want the best I can hire. And no, Jay never said anything about education. However, that’s the implied content of his post. On top of that, where does it stop? Once you’ve eliminated the bottom 50%, you’ve only succeeded in creating a new bottom 50%. What stops you from wanting to eliminate them? It’s an awfully slippery slope to start down in the name of improving the profession. Far better you suggest ways to drag those Blub programmers you so condescendingly look down upon up to your lofty, all-knowing level.

In reality, there are tons of jobs out there that really do suck. Your top 50% of programmers aren’t going to want to work at Company XYZ making widgets. But those widgets need to get made because Company XYZ depends on them and by extension, the people who work for Company XYZ also need them. Eliminating 50% of all programming jobs would have consequences beyond what Jay seems to be suggesting. The bottom 50% of all programmers make the fun jobs possible.

Look, if you don’t want to work with crappy programmers, find a new job or don’t hire them or go live on an island. But don’t try to spin ideas like 50% of all programmers need to find a new profession as the desire to improve the craft. That’s elitist bullshit. Software isn’t THAT important and thinking that it is involves entirely too much self-importance.

Stealing from a related post by Reg Braithwaite who borrowed the line from Woody Allen: “You have to have a little faith in people.”

The Daily Palliative: Optical Illusions

4 thoughts on “Missing the Point

  1. I think you are missing the point of Jay’s post. The current bottom 50% are so often completely incompetent. The fact that a degree in CS is often ridiculed within the industry demonstrate the sad state of affairs.

    Now I understand your concerns of elitism and how what Jay says can be taken this way, but in my experience the incompetence is so prevalent that many companies expect mediocrity. They don’t know how it should or could be when it comes to software development. Have you ever worked in a large (fortune 1000) IT shop? It’s astounding what passes for a competent developer.

  2. I think the point Jay was trying to make isn’t so much that the bottom 50% should just pack up their stuff and stop writing code. He’s pointing to ultimately a much more serious discrepancy between productivity/effectiveness and compensation that continues employing the bottom 50% with (compared to real talent) low business value. In other words, rooted in the huge variance in productivity and the fact that pay is currently not commensurate with that, companies can operate much more efficiently by letting go of (or not hiring in the first place) below-average developers and instead invest those resources in hiring more talented developers for more $$$.

    If this happens the bottom 50% go into other careers as a matter of economic necessity and simple job market realities, not out of pure choice.

    So the bottom line is about the labor market for software developers and how it balances out when companies more efficiently align productivity of their employees with payroll cost and business value.

  3. If that’s what he was trying to say, he went about it in a strange fashion by starting off his entire post with “50% of all people doing business software development should find a new profession. The dotcom bubble brought us so many bad colleagues.” That sounds pretty elitist to me since he’s proclaiming up front what should be done to people in the industry.

    Sure, our profession could get a lot stronger if we cut the bottom 50% out but as I’ve said before, trying to improve by elimination is a dangerous, slippery slope to start down. Once you’ve started that, where do you end? What stops you from wanting to eliminate another 50% next year? Jay doesn’t seem to have an answer on that.

    The real issue is, our profession just isn’t as special as some people want to make it out to be. We could improve the burger flipping profession by eliminating the bottom 50% and doubling the remaining salaries but that’s just not feasible. Writing crappy business apps is analogous to flipping burgers. Yes you could give that to a genius programmer and get something amazing but most companies just aren’t that interested in it. Plus contrary to Jay’s opinion, you’re going to have a hell of a time getting expert programmers to work in the types of environments where they could make the biggest difference. You don’t get head chefs from culinary school trying to improve the process at McDonald’s.

    The real challenge isn’t talking about how to eliminate 50% of programming jobs, it’s how to improve the people in the profession that want help improving. In reality, you’re never going to find enough genius programmers to make up for all the ones you’re cutting even if they are 28 times more productive.

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