What is Code, Paul Ford, Bloomberg Businessweek (11 Jun 2015)

Programming has twin cults of genius and youth. One of the ways Google acquired its reputation was by hiring fresh-faced whizzes. Ph.D.s from Stanford, Cal Tech, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon were table stakes. The true programmer began to code in utero and has an IQ of at least 10,000.

shared on 04 Jan 2018 by Andrew Dai

I’ve been coming back to this piece several times in the past couple years since it came out. Ford delivers a delightfully sarcastic, candid, funny, sobering description, explanation, and critique of software and the processes and people that create it. As a person that spends a considerable amount of time in this world, I’ve found Ford’s characterizations thoroughly amusing and apt.

Everyone likes to be the center of attention sometimes and What is Code puts that ecosystem under a revealing and light-hearted spotlight. Ford’s decades of first hand experience is evident, as is his critical eye for observation, at times describing mundane and regular activities from an almost alien perspective. He comes across as a grizzled elder on the front porch simultaneously dispensing wisedom and sharing war stories.

But the choice of a main programming language is the most important signaling behavior that a technology company can engage in. Tell me that you program in Java, and I believe you to be either serious or boring. In Ruby, and you are interested in building things quickly. In Clojure, and I think you are smart but wonder if you ship. In Python, and I trust you implicitly. In PHP, and we sigh together. In C++ or C, and I nod humbly. In C#, and I smile and assume we have nothing in common. In Fortran, and I ask to see your security clearance. These languages contain entire civilizations.

I enjoy Ford’s plodding and almost-oblivious-but-relentless tone, especially when it comes to his critiques of the industry and culture.

The average programmer is moderately diligent, capable of basic mathematics, has a working knowledge of one or more programming languages, and can communicate what he or she is doing to management and his or her peers. Given that a significant number of women work as journalists and editors, perform surgery, run companies, manage small businesses, and use spreadsheets, that a few even serve on the Supreme Court, and that we are no longer surprised to find women working as accountants, professors, statisticians, or project managers, it’s hard to imagine that they can’t write JavaScript. Programming, despite the hype and the self-serving fantasies of programmers the world over, isn’t the most intellectually demanding task imaginable.

Which leads one to the inescapable conclusion: The problem with women in technology isn’t the women.

(emphasis added)