Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Must a Developer Know the Language?

We were asked, "Have you ever applied for a software developer job where you didn't know the language?"

My story is not exactly the same as others might have, for several reasons, but I think it does answer the question.

There are two phases to my story. My first job developing software was at IBM, in 1956. At that time, I didn’t know any programming language, largely because there really weren’t any languages other than machine code. So, I spent two weeks in a closet learning my first computer language.

Actually, it was three languages at once: machine codes for the IBM 704 and 650, plus the wired “language” for the IBM 607.

The second phase of my story takes place some years later, when I became a consultant. In that role, I have helped many, many clients who were using languages I didn’t know—even though I knew quite a few by that time, including LISP, Smalltalk, APL, PL/I, COBOL, FORTRAN, C, Pascal, Simula, several home-grown special application languages, and the machine code for the IBM 7090, 1410, 705, STRETCH, Dec’s PDP-1 and a few other machines. I had also studied in a bookish way quite a few other machines while doing competitive analyses for IBM.

I was able to help those clients largely because their problems seldom had much to do with the details of their chosen language(s). Instead, they were people problems of all sorts. The problems that did wind up with a language embodiment were usually easy to spot using my general knowledge of computer languages and typical errors people made in using them. That’s why I’ve always insisted that professional developers should know at least a handful of different language.

I think there's an analogy here with the term "mathematical maturity," something we might call "programming maturity." Here's how Wikipedia defines mathematical maturity:

Mathematical maturity is an informal term used by mathematicians to refer to a mixture of mathematical experience and insight that cannot be directly taught. Instead, it comes from repeated exposure to mathematical concepts. It is a gauge of mathematics student's erudition in mathematical structures and methods.

For instance, a mature mathematician is able to transcend notational differences, unlike my tutorial student who flunked algebra because he had learned to "solve for x," but said, "You didn't teach me to solve for y."

We could easily use most of those words to define "programming maturity," the ability that allows you to succeed in a developer job using a language in which you have no previous experience.

Monday, August 07, 2017

How Stressful is Software Engineering?

We were asked, "How Stressful is Software Engineering on Average?"

First of all, be clear. *Average* stress is not what an individual should be concerned about. Your concern should be about stress in your particular environment.

Second, you may be confused because of the widespread misuse of the word “stress.” Physicists say “stress” when they speak of applied forces. 

The way a system responds to those forces is called “strain.”

When you are the system subject to stress, you are a human being, not an inert piece of material. Therefore, you can learn to adjust the amount of strain you experience from the stresses in your environment.

Two people working in the same environment can experience widely different strains.

One person can be destroyed by a “stressful” environment while another can be inspired to work miracles. It’s your choice. Instead of worrying about the stress of your environment, work on the strained ways in which you respond to that environment.

Don’t be a victim.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Writing without the letter "A"

We were tested to see if we could write blog entries without the letter "A"

Of course we could write them. We could write lots of them. Indeed, I use this exercise in my writing courses, not just with the letter mentioned, but with every letter in English. Try it. Your writing will improve.

By the bye, some people wrote whole books without the letter E.
Weinberg on Writing
Try this test. Choose some letter, some difficult letter. Post some whole blog comment without using your letter.

If you would like to improve your writing, try

Oh, look. I unconsciously wrote the book title without the forbidden letter. It must be some terrific book. Multi-published reviewers think so:

"Don't write your book–build it with Weinberg's Fieldstone Method." - D. Poynter, writer of The Self-Publishing Manual 
"It's changed how I intend to write my next book." - P. D., children's writer
"Buy this book. Work through the exercises…" J.R., techie writer