Why there are two kinds of programmers

Nowadays Java is taught in most universities. After talking to many young programmers at work and reading this article on how to recognise a good programmer I have realised that you can’t call everyone a "programmer" anymore. You have to differentiate between people that program and people that know how to use libraries. At my work, people who only know Java and call them self computing professionals are laughed at (The story of an A student that didn’t know what a call stack was, is still told). This is due to the fact that if you write Java programs you actually only import the needed library and then use them. So when you learn Java you surely learn how the Object Oriented model works but that is about it. This is not specific to Java. If you look at Python, Perl or Ruby you can always see that all the low level stuff is already done for you. Just take the classic example of a linked list. I was talking to a German Computing student about the performance of a hash map to a linked list. It turned out he knew the concept but he had never programmed one before. He argued that nowadays programmers don’t have to know this because libraries will give this functionality to you. I don’t want to say that this is good or bad, but surly someone who doesn’t understand how pointers work will write different programs than someone who does. Maybe it is just a different approach. I learnt C way before any high level language. And even in Pascal I embedded Assembly to support my mouse. So I learnt programming from the bottom -> up. From low level (Assembly) to high level (Ruby). But library programmers will have to learn top to bottom, if they ever want/have to do something low level. So in short:

Library Programmers
  • Know very well how to use specific libraries for specific programming languages

  • Don’t really care too much about memory / CPU performance

  • “Get the job done” attitude

Low Programmers
  • Understand pointers (had the “pointer moment” as I call it)

  • Care, maybe too much, about performance

  • Care about writing “nice” programs


I still personally think that a bottom -> up approach will give you a more solid understanding of the high level languages.
I am starting to understand that programming is not about people that started with Pascal or Basic when they were nine. Programming has become a career choice. People are now studying computing because they think they can get a well paid laid back job afterwards. Of course this is annoying us passionate programmers that spent their childhood learning how to write slim quick code, because these are our values.
So if someone comes up to you and sais “I am a programmer, but I only know Java” Don’t condemn him right away. He is just a library programmer, if this is good or bad time will show.

1 comment:

Dan said...

So now I have to change my CV.. thanks :)