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Programmers who are ignorant of common technology

Recently I had a conversation with a co-worker who is a mainframe programmer over 50 years old, about how to use telnet to read email from a POP3 server or view HTTP headers coming from a web server (at the time I happened to be using it to view the HTTP response headers coming back from a servlet I had written).  But to my surprise, she didn't know what a POP3 server was.

At first I wondered if it was just a case of not knowing the terminology, but further discussion exposed that she actually was not familiar with the concept of downloading email to a local PC so it could be read later without being connected to the Internet, and she actually didn't know about popular email readers like Eudora and Pegasus.  She used a web-based program for her personal email.

Sure, maybe she doesn't need to know about it to do her job. But man, how can she be so disinterested in technology? And if she gets laid off and/or has difficulty finding a new job she'll probably say it's age discrimination.  Still, I give props to her for being a woman in IT for over a couple decades, which must have been quite difficult and uncommon back then.

I came across another guy like this in my early consulting days. It was 1997, and he had never used a Windows or Mac computer or any other GUI. He was a mainframe programmer at the same place for over 15 years; the only one still around from when their system was originally developed.  I was supposed to help train him to maintain the system we consultants had developed to replace part of the mainframe system, but it turns out we also had to teach him basics like using the mouse and menus.

I've come across a few others like that, young and old, although they weren't as bad. Still, it surprises and disgusts me how some people can just get so comfortable doing the same thing day in day out without making the slightest attempt to learn anything outside the sphere of what their current job requires at the moment. People like that make it difficult for programmers in general to get hired, because their reluctance or inability to learn anything new has led employers to believe that they need to find somebody with an exact match of a laundry list of languages and technologies.

T. Norman
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I think this is a very silly but, unfortunately, very  typical situation. It all comes from the question - what do people do at their workplace. Some of them is just doing their jobs, pushing the project forward without having slightest interest in what's happening around in the worl and how basic things are working. I once met some guy having EJBs and connectors jumping out from his eyes but who had no idea about very basic HTML concepts (forms, attributes), what "session" is and how is it managed by the server.

Evgeny Goldin
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Maybe she doesn't float your boat, but sounds like she's delivering value somewhere.  Oddly enough, most CEOs don't give a shit about using telnet to check email.  That's what I hate about most programmers:  No business sense.

Maybe instead of chastising her, you could go out and brush up on your COBOL, COBOL II, AS/400 COBOL, AS/400 CL, MVS/OS, MVS/XA, MVS/ESA, OS/400. DB2, IMS DB/DC, IMS DL/1, CICS, JCL, and VSAM skills?

Heywood Jablomie
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I would pay someone the big bucks to unlearn the crap we call architecture that's propping up the online world. POP3, SMTP and HTTP is not as amazing as most of us make it out to be. It would probably take a weekend retreat for that mainframer to learn too much about it.

Li-fan Chen
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Last job I had there was another teacher who'd worked in computers until 1995, which was one year before I bought my first computer.

Our conversations were surreal on occasion; "Look, he'd say, the problem here is that the path isn't set at bootup." "What do you mean 'set the path'? Never heard of the idea".

Mind you when we could get on to the same wavelength we were a pretty fomidable pair, in a Jack Sprat and his wife kind of way.

Also, I think we do tend to overestimate the importance of the technology we know. I suspect that in a few years many of the "must-knows" will become as arcane as the last generations pop idol. It's easier than you think to blink and miss a whole generation of computing.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, May 04, 2003

It's not that she specifically didn't know how to use telnet for email or HTTP; many programmers don't know how, and it doesn't take long to learn.  The point is that if she had a basic interest in learning new things, she should have at least known of the concept of POP3 programs even if she knew it by another name (which she didn't).

I'm not doubting that she does a good job with the mainframe, but I would have serious doubts about hiring her or that guy from 1997 to do something new if they're that disinterested in learning about new things.

T. Norman
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Heywood, there is a strong business case for understanding telnet, TCP/IP, and how servers interact with the internet - the more skills a programmer has, the fewer people you need to get things done.

I'm currently working with a very talented sysadmin - between the two of us we can manage the network, and since I know enough networking to be dangerous, I think our discussions are much more productive.

For example, yesterday I was talking to him about why I couldn't see my local network while I was VPN'd into the corporate network. It took about 30 seconds to figure out it was because my home network and the corporate network were on the same Class C network, and if I renumbered my network to the 10. Class A network it would solve the problem. So I did that (by myself, took ten minutes), and all was well.

Does it make business sense that I should've had to have a sysadmin come and do the troubleshooting, then renumber the network?

Tho I haven't found a business case for my learning COBOL, if there was one, I would.

Philo

Philo
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I worked with one older mainframe guy who was funny. He couldn't grasp the difference between an editor and a command prompt (this was back in the DOS days). He kept complaining that the OS was 'stopped'. I'd go over to his computer and see the editor was running and he'd have like a page of dos commands typed in: dir, cd, etc.

This happened more than once. It was hilarious.

Clutch Cargo
Sunday, May 04, 2003

On a similar note, there are some programmers who don't even know what Linux is.  Not that they will necessarily ever have to write a program for Linux, but they should at least be interested enough in the world of technology to know about its existence.

In the case of that lady and the guy from 1997, there indeed was a business case for them to learn new skills, because their companies' well-stated strategies have been to move away from the mainframe towards modern web-based and client/server platforms.

T. Norman
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Hell, just last week, one of my best friends from RealNetworks was wearing a cool new T-shirt that said something about their recent double blind taste test w/resect to codecs.  They were running subjective tests of audio codecs and gave away T-shirts to the participants.  Also on the T-shirt, was a graph of the sinx/x function - aka the "sync" function.

I noticed that first and said, "hey, you're sporting the 'sync' function", and he just looked at me, "huh?".  I said "the sync function, you're wearing the sync function- that's cool".  Well, he's server tester, not a codec guy "oh, I didn't know that's what that was".

Well, as every idiot knows the sync funtion is the response of an ideal "brick wall" filter when forced by an impulse.  Duh, they shoulda taught you that in Sophmore signals and systems.

And then, he asked me if I'd help him balance the carbs on his 68 VW microbus.  The nerve...

Nat Ersoz
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I work with one company that is trying to get an internet driven service off the ground. The owner and his key programmers go out of their way to know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about current technology, and especially online technology. It's almost as though they are afraid of getting an electrical shock or going sterile if they learn something about online life.

They know DOS, Windows, and stupid little DOS hacks from the late 80's like the back of their hand. They also bitch all the time how MS "changes things" yet nobody there has a clue what open source or Linux (IE, real alternatives) are. They live in a mode where they play pretend and wish that whatever is in the current version of Windows "can't possibly " change.  They insist on  internally using the DOS real mode version of pkzip (the ones that don't understand anything past 8.3 names,) and their experienced people are compulsive about using old real mode DOS utilities.

The owner uses a free email account. He doesn't know how to attach a file. So when he sends me source code it's gobbed into the message.

Everyone in the company shares one internet email account.  So you can't send email to just one person and expect a response. The owner (a coder) has never heard of gateways or firewalls so he cultivates a local superstition that any computer that has even a remote connection to the internet through any means is susceptible to viruses, attacks, etc. So nobody in that company, ever, will ever have an email account accessible to the outside world. This includes customer support.

I showed the most experienced programmer there FTP one time because FTP figures into this new project. I showed him how to use the Windows FTP client. I logged in through Telnet and showed him the command line. He grasped it all, but he acted like it was incomprehensible to take the initiative and seek out knowledge on his own.  He was only going to learn what he was spoon-fed and which the owner beats on him to learn.
And that's the entire problem, and it is a problem in some quarters. I think what T. Norman and a few others, myself included, are lamenting is the sub-professionalism and blue collar attitude of some so called 'experienced' people in this field who studiously avoid learning anything that isn't directly tied to what their boss wants them to learn.

Unjustified ignorance in this field is a developmental flaw.

Nasty Curmudgeon
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I got an IM from a certain Joel Spolsky the other day, he said he was trying out IM software for the first time... So I welcomed him to the 21st century.

I think people tend to stick with what works for them. Sort of like how your kids know how to program your VCR... you're just not as interested in learning it.

www.marktaw.com | I say no sigs.
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I though I was the curmudgeon.

Anyway, would this company you associate with concentrate on some kind of vertical market and one where they supply some necessary piece of hardware?

I think in any previous period there have been those that didn't catch the wave and happily dog paddled in their own pool.  Unless there is some external pressure to change they never will and its likely that once that pressure happens that they will fail in trying to adapt.

Of course we probably all of us have some point at which we cease to accept or look for innovation.  There was a time in the late 80's when I wished there'd be some respite in hardware replacements just so I could keep up.  Nowadays I don't even pretend to try, I guess I could re-apply all my old skills in support and production of PCs for the mass market but its not something that worries me.

I have a particular resistance at the moment to .Net and I'm not sure if that's prejudice (not because its Microsoft but because its mutton dressed as lamb), or disappointment at how naff it is.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, May 04, 2003

This makes me think of bookstores.

Is there any other career path where you can walk into a typical (Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc) bookstore and find a whole section dedicated to it?  Sure there's the business books, but most of these are "how to swim with the sharks" type books - not "real" titles.

Constant change drives constant learning.

But was this the case 20 years ago?  Did people coming into the field consider regular trips to the bookstore a normal part of their career? There wasn't even a publishing / bookselling infrastructure in place (to degree that there is now) to support it if they wanted to.

A person coming into the field within the past 10 years is much more likely to have a "constant learning" mindset than someone coming into it 20 years ago.

Nick
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Psychology pops into mind as a career with a section dedicating to it. Cooking, interior decorating, musician... a lot of careers.

www.marktaw.com
Sunday, May 04, 2003

What I hear a lot at work is this one: "Well I work at a computer all day, the last thing I want to do is use my computer at home"

People like this are usually the problem, because at my workplace we're too busy to be learning new things, so the only way to keep up is to look at things on your own time. And since we are supposed to be professionals, shouldn't you be doing this anyways?

I've found that all the people that give me that line about not wanting to look at a computer at home are generally useless and have no clue about current or common technology. They've never seen linux, used SSH, telneted to a pop server or any of these things you mentioned. They are posers, and should get out of the industry IMHO.

Marcus
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Psychology, cooking, interior decorating, music ...

I'm not saying that there are no other careers with sections dedicated to them, but none in my local bookstores are near as large as the tech section.

And, with each of those there's a fair amount of non-professional books mixed in ("I'm OK, You're OK", "10-Minute Microwave Meals", "Trading Spaces - the Early Years", "In Sync: Behind the Music").

Really, when's the last time a rock star couldn't get a new gig because he failed to read up on changes in the industry?

Nick
Sunday, May 04, 2003

More...

I think I'm particularly hostile toward ignorance of common online technology, especially for developers on the desktop, because the internet happens to be the #1 preeminent "application" of the desktop today. I'm in business myself and I think it's specious and pompous apologism to excuse tunnel vision as "being well focused on essentials". The place I described will ultimately "focus" itself right into the ground.
The problem with needing to have a specific  immediate application in order to justify learning something is that your professional repertoire winds up never being greater than the immediate moment's needs. You can't react to new technologies or challenges, since you're basically stuck in the past. Everyone doesn't have to be a hot-shot spend-$2000-a-year-on-books "consultant", but everyone should have their head out of their ass.

To answer one question, the company I described is a kind of vertical market developer, but they are purely software (a type of business application).

The funny thing about the cult of ignorance I described is that the people that staff this place spend *many* more hours behind a keyboard, doing "work", than I choose to. Yet they know absolutely nothing that isn't set directly in front of them on a silver platter, and they don't even know the core development tool that they use as well as I do.

It's as though the biggest workaholics are the most learning - impaired. Or maybe, it "says" that the workaholism is a reaction to inability to learn; these people don't have much talent so they compensate with heavy overtime.

Nasty Curmudgeon
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I think you guys are just jealous because I can learn in a 40 hour week what you guys spend evening & weekends on.

Don't mistake your passion for true skill.

Spent 6 hours on the sail boat today, losers
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Once, my boss was shocked by UltraEdit opened in binary mode (the file was corrupted so UE decided it was binary). But the man didn't understand what's going on until I pressed Ctrl+H (turn on/off the binary mode) for him .. Not to mention he had a Ph.D and lectured about software engineering in university

Evgeny Goldin
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Hmm, sorry - offtop ...

Evgeny Goldin
Sunday, May 04, 2003

"The problem with needing to have a specific  immediate application in order to justify learning something is that your professional repertoire winds up never being greater than the immediate moment's needs."

For someone whose found so much joy in learning for the sake of learning, this attitude bugs me. I learn something becuase I want to learn it. I hate being forced to learn something I don't want to learn, and I would especially hate forcing myself to learn something "just because."

If there's a need, I'll learn it. If there's no need, I have better things to spend my time on... Including learning things.

www.marktaw.com
Sunday, May 04, 2003

"Once, my boss was shocked by UltraEdit opened in binary mode "

I think if I hadn't known that UE had a binary mode I'd have gone 'Cool' at that happening in front of me. 

I say that so little these days.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, May 04, 2003

>But was this the case 20 years ago?  Did people coming into the field consider regular trips to the bookstore a normal part of their career?

Yes.  At least in R&D.  Otherwise you didn't survive.

>A person coming into the field within the past 10 years is much more likely to have a "constant learning" mindset than someone coming into it 20 years ago.

Why? Do you think the constant churning of skills/technologies is something new?

Have you also considered the possibility that given normal career paths and age discrimination, any developer who has managed to stay in the 'mainstream' for 20 years is probably better at constant learning than you are? Its a case of self-selection.

Eric Moore
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I have no idea how to use ultra edit or how to program in visual basic and I've been doing pretty well, i think?

choppy
Sunday, May 04, 2003

My general computer knowledge is rather spotty, though I learn whatever is necessary to perform a first-rate job at work. What are good sources becoming well-rounded? Slashdot is probably not the best place to start.

Julian
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Philo wrote, "Tho I haven't found a business case for my learning COBOL, if there was one, I would."

[sarcastic mode on]
Yup. That is all you need to know to be considered a competent mainframe business programmer.
[sarcastic mode off].

No easy answers
Some old codgers have made a conscience decision not to chase the latest and greatest and as a result they may soon find themselves unemployable. Now having said this, there are others who have spent a lot of time studying the latest and greatest and found that doing so has gotten them nowhere (i.e. nobody will hire them without extensive on the job work experience with the latest and greatest).

As for those people who say these dinosaurs should be kicked out the industry -- I am all for it as long as those people who are currently demanding their departure are required to do the work they currently do.

One Programmer's Opinion
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I spend my outside-of-work time networking and attending industry events.  Telecom events, not programming events.  When I'm not playing golf.

I guess that means I should get out of the business?

I still make more money than you
Sunday, May 04, 2003

"Why? Do you think the constant churning of skills/technologies is something new?"

No. I just think that it's accelerated dramatically in the last 10 years.

Nick
Sunday, May 04, 2003

"Do you think the constant churning of skills/technologies is something new?"

I think it's like the plot of x = y^2, and somewhere around 10-15 years ago, we came off the gentle upslope onto the rapid climb, and it's not gonna get slower.

No doubt that anybody who wants to keep on the cutting edge is going to find some way to learn an appropriate slice of the new technology of the day. Most will do it with books. I feel bad for anybody for can't learn from a book, because classes are an expensive way to have to keep up.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Sunday, May 04, 2003

"Now having said this, there are others who have spent a lot of time studying the latest and greatest and found that doing so has gotten them nowhere (i.e. nobody will hire them without extensive on the job work experience with the latest and greatest)."

Part of the reason why it so difficult to get hired without specific work experience in the latest and greatest is that employers have been burned in the past by stagnant developers who could not or would not learn anything new. So now they believe that unless you know something already, you can't do it.  That is what bothers me most about developers who stagnate.  If they want to ruin their own career by remaining a dinosaur, that's one thing, but their failure to stay up to date makes it more difficult for me and you to get hired to do something new.

Even though it is difficult to get hired without the specific experience, it is very often the case that your existing employer will put you on something new, especially if you can demonstrate at least some basic competence. But some programmers will just sit down for 2 or 3 years while they observe the company migrating from COBOL towards Java, while they don't take the time to learn even 1 line of Java or basic object oriented concepts.  Then they get frightened when their company either sacks them or throws them onto a Java project and they can't handle it.

T. Norman
Sunday, May 04, 2003

T Norman, are you sure you're talking about technology? Knowing what a pop3 server is not really knowing about technology.

Many of the topics that have been listed here are really shopping lists for kids from the wealthy middle classes, and do not necessarily indicate capability in useful tasks.

Also, re the comment someone made about ducking into bookstores - I used to do that too until after a while I realised knew more than the people writing the books, and that most new things followed certain patterns that can be readily inferred.

echidna
Sunday, May 04, 2003

"If they want to ruin their own career by remaining a dinosaur, that's one thing, but their failure to stay up to date makes it more difficult for me and you to get hired to do something new."

You become a contractor or consultant. I have never seen a large non-technical company use in-house programmers to develop something substantial.


Sunday, May 04, 2003

I don't mind learning new things, but most of what's out there ISN'T NEW.  It's just the same old crap repackaged.


I didn't learn VB because C++ did all I need.
I didn't learn XML because my bastardized SGML did all I need.
I didn't learn Java because C++ did all I need.
I didn't learn HTTP because SOCKETs did all I need.
Then I realized that was stupid so I learned HTTP.
But I didn't learn SOAP because ...

Well, you get the picture.

Not going to learn .NET either.
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I wonder how many things the 'dinosaur' knows that you don't know?

I wonder if that even crossed your mind.

Realist
Sunday, May 04, 2003

Again, it's not about knowing anything specific about POP3! It's merely about having enough interest to know about the existence of the concept, even if your only exposure to it is through something like Eudora.

Knowing about POP3 doesn't mean you know about technology. However, NOT knowing of its existence (even by another name) indicates you aren't interested in learning about technology.

Let me put it another way: knowing what a steeplechase is is not enough to make you an expert in track and field.  But if you *don't* know what a steeplechase is (by that or any other name), you definitely don't have much interest in the sport, and I would have serious doubts about hiring you to be an official at a track and field competition.

Even if you claim that you didn't need to know about the steeplechase because you spent the last ten years measuring the long jump, if you were that narrow-minded that you could spend so many years in the sport without knowing of the existence of the steeplechase, I'd be scared to let you do anything other than the specific things you were already doing, if I hired you at all.

T. Norman
Sunday, May 04, 2003

T Norman, I respectfully disagree. Knowing what pop3 is a 1 minute lesson.

Some people will have travelled the road that gives them that lesson; some won't, and it is not actually an important marker. People in big corporations have a lot of that stuff done for them, while they get on with their jobs.

I am reasonably sure that you could find lots of excellent research engineers - even some ASIC designers - who for one reason or another wouldn't know what pop3 was. Like all these jargon tests, it's meaningless.

As I mentioned, I think you're applying cultural tests that are not appropriate.

echidna
Sunday, May 04, 2003

The POP example is kind of weird. There is almost nothing interesting about POP3. I like to know as little about things like mail protocols as possible. I'm into technology but I'm as disinterested in POP3 as the next person, because it just isn't interesting.  Maybe the woman in question goes home at night and reads books about art history or quantum physics. Or maybe she watches the history channel and plays with her kids. I don't think lack of awareness of POP3 is something to be "disgusted" by.

I work with biochemists who end up having to be crack perl and LISP programmers (biology these days is pretty much computational). I'm sure they don't know what POP is, either. But they are better programmers than most people, and know a shitload about a topic that is ultimately a lot more important than configuring outlook.

Finally, where does the chain of techno interest end? Should I be disgusted with you because you don't know what BGP is?  In my experience, the best programmers have actually been the ones who read the fewest number of oreilly books, but YMMV.

choppy
Sunday, May 04, 2003

I'm sure your biochemist hackers would know what POP3 was if you described the basic concept to them ... you know, downloading messages from the server to be stored on your local PC?

Anyway, please stop getting hung up on POP3! That is not the main point. If both the name AND the concept of a field goal are unfamiliar to you, then you don't have much interest in American football, and don't be surprised if I don't hire you to be an official at a college game.

T. Norman
Sunday, May 04, 2003

yeah, i get what you're saying. but it was more fun to riff on POP3... ;-)

choppy
Monday, May 05, 2003

I drive my car every day but I don't know shit about
internal combustion engines.

Not A Tech Snob
Monday, May 05, 2003

I astound myself sometimes with the things I dont know about technology, common sense and general knowledge.
Yet I own and run my own (mildly successful) xplat software company.

Ive always loved fishing and grew up right beside the ocean...went fishing on a regular basis for years.
Recently we've moved beside a lake....turns out you dont use bait for lake fishing :)  in fact, its possible to get arrested for doing so.

Ive long loved fishing, swimming (in lakes and ocean), boating (fishing and lake) ...somehow just never had occasion to specifically fish in a lake before, and therefore never found out.

born dumb....naturally dumb...
Monday, May 05, 2003

Well, T. Norman we are going to have to agree to disagree on this subject.

Mainframe development does have this nasty tendency of hiding much of the underlying complexity that desktop and client/server software developers have to deal with on a daily basis. Now, maybe the particular person you wrote about in your post really doesn't care about learning any new technologies, programming languages, etc.  So what? This person will only find a new IT related job if what she has to offer is important enough that someone is willing to pay her for technical knowledge or skills.

For all I know, this person might have single handedly designed and coded a very large and critical business software system (order processing, purchasing, billing, inventory, etc.) for your employer or a previous one. Perhaps your employer keeps her around because of her extensive business knowledge or systems analysis skills?

The IT industry is very large and fragmented and NOBODY can claim to be "at least familiar" with all of it.

One Programmer's Opinion
Monday, May 05, 2003

Dear Mr. Norman,
                            So pleased to know that you have enough of a general interest in sport to give the other people on the forum here some idea about what is needed to be a successful  camel racing jockey. And your nodding acquaintance with ferreting will no doubt go down a bomb when you visit the North of England.

                          Surprisingly enough people who work with computers are less  likely to be exposed to POP 3 than others. They have email and internet at work so they never bother to set up an ISP account at home. I would say in Saudi that knowledge of what POP3 is, or having a POP3 account, is known by less than 10% of internet users.

Stephen Jones
Monday, May 05, 2003

I find this weird too, but don't know what to think of it.  I can hear her saying, "Oh so you PC guys have invented a PROTOCOL that can download text to your computer?  Wow, I wonder what you impressive guys will think of next!"  So much of technology is about grabbing stuff that has been known for a long time but only "relevant" recently.  Like hypertext.

But then again, you'd think something was wrong if a practitioner didn't know about some current trends, like compilers.

I'm willing to go either way, or even both ways on this subject. 

das gringo
Monday, May 05, 2003

>>I drive my car every day but I don't know shit about
>>internal combustion engines.

>>Not A Tech Snob

Neither do I.  But I know where the engine is located and know what it does.  And I bet you do to.

I have to agree with T. Norman on this one.  It's not about POP, or mainframes running COBOL -- it's about LAZINESS.  The number of people who are totally uninterested in learning ANYTHING seems to be growing. 

I use a Windows based PC all day,  but every now and then, when I'm around the company AS/400 I look at it and think "whoa ... cool .... I'd sure like to poke around inside that thing for a while".    I'm constantly amazed that other people who work with computers on a daily basis don't have that same attitude.

Nunya Bizness
Monday, May 05, 2003

I am with T. Norman and Nasty Curmudgeon on this one.

"Common technology" comprises useful and high leverage things that can be learned in your free time, by dabbling.

I'm a developer on the desktop but "by dabbling" I know about: CGI, POP, Linux process management, setting up Qmail, Perl, TCP/IP, DNS, FTP servers, and other surface level internet technology.

I do think that dabbling in order to understand how things really work is very useful, and it's not a matter of committing yourself to untold hours of toil. A few years ago when the online world moved beyond proprietary dial up services like Compuserve and AOL, I was at first stymied by the opaqueness of the subject matter of internet "stuff". So on my own time and money I learned the stuff listed above, so that I could solve my own problems and so I could advise clients on appropriate use of technology. A contract I have today was landed partially by knowing this territory well enough to recommend an incremental approach that doesn't blow my conservative client's mind.

People who spend their entire working lives in this industry with no curiosity about the fringes of it are rather dense and unprofessional.  They limit their usefulness to their clients or employers.

There are "users" who blithely use black boxes, and then there are "professionals" who understand the subject matter.  If I'm going to claim expertise then I am more comfortable positioning myself as a professional.

Bored Bystander
Monday, May 05, 2003

>>>  Recently we've moved beside a lake....turns out you dont use bait for lake fishing :)  in fact, its possible to get arrested for doing so. <<<

This is a bit of a surprise, but just shows how it can be hard to learn all the rules when they keep changing.  My experience with fishing is entirely lake fishing, but from many years ago.  Never fished in the ocean.  When did it become illegal to use bait for lake fishing?  How do you catch the fish?

mackinac
Monday, May 05, 2003

I think I see the issue here. It was buried a little further into your rant. 

Part1:
"Still, it surprises and disgusts me how some people can just get so comfortable doing the same thing day in day out without making the slightest attempt to learn anything outside the sphere of what their current job requires at the moment. "

I am amused by this portion.  It "disgusts" you that people have an interest outside of their work?  What if her interests were in music, or she authored books on COBOL programming would that be acceptable?  On what criteria do you just what are "worthy" outside activities?  Do I find it career limiting? Yes.  But unworthy?  Come on.


Part 2:
"People like that make it difficult for programmers in general to get hired, because their reluctance or inability to learn anything new has led employers to believe that they need to find somebody with an exact match of a laundry list of languages and technologies."

Consider perhaps:
- she has in-depth system knowledge you are unaware of.  She may be the person who understands the 400,000+ lines of COBOL code you hang the GUI on. 

- Her company is rewarding her for 25 years of being there when they needed her.  Rewarding her loyalty by keeping her in an area she can perform within and they want her and people with that type of experience to stay.

- Her company fears "contractors."  Those who come in on a project, make terrific powerpoint demonstrations and budgets, only to leave them saddled with a mishmash of technologies, infrastructure and endless support costs.  Done because the newbies thought the "old processes and procedures" could be tossed out. 

Perfect example:  A major retailer had a company implement their web site.  They then hired a bunch of "neoTech" programmers who complained about Migration Control procedures. That this was the new age and in "internet time" waiting put you behind.  Until they changed the website directly on the production server and made a mistake.  $1.5 million worth of mistake.

-  the impatience you show in your post is shown at the sites you work at.  That "sigh" or raised eyebrow at the "old timer" trying to figure this out.  They know more than they let on but grow tired of the "consultant."

- She is the boss's or President's or CEO's mistress. 

The point of all this is people do what they feel they need to in order to keep their jobs.  Some do just enough, others do something to excel.  In the end, everyone has their own motivations.  Get over it.  It serves no value and makes you appear judgmental if not arrogant.  Neither will serve you in the future.

Mike Gamerland
Monday, May 05, 2003

"If both the name AND the concept of a field goal are unfamiliar to you, then you don't have much interest in American football, and don't be surprised if I don't hire you to be an official at a college game."

I disagree that this situation is comparable. if the lady didn't know what a 'function' was, or became confused when you used the term 'bug', I would consider that comparable to not knowing what a field goal was. After all, a field goal is a very basic thing in football.

POP3 - so that comes after POP2? I've seen the POP thing in my email program's options but whatever it is doesn't concern me since I don't write email apps. I have put email support on websites and it does not require knowing what pop is either. I am not a website maker as my primary interest so I see no need to get involved with anything beyond what is necessary than getting the job done on a web site. When writing C and C++ and Java code the situation is different;  I'm a bit more knowledgable and more likely to explore things seemingly outside the task at hand.

A football analogy similar to being unfamiliar with POP3 would be not knowing what manufacturer supplies hot dogs to the Miami Dolphins. I could find that information if you need it but it's just not all that relevant to knowledge of football itself.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, May 05, 2003

It's a big world.  Not everyone can know everything.

For example, not everyone knows the difference between "disinterested" and "uninterested".  Does that make them incompetent English-speakers?

Spaghetti Rustler
Monday, May 05, 2003

"POP3 - so that comes after POP2? I've seen the POP thing in my email program's options but whatever it is doesn't concern me since I don't write email apps."

This is not about terminology, it is about the concept.  Even if you didn't know about the term "POP3", from what you wrote it is clear that you have used such a program, and you probably knew of the existence of such programs years ago.  This person did not even have any familiarity with the concept of downloading messages to a local PC.

T. Norman
Monday, May 05, 2003

>For example, not everyone knows the difference between "disinterested" and "uninterested".  Does that make them ncompetent English-speakers?

No. But it would make you an incompetent English teacher.

T. Norman
Monday, May 05, 2003

Dear Spaghetti rustler and T Norman,
                                  Often there isn't any difference in meaning between "disinterested" and "uninterested".

Here is what Merriam Webster says about the usage.

----"Disinterested and uninterested have a tangled history. Uninterested orig. meant impartial, but this sense fell into disuse during the 18th century. About the same time the original sense of disinterested also disappeared, with uninterested developing a new sense—the present meaning—to take its place. The original sense of uninterested is still out of use, but the original sense of disinterested revived in the early 20th century. The revival has since been under frequent attack as an illiteracy and a blurring or loss of a useful distinction. Actual usage shows otherwise. Sense 2 of disinterested is still its most frequent sense, especially in edited prose; it shows no sign of vanishing. A careful writer may choose sense 1a of disinterested in preference to uninterested for emphasis  teaching the letters of the alphabet to her wiggling and supremely disinterested little daughter — C. L. Sulzberger  Further, disinterested has developed a sense (1b), perhaps influenced by sense 1 of the prefix dis-, that contrasts with uninterested  when I grow tired or disinterested in anything, I experience a disgust — Jack London (letter, 1914)  Still, use of senses 1a and 1b will incur the disapproval of some who may not fully appreciate the history of this word or the subtleties of its present use."

Remember Sp Ru, pedants are under an obligation to get things right.

Stephen Jones
Monday, May 05, 2003

I think what this guy is trying to say is that he doesn't understand people in the IT field that aren't complete geeks.

Sometimes I don't understand them either. Sometimes the non-geek people aren't very good, sometimes they are.

I'm a complete geek, but lately I don't really care to sit in front of my machine for ten hours when I get home. I have a yard that needs mowing, friends that need to be socialized with, and groceries to be bought. These days I just don't have time to play with every little piece of technology.

I guess I'm disgusting and incompetent!

Scotty
Monday, May 05, 2003

> And if she gets laid off and/or has difficulty finding a new job she'll probably say it's age discrimination

Dead on.  Most laid off IT people are dinosaurs who spent the last 20 years doing COBOL from 9-4pm, and mowing lawns and watching little league games.  See my old rants on "skills discrimination", not "age discrimination"

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=29988&ixReplies=24

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=5308&ixReplies=44

Bella
Monday, May 05, 2003

PS: When you feel yourself getting tired of learning new stuff, it's time to leave IT.  Otherwise, be prepared to be unemployable next time you are out on the street.  As long as you know that, and plan accordingly, you should be fine.  But understand, programming is a mercurial skill.  People who take 30 years mortgages and who refuse to adapt are bound for trouble.  It's like saying "I only work on DeLorean engines"  Hot shit in 1985, but asinine today.  Keep up the pace, or expect the unexpected.

Bella
Monday, May 05, 2003

Bella, I'm sure you know that's not true.

echidna
Monday, May 05, 2003

Friend of mine is a contractor at a biggish logistics place here in the UK. She has been joined by a new contractor:

``He's doing ok though, when I said "No, I realise they didn't tell you this before you started, but we do our MQ programming here in perl and we're not about to change to java now unless there is a bloody good reason to" he said "what about support from IBM?  They don't support perl." and after we'd had a chuckle about IBM support he picked up the llama and set to. Unlike the permanent members of the team who are saying "well, ok, we'll write everything in perl then.  When do we get to go on the perl course?  We can't consider even looking at a perl script till we've been on an official course you know.  We don't know perl!" ``

There's a lot of that sort of thing about. We're muttering about moving to C# here, and I *cannot* get it into people's heads that we don't need long expensive training courses. What we actually need is a book each and to sit and down and actually write some C# code. But no, we're not allowed near actual C# code until we've been on official courses...

Katie Lucas
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Katie... Sounds like you should start teaching C#...

www.marktaw.com
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

"This is a bit of a surprise, but just shows how it can be hard to learn all the rules when they keep changing.  My experience with fishing is entirely lake fishing, but from many years ago.  Never fished in the ocean.  When did it become illegal to use bait for lake fishing?  How do you catch the fish? "

<g> This is in New Zealand.....prolly not applicable in America.  Basically its apparently considered 'unsporting' here..
You have 2 choices...fly fishing or 'spinner' fishing.
You've prolly heard of fly fishing...thats for rivers.
Spinner fishing is vaguely similar and works on lakes...basically you have hooks attached to largish (2-4 inch) pieces of metal designed to spin when drawn through water, causing lots of flashing and hopefully tricking hte larger fish into thinking its dinner and taking a bite :)
So you cast into the lake, reel in, cast out, reel in...etc etc

<g> still no luck with actually catching anything, but its a pleasant way to spend some time.

networking guru and gungho programmer
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Well, personally I think that the more you read the better off you are. In the company I work in now, I am a developer, however I am also used in areas such as system administration. I was hired becuase I knew allot in areas which they needed for a current project. After I was hired   
they asked me about networking, low level operating system concepts, network management...writing software for all of these things.
When coding, I often spend more time reading and reading code than writing code, becuase I want to understand what I'm doing before I do it. We have a tight deadline, of course you could say I should be doing work rather than reading. I saved allot of time from avoiding common mistakes. Nobody else uses bug tracking, so I setup my own basic system, nobody else uses version control, so I setup cvs on my local machine and the repisitory is backed up nightly to a server. The point is, take checking httpd replies via telnet, or checking your mail, it's not very difficult if you understand pop, or http. It's just viewing them in raw format...

As for new technology, I try to read informative, non baised
reviews...keep ahead, know what it does, why it works and
be able to write basic applications in it, but don't go
spending all day every day learning about this, if and when it
becomes useful, you will have the basics and know where
you need to expand your knowledge.

It's almost come to a point where I am employed, that I research
about 30% of my day...writing test code, doing internal documents etc...If the average coder doesn't want to learn all of this and the company you work for wants somebody to know it, let it be me.
I'll be all the better after it.

Anonymous
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Pedant?  Again with the name-calling...

I'll research this in the only real English dictionary in the world, my abridged OED, and get back to you.  Merriam-Websters, indeed - harrumph!

Spaghetti Rustler
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Katie :

Woman are really bad at driving but also at programming,

Go to that bloody course and shut up ;-)

MachoCoder
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

The New SOED says

"Sense 1 is now often regarded as incorrect"

It is also my dictionary of choice, and I had checked it first,  but Merriam-Webster wins hands down in this particular case.

The American Heritage gives basically the same facts as Merriam-Webster and states that 88% of its usage panel considered it to be incorrect.

I consider Merriam Webster and the OED to be the best dictionaries. Unsurprisingly they are nearly always the most liberal with regard to controversial usages. I have a simple rule. If  either of them accept a usage, then the usage of acceptable.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, May 06, 2003

As far as web resources for learning, I have wasted quite a bit of my last two furlows wandering around on wikiwiki.  There's really no beginning or end, but watch out for the middle.

Lots of discussions on programming practises, extreme programming, etc.  Just follow your interests on it.

Derek Woolverton
Wednesday, May 07, 2003

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