Author Archive: The Programmer

Teaching Computer Science: Asking for Help

 

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes. This morning, in AP Computer Science Principles, the teacher went through an explanation of the hexadecimal number system, then gave an in-class assignment for students to convert their cell phone number to hexadecimal. Not in two parts, 3 digits and 4 digits, but as a 7-digit number. It seemed pretty obvious from the interaction and the body language and the looks on their faces that a lot of students didn’t get it, but in a class of 25 students, only one student asked for help. Until the teacher finished with that student and asked “Does anyone else need help?” and eight more students immediately raised their hand. I asked the teacher, “Can I address the class for a minute?”   “First off, doing a 7-digit hex conversion is not easy. I know… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: It’s Not Easy to Teach a Subject in Which You Have No Training

 

A recent issue of Science has an article on the pipeline for computer science teachers . . . The first sentence says, “It’s not easy to teach a subject in which you have no training.” That could be the whole article, really. That’s about all you need to know about the current state of computer science instruction: It’s not easy to teach a subject in which you have no training. Cameron Wilson, chief operating officer and president of the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, is quoted as saying, “It’s really hard to convince a computer science professional to give up a job that pays up to three times more to pursue teaching. And I don’t think we should.” Wilson’s opinion that computer science classes should not be taught by someone who actually knows something about computer science is probably influenced by the fact that Code.org is one of the leading providers of… Read more →

Every Form of Harassment is Okay — Except One

 

How did we decide that sexual harassment is the one category of workplace abuse, incidences of which require national outrage and loss of employment? Ideally, we would all have the prudence and restraint not to make sexual advances toward people over whose career we hold sway, but it happens. And yet we’ve all been harassed and ill-used in the workplace in other ways by someone more powerful, someone who negatively impacted our career by embarrassing us, intimidating us, undermining us, lying to us, lying about us, stealing the credit for our work . . . it goes on and on. Rarely do negative consequences accrue to the harasser. Steve Jobs, for example, was known for being abrasive, dismissive, shouting down colleagues, blaming others when things didn’t work out and occasionally wrapping himself in glory that rightly belonged elsewhere. Did this torpedo his career? Hardly. He’s an American icon. (In other… Read more →

Tech Gender Bias: Men Not as Concerned

 

According to LinkedIn: Despite a string of revelations that women in tech face considerable headwinds — from persistent gender-based pay gaps (per Bloomberg), to limited VC funding for female-led startups (per Fortune), to sexual harassment (per The New York Times) — just 29% of men say that discrimination is a major problem in the industry, according to data from Pew. In fact, some 32% of men claim that it’s not a problem at all. Everything I read about gender discrimination in tech starts out by assuming it’s a real problem and that all reasonable people agree that it’s a real problem. Even the supposedly objective LinkedIn blurb above tells us that 29% of men “say” that discrimination is a major problem, while 32% of men “claim” that it’s not a problem at all, “despite a string of revelations blah blah blah . . .” I’ve worked in tech for 30… Read more →

Tech Gender Bias: Men Not as Concerned

 

According to LinkedIn: Despite a string of revelations that women in tech face considerable headwinds — from persistent gender-based pay gaps (per Bloomberg), to limited VC funding for female-led startups (per Fortune), to sexual harassment (per The New York Times) — just 29% of men say that discrimination is a major problem in the industry, according to data from Pew. In fact, some 32% of men claim that it’s not a problem at all. Here’s why I claim that it’s not a problem: Women are capable of making decisions for themselves. For the most part, they choose to do things other than work in tech and do startups. So what? (Pay gaps and harassment are not tech-specific, obviously.) Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

More Words and Phrases I’m Sick Unto Death Of

 

Although I can’t claim never to have said these things myself, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say either a) “It was working fine 10 minutes ago,” or b) “It works okay on my machine,” I would be comfortably retired by now. Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

To Young Women Considering a Career in Technology

 

You’ve probably read a lot of articles about how sexist and awful the culture is for women in technology. I think if anything deters young women from technology careers, it’s this glut of articles saying how sexist and awful the culture is. I’ve worked in software development for 30 years. In my experience — and feel free to discount this because I’m not a woman — the culture is not tough for women. If anything, men give women the benefit of the doubt because they’d like to have more women around. As Holden Caulfield used to say, “I like to be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a while, even if they’re only scratching their arms or blowing their noses or even just giggling or something.” Yes, I have seen bad things happen to women in tech, but I’ve seen bad things happen… Read more →

One Thing I Can’t Tolerate is Intolerance: The Google Memo

 

The now-famous Google memo was first published by Gizmodo under the headline Here’s The Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google. If you’re interested in the topic, you should read the memo yourself, otherwise you’re going to get a terribly slanted second-hand judgment, e.g., “anti-diversity screed.” I’ve read it and I don’t think it’s “anti-diversity” and it’s definitely not what I’d call a screed. I’ve seen that word — screed — used by multiple sources. That’s one way of dismissing and declining to engage with an opinion you don’t like: give it a label like “screed,” suggesting that the author is angry and irrational and not fit to have a discussion with. In my reading though, I found the original memo to be academic and clinical, much less screed-like than the responses I’ve seen. As usual (in my experience), the most intolerant people in the mix are the ones… Read more →

Where Are the Additional Women in Technology Supposed to Come From?

 

The jobs report for May contained discouraging news: continuing low labor-force participation, now below 63 percent overall. About 20 million men between the prime working ages of 20 and 65 had no paid work in 2015, and seven million men have stopped looking altogether. In the meantime, the jobs most in demand — like nursing and nurse assistants, home health care aides, occupational therapists or physical therapists — sit open. The health care sector had the largest gap between vacancies and hires of any sector in April, for example. — The New York Times We hear a lot about a shortage of women in technology jobs but we don’t hear about a shortage of men in traditionally female jobs. It’s really two sides of the same problem. Unless a lot of women suddenly appear out of nowhere, the only way to get more women into professions where they’re currently under-represented… Read more →

10 Reasons Why Failure is Good, Except When It’s Bad

 

Once upon a time there was a startup, and the president of this startup, like a lot of people in the early part of the 21st century, celebrated failure — as a learning tool and as a precursor to success. He encouraged employees to celebrate failures on the company Slack channel, using the hashtag #fail. Legend has it that the president called one employee on the carpet for suggesting on the Slack channel that it doesn’t make sense to celebrate failure without factoring in the cost of failure. That is simply a truism, is it not? Obviously the value of failure can be swamped out by the cost, e.g., Blew up 7 astronauts but learned that O-rings don’t function in sub-freezing temperatures. #fail You can think of other examples yourself. You can probably also think of people and/or companies for whom failure was merely a precursor to more failure. Working… Read more →

Learn to Code

 

I’m a programmer . . . Job searches for me go like this: I’m old, I have to compete with people half my age, but I’ve worked in Orange County since forever so I know some people, and I can write good code in interviews, which the majority of programmers who show up for interviews can’t. I was out of work on January 5. It’s now January 24. I have three job offers and picked the one I like best. Moral of the story: Learn to code, kids . . . Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

Accoutrements at the New Office

 

The new office comes with a chef, who seems to see himself like one of those celebrity chefs with the quirky personalities. Not to put a damper on the fun but I like my chefs to be unobstrusive. I just want a bite to eat. I don’t want to manage a new interaction with an eccentric reality show wannabe. Just dish up the grub, man.   We also have a ping-pong table now, which triggers a lengthy discussion of the intricacies of table tennis equipment, conducted for some reason in the midst of a group of people trying to get some work done. Three-star balls? I got your three-star balls right here . . . Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

What Can Be Done About Gender Diversity in Computing?

 

That is the question posed in, among other places, the October 2015 issue of Communications of the ACM. Since gender is no longer a biological imperative connected to one’s physical anatomy, there’s now a simple answer to this. Men (and women, but that’s not relevant to this question) can identify as either gender, independent of reproductive organs and chromosomes, and a thoughtful consideration of the uniqueness and validity of every person’s experiences of self requires a societal stamp of approval. Google or Facebook or any organization that wants to improve its gender diversity metrics can offer some modest incentive (could be financial, could be you use the women’s locker room at the company gym … use your imagination!) for workers to identify as female. Have a 50 percent female workforce by Friday! Now that I’ve written this down I’m thinking that maybe I should be starting up a diversity consulting… Read more →

My Name is Fido

 

From an actual email: Hello, My name is Fido and I’m an IT recruiter at TechDigital Corporation. We are currently hiring a .Net Developer/Software Engineer preferrably [sic] with experience in the Financial domain for a W2 or C2C Contract for one of our direct clients in Green Bay, WI. Fido Xavier Recruiter I live in California. Are there no software engineers in Wisconsin or anywhere between California and Wisconsin? On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog. Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

Profiles in Management: The Jackass Whisperer

 

Nothing good comes from two people talking about a third person who isn’t there. If your boss is allowing people to talk to him or her about team members who are not present, you have a problem. If you are the boss and you’re doing this, knock it off. Who is worse: the person who wants to talk about you behind your back or the person who encourages them to do it? The good boss is loyal. You can count on him going to bat for you, even if he privately disagrees with your view and even if defending you is not necessarily the best thing for him. He is never two-faced. The bad boss, perhaps while boasting of his uncompromising integrity, thinks only about what’s best for himself. Watch your back. Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

The Ceiling Seems Very Low

 

I don’t know if this is good news or bad news. It would help to know what “trains” means but I read the article and it doesn’t say. Reporters need to be more inquisitive. Can someone with no knowledge of computer science or programming be “trained” to teach computer science or programming? What would that entail? How long would it take? Can someone who’s never played an instrument or listened to a piece of music be “trained” to teach a music class? Can someone who’s never picked up a drawing pencil or visited a museum be “trained” to teach an art class? Can someone who doesn’t speak Spanish be “trained” to teach a Spanish class? The ceiling on any of these approaches seems very low compared to hiring actual programmers, musicians, artists and Spanish speakers . . . Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

I Think We Are Kidding Ourselves

 

More people have ascended bodily into heaven than shipped great software on time. — Jim McCarthy On the other hand, the number of people on LinkedIn claiming to have a demonstrated ability to lead software projects to successful completion, on time and on budget, as well as the number of companies seeking to hire such people, is infinite. Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

This Kid Made an App That Exposes Sellout Politicians

 

Via VICE: Yes, the algorithm is if (isPolitician(x)) {     x.sellout = true; } Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

Antipattern: Daily Standup is Too Long

 

Scrum recommends timeboxing daily standup meetings at 15 minutes. If you can’t finish in 15 minutes, there may be something wrong with your format. Are you actually standing up? What are you talking about? Each person should answer three questions: What have you accomplished since the last meeting? What do you plan to accomplish between now and the next meeting? What, if anything, is impeding your progress? Focus on accomplishments, not just assigned tasks, i.e., don’t say “I’m working on A and I’m planning to work on B.” Don’t have discussions. Anything coming out at the meeting that needs to be discussed can be discussed after the meeting. Try saying this more often: Let’s talk about that after the meeting. Immediately after the meeting if necessary, without even leaving the room, but not during the meeting. Anyone in the meeting who is not responsible for accomplishing things during the sprint… Read more →

Hard Deadlines

 

Does saying “This task has to be done by Friday” increase the chances that the task will be done by Friday? No, but it increases the chance that it won’t be done before Friday. Better question: Why isn’t it done now? Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

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