March 11, 2005

Explaining what you do

A standard conversation starter in the United States is "What's your job?", to which I usually reply "I'm a programmer at [current organization]." Inevitably, the next question is "So... what do you do, then?"

If the person I'm talking to doesn't know much about computers, I'm faced with the problem of explaining what, exactly, a programmer does, without going into too much technical detail. Here's how I usually deal with it:

"Programming is a little like dealing with a genie, or any other mythical creature that grants wishes, because a computer does exactly what you tell it to do, rather than what you want it to do. Since programmers have to deal with this problem every day, we created a whole new language in which it's much more difficult to say something you didn't mean, and we communicate our wishes to the computer using that language instead of English. So, most of my job involves translating from English to computerese, and working out exactly what was meant in excruciating detail so that the computer won't do the wrong thing."


At March 15, 2005, Blogger Fraxas said...

John Carmack once quoted in his .plan that programming is the art of specifying a problem so completely that even a computer can solve it.

I like your explanation better.


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