June 30, 2005

Programmers Doomed?

Ever since the first assembler was written, programmers have been building their programs using tools and components written by others. Since then we have fragmented into groups that use different sets of tools and libraries, and it's getting harder to switch from one group to another as the libraries get larger and the tools more complex.

Traditionally, programmers have been taught the basics, so that they can write programs from scratch. The time may come when new programmers will have to choose their specialty as freshmen, and the generalist programmer will be as rare as the generalist scientist.

Of course, I could be wrong. One toolset could take over the world, at which point we'd start over again writing new tools built on that...


At July 02, 2005, Blogger Fraxas said...

You make a telling comparison there to generalist scientists. 'Programmers' are already 'doomed'; from my standpoint as an active software-development professional, the days of the generalist programmer *are* over. As with science, there's too much to keep abreast of to be everything to all people (unless you happen to be extraordinarily intelligent *and* inclined to to computer work). And besides, the skills and thought paradigms required for the different disciplines of computer science are different themselves; linux kernel hackers typically approach web programming problems in kernel-hackery ways, which are inappropriate for the web. And vice versa. (Not that there isn't hybrid vigor to be gained from cross-pollination between disciplines, but I'm sure you know what I mean.)

And besides, specialization allows more complex problems to be solved. If Joe can spend all his time worrying about userland, and not have to understand the implications of his code all the way down to the metal, he can get more done. And Linus Torvalds and Andrew Tridgell and Andrew Morton don't have to care how web browsers work.

Programmers are 'doomed' the way dinosaurs are. We don't have apatosaurs anymore; instead, we have birds.


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