Freak Systems

Monthly Archive: August 2015

What is Being a Computer Programmer Like?

Computer Programmer Like

For a lot of people on the outside, being a computer programmer must seem very mysterious. They will hear all about the stereotypes about computer programmers, most of which seem to contradict one another. Lots of people really don’t know how their computers work, even if they have some vague idea of what is in them. More and more people are computer literate today, but that only means they know how to operate them. The inner workings of computers seem to become more and more mysterious as they become more and more advanced. It seems that no matter how long computer programmers have been programming, programmers are just mysterious as the programs that they program.

In a way, I suspect that computer programmers and software engineers actually like it that way. For one thing, if people really knew all about what they were doing at work, they might be a little suspicious when it came to evaluating their salaries. I can tell you that as a programmer, procrastination is a huge part of my job, and I’m really not supposed to be getting paid for it.

I do write original codes at work, but that isn’t the entirety of what I do or what my colleagues do on a regular basis. The people fresh out of college will usually imagine that they’re going to be doing this sort of thing at work all the time. This is partly a function of the fact that this is what they did in college when they were still learning how to code. They’ll think that whatever they did for their final projects is going to represent what they’re going to do at work time and time again.

Sadly, that’s probably not even going to be fifty percent of what they’ll do on the job. Obviously, it depends upon where you work. If you’re doing a startup, then you probably are going to be coding more or less nonstop in the beginning. If you’re working with the sort of big tech company that is going to give you more stability, than you’re not going to be writing as many original computer codes. In fact, I spend more time fixing other people’s codes than I do writing any new ones of my own. Maybe this isn’t the most efficient system in the world, but it is the one that a lot of software companies use.

I will also test software frequently in order to detect any potential problems with it. Usually, there aren’t any problems with it, but that isn’t going to stop me from testing it over and over again. A lot of my colleagues are going to be doing the exact same thing. Often times, a lot of the software research that we do in these situations is also going to be a matter of us failing to truly change software even as we’re giving the impression that we are.

I don’t want to give the impression that software engineers don’t contribute to their fields, or that all of the work that you’ll do as a software engineer is going to be redundant. However, aspiring software engineers need to know that our work is drudge work like any other. They should also know that many of us really do expend our vast brainpower on finding ways to avoid work. If people don’t accept that, then they’ll never fit in with the culture of the average software company.

Crap Chores

Science is king. It is in command. It is behind everything we value in modern life and we couldn’t live without it. We are slaves to it, perhaps, but it is our friend. And it keeps getting better. New inventions, new technology, new ways to run your life efficiently. Novel modes of work and play. It is a godsend. Who wants to live only by their wits and imagination? Now it is all done for you. You sit back and react.

Well, almost everything is done for you. Take housework–that dreaded weekly chore. It is still as antiquated as churning butter or beating rugs outdoors. It is still one person wielding a vacuum and a dust mop. It is still making the rounds of the furniture with Pledge and scrubbing the kitchen sink. Whether it is you or someone else, it is a singular, uninviting job. You put it off indefinitely.

Where is that robot maid of the future we saw glimpses of a decade ago in those magazine ads? We are settling for a small bot that does a bit of pickup on the floor. Big deal. It still crashes into the furniture. Where is the mechanical person who can put dishes in the machine, load the laundry, wax the linoleum, and make the beds? I would pay a pretty penny for it. Wouldn’t you?

Close your eyes and contemplate this marvelous vision. A full-size robot maid is taken out of the kitchen closet where she has been carefully stored. Not just some robot vacuum cleaner that you turn on, or schedule to run around your home and bump into things, but a full sized robot. The kitchen closet is her resting space. You check the batteries and they are loaded and ready to provide the required juice for the day. No cords to trip over. She is light weight and rather attractive as robots go. You turn on the starter switch and watch her come to life. Her eyes glow. Hi, John, she croons. And she’s off.

Fast as lightening she tackles the dirt and dust of your home. She knows just where to go. She tidies up and puts things in their proper programmed place. She knows the ropes because you have told her every detail! She can operate a can opener or a vacuum, it doesn’t matter. The stove is her forte. You have called all the shots before. There is no limit to her gifts if you have done your part. Programming for this model is a real breeze as it included voice commands. Wow! Science at its most practical. I love it. What will they think of next—a robot gardener, a robot pool man? Maybe a robot baby sitter!

The floors sparkle and the bot maid is off to the laundry room. She knows just the right amount of powdered soap. She folds clothes like a whiz. Perfection. Everything is pristine. When she is in the shop, you pine for her perfection. But she is healthy most of the time with regular maintenance. Cleaning is her strength and you praise her work. Thanks, John, she coos sweetly. You smile.

Why I Love the Silicon Valley Television Series

 

Silicon Valley Television Series

Mike Judge seems to know more about computer program than almost anyone in Hollywood put together. They imagine that the job of a software engineer is this glamorous job in which people are writing these cool new programs all the time. Basically, they imagine life as a software engineer in the manner of someone who just graduated from college in that field.

Back in the now-historic 1980s, Mike Judge was a Silicon Valley engineer. He has been able to use that experience to create some truly excellent programming. Naturally, his experiences also undoubtedly helped inspire the cult favorite Office Space. I loved this movie back in 1999, and I still love it. So it was really exciting to see even more output from Mike Judge on the subject of computer programming.

I’m not the only programmer who absolutely loves this show. It’s gotten plenty of other positive ratings from other programmers, who probably recognized some of the characters as if they were their own coworkers. Hopefully, they couldn’t personally relate to most of them. It’s always off-putting when I meet fellow geeks who say that they can completely identify with, say, Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, which is not a show that I particularly like.

Obviously, the main draw of a show like Silicon Valley is going to be the comedy aspect, and the show is a huge success on that score. Mike Judge somehow has always managed to make his jokes extremely broad and yet extremely insightful. He’s good at mocking antisocial people without making his humor itself seem too antisocial or mean-spirited, and that’s a really difficult balance to strike. Mike Judge managed to hit that note with Beavis and Butthead as well as King of the Hill, and now he manages to do it again, while aiming at a very different target.

He was mocking broad aspects of culture with Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill, which targeted Generation X in general and Texas culture, respectively. Now, he’s targeted one of the subcultures that we all know and some of us love, and it’s a subculture that has a lot of privilege. I’d say that Mike Judge in general is very good at making sure that he directs his acerbic wit at the appropriate targets.

He aims for the privileged folks in society for the most part, and there are few people more privileged in today’s society than the people who have found success in Silicon Valley. According to some definitions, some of these people might actually be more powerful than many government officials, since they have the money to help determine the direction that elections can take. People with that kind of privilege really should be targeted.

The actors manage to be convincing as members of this group, which surprised me. Hollywood actors usually give themselves away as Hollywood actors in many different ways, but I believed these guys. The characters didn’t feel like carbon copies of one another, which represents good writing and good storytelling. It also helped ground the situation, making the whole thing a lot more believable.

Some people watch television for the sake of escapism only, which I can understand. I like escapist entertainment myself. It’s fun to imagine yourself saving the world from a demon apocalypse after you get home after a day of coding or pretending to code. However, sometimes I would also like to see my own experiences reflected on television, and Silicon Valley comes closer than most other programs have in the past.

Naturally, like most programmers, I haven’t gotten anywhere near as far as these people have, so it’s also fun to see them knocked down to size a little. The world of computer programming is pyramid-shaped. I’m somewhere in the middle of the pyramid, and these Silicon Valley guys have reached the very apex. Those of us who are always staring up at the apex are going to appreciate it getting shaved down more than anyone else.