Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Comfort Zone

Steve Yegge had a really interesting blog post last week about the average programmer. Take a looksey:

"But how do programmers compete? Generally, they just don't. Not in the way chess players or golfers compete, anyway. The reason? You can't compare programmers quantitatively, so you can't compute a score or a rank. Competitions and competitors have to be scored. Sure, you can set up scored programming competitions, but they're so tightly controlled that they don't resemble real-world software development anymore. Professional programmers basically just don't compete with each other.

Hence, you're probably not pushing yourself. Even if you're trying to improve your programming skills, you're probably just doing it in areas you're already comfortable in. And your improvements probably still aren't happening as fast as they would if you were competing to improve them."

Very true. He goes on to discuss how programmers are ranked relative to each other, since there is no quantitative method of ranking programmers, which in itself is completely subjective (and hence, his complaint). Programmers are ranked according to the context they are in.

His main complaint is about the comfort zone we all find ourselves in. He believes that since it is difficult to quantify the skill of a programmer, incentive is provided for pigeonholing yourself into an area you feel comfortable with.

I think this is true in most professions, not just programming, but I find this very true in testing as well. It is very easy to turn to the same tools and oracles to help with your problems and give advice.

"See, I always thought I was a perfectly competent programmer: as good as you can get, basically. I was building cool stuff, doing seemingly complicated things, and I felt I knew a tremendous amount of lore about the art of programming. I had won or placed in programming competitions, could program in Java for weeks on end without referring to the API docs, and pretty much felt on top of things.

Every few years, I would read some critical book, or have some weighty flash of insight, and realize that I'd been operating all this time in what could only be termed "clueless mode", and that I hadn't really known what I was doing after all. Amusingly, I was always relieved that now I could consider myself to be a good programmer, since I now knew whatever it was I'd been missing before.

Last year it finally dawned on me, after 16 or 17 years of this, that I just might possibly still be clueless about something important that I really ought to know, something that would make me a much better programmer."

Word. Hopefully I'll be that inspired and insightful after 16 or 17 years of working.

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