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‘Coding Is Not Fun, It’s Technically and Ethically Complex’

An anonymous reader shares an article: For starters, the profile of a programmer’s mind is pretty uncommon. As well as being highly analytical and creative, software developers need almost superhuman focus to manage the complexity of their tasks. Manic attention to detail is a must; slovenliness is verboten. Coding isn’t the only job that demands intense focus. But you’d never hear someone say that brain surgery is “fun,” or that structural engineering is “easy.” When it comes to programming, why do policymakers and technologists pretend otherwise? For one, it helps lure people to the field at a time when software (in the words of the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen) is “eating the world” — and so, by expanding the labor pool, keeps industry ticking over and wages under control. Another reason is that the very word “coding” sounds routine and repetitive, as though there’s some sort of key that developers apply by rote to crack any given problem. It doesn’t help that Hollywood has cast the “coder” as a socially challenged, type-first-think-later hacker, inevitably white and male, with the power to thwart the Nazis or penetrate the CIA. Insisting on the glamor and fun of coding is the wrong way to acquaint kids with computer science. It insults their intelligence and plants the pernicious notion in their heads that you don’t need discipline in order to progress. As anyone with even minimal exposure to making software knows, behind a minute of typing lies an hour of study. It’s better to admit that coding is complicated, technically and ethically. Computers, at the moment, can only execute orders, to varying degrees of sophistication. So it’s up to the developer to be clear: the machine does what you say, not what you mean. More and more “decisions” are being entrusted to software, including life-or-death ones: think self-driving cars; think semi-autonomous weapons; think Facebook and Google making inferences about your marital, psychological, or physical status, before selling it to the highest bidder. Yet it’s rarely in the interests of companies and governments to encourage us to probe what’s going on beneath these processes.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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