March 10, 2010
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Whatever Happened to Programming?

Mike Taylor: Whatever Happened To Programming? 

Today, I mostly paste libraries together.  So do you, most likely, if you work in software.  Doesn’t that seem anticlimactic?  We did all those courses on LR grammars and concurrent software and referentially transparent functional languages.  We messed about with Prolog, Lisp and APL.  We studied invariants and formal preconditions and operating system theory.  Now how much of that do we use?  A huge part of my job these days seems to be impedence-matching between big opaque chunks of library software that sort of do most of what my program is meant to achieve, but don’t quite work right together so I have to, I don’t know, translate USMARC records into Dublin Core or something.  Is that programming?  Really?  Yes, it takes taste and discernment and experience to do well; but it doesn’t require brilliance and it doesn’t excite.  It’s not what we dreamed of as fourteen-year-olds and trained for as eighteen-year-olds.  It doesn’t get the juices flowing.  It’s not making.

I do a lot of work to paste libraries together too, but I do get to do a fair amount of exciting code as well. Artisanal software matters: it's our way to stop having to sleep on the cold floor of the software factory.