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Software engineering: a useless profession?

by johnnywang (Priest)
on Nov 05, 2004 at 09:21 UTC ( #405439=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

If you are a plumber, you will fix your own leaking faucet; if you are a mechanic, you will change your own oil; if you are a doctor, you will give yourself some nice prescription; if you are a lawyer, you will sue your neighbor's pants off; if you are a teacher, you will teach your children; if you are a software engineer, you will ....

From my conversations with many colleagues, it seems that for most people, software engineering is one of those professions that's useless outside of work: most engineers never use that skill at home.

Here at 1 am, for the past few hours, I've been working on one of my pet projects: a perl/tk application to help me to help my kids to learn geometry. It's slow, even slower than at work, though fun, and even useful. I have many such pet projects at home.

So, when you leave your job at the end of day, what/how do you use that skill for something else which might be pleasing to others rather than your employer or yourself (e.g, wife/husbands/kids, even in-laws)?

Comment on Software engineering: a useless profession?
Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by pelagic (Curate) on Nov 05, 2004 at 09:38 UTC
    >   if you are a software engineer, you will ....
    ... fix your neighbour's internet access and email settings on win98 for a beer and a chat ...

    pelagic
      Friends don't let friends do Windows.
        ... they buy it without asking you
        and knock on your door when it's broken :)

        pelagic
Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by leriksen (Curate) on Nov 05, 2004 at 10:13 UTC
    >if you are a software engineer, you will ....
    ...maintain an air of dark mystery and occult wisdom...

    or you stun your friends with statements like I run Linux, I have no virus', spyware or adware problems, oh, and I never crash ... more wine ?

    On a more serious note, I think it is my mindset, rather than my skillset that I use - logic, planning, decomposition, handling errors/failure are used at home all the time.

    use brain;

      I have no virus'

      The plural of virus is viruses. Google it if you don't believe me, or read what Tom Christiansen wrote about it. What you have here is the possessive form. Unless you left off a word, and you meant to say you don't have [something that belongs to a virus], then your formulation is incorrect.

      PS: I try to avoid being the grammar police around here, but some things I can't ignore. Improper use of apostrophes is one of them.

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by water (Chaplain) on Nov 05, 2004 at 11:17 UTC
    So, when you leave your job at the end of day, what/how do you use that skill for something else which might be pleasing to others rather than your employer or yourself (e.g, wife/husbands/kids, even in-laws)?

    Perl at home: for munging exerimental data for significant other's research, and sometimes (when cajoled) for munging data for S.O.'s lab colleagues. Typical data transform involves 10 to 100 lines of code and 5 to 60 minutes. To outsiders, it looks like magic.

    water

      And boosts your mojo ... ;-)

      -Theo-
      (so many nodes and so little time ... )

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by gothic_mallard (Pilgrim) on Nov 05, 2004 at 11:35 UTC

    Is it just me or do some of the rest of you also attempt avoid letting people find out you work with computers?

    Why do I say that? Because in my experience it's quite amazing the amount of people that when you tell them you're a software developer say "oh, that means you can fix my laptop/pc/printer etc..."

    It's like someone saying "I'm a window cleaner" and then someone expecting them to be able to reglaze the entire house....

    Okay, slightly far fetched example but hopefully you take the point ;-)

    --- Jay

    All code is untested unless otherwise stated.
    All opinions expressed are my own and are intended as guidance, not gospel; please treat what I say as such and as Abigail said Think for yourself.
    If in doubt ask.

      Is it just me or do some of the rest of you also attempt avoid letting people find out you work with computers?

      No, thats a common behavior. If you tell someone that you're a programmer or something similar, some of them want you to fix their IT-problems, the other ones think that you're somehow a strange person. So it is sometimes the best idea to give only vague answers to questions about your job.

        I sometimes say "I write books about computers, and teach computer classes". But more often, I just say "I'm a professional standup comedian". It's simpler, and about the same craziness, and people can relate to it a bit better.

        -- Randal L. Schwartz, Perl hacker
        Be sure to read my standard disclaimer if this is a reply.

        I don't *avoid* telling people that I work with computers, but I don't get into the details of what I do, unless they are persistent.
        I am a Data Warehouse designer, ETL programmer, and SQL expert; none of which are easy to explain to non-techies, so usually I will tell people that I am a professional Computer Nerd. That usually gets enough across.
      I certainly am guilty of hidding my (perlcapt's) technological candle under a bushel. It is a social thing. I've noticed that regular folks don't much open up to geeks. It may be fun to talk about geeks bitting heads off of chickens, and laugh about it later, but who wants to have a personal friend who is so depraved!

      On the other hand, once I've be able to do something that "common" man can appreciate, then I feel free to show my technical instrests. Finally, after that door has been opened, then I can talk about my experience.

      I imagine it is something like "coming out of the closet," but I may be wrong.

      How did I become so twisted?

      After saturating myself in technology, I feel I need to refresh by relating to folks who prefer to talk about farming, or boats, or their families, or even their religon.

      On the other hand:
      If I obssess on my technology and tools, I start turning wierd, unsocial, unapproachable, maybe even somewhat psychotic. Compulsion and psychosis are closely related.

      My family tolerates my sitting with the laptop in the living room. But they expect me to be able to put it down and engage in a conversation with out any hesitation. They don't like to feel that they are competing with the computer/Internet for attention.

      perlcapt
      -ben

      When I fiurst got started, I was always proud to brag: "I am a software Engineer". I have paid the price for that. Every where I go, people ask me to fix there computers. Recently I went to visit family in California. When I was there, every relative whose house I visited had a computer which was malfunctioning (Windows) in some way. Long story short: I spent half of my vacation fixing peoples computers. When will they learn not to buy microsoft products?

      May the Force be with you
        More importantly, when will you learn to say "I don't know Windows"?
      Depending on my mood, I am any one of the following:

      Professional nerd

      I get paid, but I'm weird, so back off!

      i have a desk job

      i really really don't want to talk about it

      Systems Analyst

      just want to confuse the person so that we can get on with more interesting topics, like 'how old are your kids'

      Scientist

      my true calling but currently not working in my field of endeavour
      (I)n my experience it's quite amazing the amount of people that when you tell them you're a software developer say "oh, that means you can fix my laptop/pc/printer etc..."

      "I will be happy to try to fix your laptop/pc/printer, when I have a spare hour or two, for a bottle of good Scotch."

      I think that ("other") people have a tendency to assume that, because you're doing what seems like magic (just typing at a keyboard, not doing anything obviously technical that involves physical tools and parts), fixing their spyware-encrusted Win32 install is a trivial matter. After all, you're not getting your hands dirty, are you?

      Most people are willing to accept that fixing their computer is Work, rather than Magic, provided that you explain it to them with a certain level of politeness. Once they recognize it as Work, they may not stop asking you to rid their machines of spyware and their printers of paper jams, but at least they'll be more willing to pay you for your time.

      Incidentally, my standard xmas gift to my parents is Free Computer and Network Maintenance and Upgrades. They buy new toys, and I install them when I come to visit. It works out quite well.

      --
      Yours in pedantry,
      F o x t r o t U n i f o r m

      "Anything you put in comments is not tested and easily goes out of date." -- tye

      Is it just me or do some of the rest of you also attempt avoid letting people find out you work with computers?
      I developed a rather interesting way of answering such probing questions when I was in college. At that time the question was: "What's your major". If I answered honestly I would say "Astrophysics", which invariably resulted in a response of "Oh, that's nice", followed by a quick retreat by the questioner to refill a drink.

      Not wanting to strike out so quickly I modified my response by using the following algorithm: simply adopt the major of the last person I spoke to, and give that as my major. Follow that with a series of questions about their major (reloading for the next conversation).

      After a short while I had majored in every subject and managed to store up an unending list of fascinating anecdotes about obscure subjects.

      When people ask what I do for a living, I like to say I work for an "evil corporation". ;-)

      -------------------------------------
      Nothing is too wonderful to be true
      -- Michael Faraday

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by zentara (Archbishop) on Nov 05, 2004 at 13:06 UTC
    Well working out intellectual problems keeps the brain neurons active, and that is supposed to prevent Alzheimers. :-) Tk....it's better than crossword puzzles.

    I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. flash japh
Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by Anonymous Monk on Nov 05, 2004 at 15:26 UTC
    I dunno running rails on my home web server is kinda cool, but all of 2 people look at it :)
Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by CloneArmyCommander (Friar) on Nov 05, 2004 at 16:36 UTC
    It is especially fun to fire up Linux and write small apps while non-programming Windows using friends are around, for some reason it completely blows their mind. But, that's just what I do with my programming :), but then again, I'm not out of college yet with a degree and a neat"o" programming job :). I think the only serious script I have written to help me actually accomplish something is write a perl script for the MacLaurin Series of e, putting things in programming terms helps me understand calculus concepts.

      Since when is Calculus "useful" ?

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by drewbie (Chaplain) on Nov 05, 2004 at 16:38 UTC
    I'm building an e-commerce site for my wife's catering business. It's been rather fun since the code is my own and I can try out different things I might not do for another client. She just goes with my recommendations - beat that!

    The best part is that I can now reuse portions of this code in other contract projects rather than reinventing the wheel every time. :-)

      I have done work for my wife as well, and the best part is working out the payment schedule. An occasional intentional bug requires a refund of a payment but it seems to be a win win situation for both of us!

      Enjoy!
      Dageek
Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by bwelch (Curate) on Nov 05, 2004 at 17:14 UTC
    I view software engineering as a class of general engineering in the renaissance sense. It allows a person to develop and tune skills in many areas from solving puzzles to designing about anything. If one can understand the workings of software, other systems aren't that difficult. Engines, electrical systems, plumbing, heating, and cooling can all be broken down into subsystems that may be considered independently and 'debugged' appropriately. This can lead a person to do their own automotive repairs, upgrade the circuit breaker box in their home, or design a new playground in the back yard.

    The hard part of all this involves time. While fixing and 'improving' these systems might be fun to some engineers, family and other parts of life all compete for that same time. The trick is to find the projects that are worth the time and the results please yourself and the family.

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by demerphq (Chancellor) on Nov 05, 2004 at 18:17 UTC

    So, when you leave your job at the end of day, what/how do you use that skill for something else which might be pleasing to others rather than your employer or yourself (e.g, wife/husbands/kids, even in-laws)?

    I mostly work on the site here. None of my friends or inlaws care in the slightest but I do get a happy glow knowing there are lots of folks out there enjoying and appreciating my work here.

    Oh, and i get called to fix various friends computers a lot :-)

    ---
    demerphq

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by spartan (Pilgrim) on Nov 05, 2004 at 18:19 UTC
    You think explaining to people what your jobs means is difficult? Try telling folks you're a Unix System Administrator. I've recieved SO many odd looks, I just tell people I'm in computers now. They seem to respond much better.


    Very funny Scotty... Now PLEASE beam down my PANTS!

      I've gotten used to the "car analogy"...

      If computers were cars, I would be a mechanic, only I would have to keep hundreds of completely custom engines running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long, and be able to dive under the hood and fix things while the engines are still running...

      This usually brings people closer to understanding what I really do, but it never makes them appreciate it

      Such is life as an SA...

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by dimar (Curate) on Nov 05, 2004 at 18:44 UTC

    This is a very thought-provoking question because so much of it hinges on how you choose to define "useless" ...

    that category of human activity that is not capable of producing or expressing any tangible sign of practical relevance and utility
    .. or ..
    that category of human activity that is so fundamental that it cannot be easily expressed in terms of language, and must therefore be 'translated' into more concrete examples before you can even begin to understand it, let alone discuss it
    ... the point is, all of these distinctions can be considered part of a very wide spectrum.

    If you were a lawyer, someone could invade your country, invalidate all of your laws, nullify your statutes, repudiate your constitution and burn your flag.
    A "lawyer" would consider herself out of a job.
    A "Lawyer" would know that there is a fundamental pattern *behind* all statutes, codes and constitutions, and that no matter what system gets invoked, she would find her way within and around it, or even use that understanding to competently change professions.

    If you were a software engineer, someone could switch technologies without asking you, or wipe the technological basis of your core competency off the earth with market momentum or patent lawsuits.
    An "engineer" would consider himself out of a job.
    An "Engineer" would know that there is a fundamental pattern *behind* all the platforms, languages, competing 'standards' and vendors, and use that knowledge to find a new niche, or even completely change professions.

    Probably one of the biggest factors to determine whether or not something is "useless" goes along with the labels that you attach to it ... and to yourself.

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by FoxtrotUniform (Prior) on Nov 05, 2004 at 20:15 UTC
    (I)f you are a software engineer, you will ...

    ...get computers to do tedious bullshit for me, like reminding me to pay bills and keep appointments (cron and Perl), check programming assignments for correctness (CVS and Perl, although that was two jobs ago), catalogue my books and CDs (PostgreSQL and, er, Perl); the list goes on.

    The programmer's task is to make computers do the stupid boring stuff, and there's more than enough stupid boring stuff to go around.

    --
    Yours in pedantry,
    F o x t r o t U n i f o r m

    "Anything you put in comments is not tested and easily goes out of date." -- tye

      FoxtrotUniform, I think you have started the thread to a new definition of software engineer:

      A software engineer's job is to create brilliant and exciting ways for computers to do stupid boring stuff.

      Has that been said before? Who cares; it kinda rolls off the tongue ;-)

      perlcapt
      -ben
        A software engineer's job is to create brilliant and exciting ways for computers to do stupid boring stuff.

        Brilliant and exciting? Fun though that is, I'd settle for effective. Probably easier to debug, anyhow. :-)

        --
        Yours in pedantry,
        F o x t r o t U n i f o r m

        "Anything you put in comments is not tested and easily goes out of date." -- tye

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by talexb (Canon) on Nov 05, 2004 at 21:00 UTC
      If you are a plumber, you will fix your own leaking faucet; if you are a mechanic, you will change your own oil; if you are a doctor, you will give yourself some nice prescription; if you are a lawyer, you will sue your neighbor's pants off; if you are a teacher, you will teach your children; if you are a software engineer, you will ....

    .. set up a home network, use a good router, install Linux on your kids computers, help them build their own web sites, introduce them to C++, show them how to use Google..

    You may find your own training useless outside of your job, but .. respectfully, I have to disagree.

    Alex / talexb / Toronto

    "Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by mattr (Curate) on Nov 06, 2004 at 06:32 UTC
    > If you are a software engineer you will..

    Okay there are plenty of computers around in any relative's house you wish to visit, and tell me they don't mention some nagging problems? Maybe not "software engineering but..".

    I also have built a website for my mother's company, and one for my sister's restaurant. Built a pretty visitor counter. Installed a nice stats program. Saved money by hosting on own server. Online menus changed seasonally. An online photo gallery of the restaurant with using another nice package I found on the net. I kept the old design mostly from network solutions and added here and there. Check it out: Michael's on the Hill. I also played an awful lot of Spongebob Squarepants with my nephews and let me tell you that is an impressive computer feat too.. Of course I also got my Mom to use an iMac and showed her iPhoto, a revelation every time.

    I've been trying to think of the best way to get my sister (windows, not experienced) and mother (OS X) to upoad photos to my server extremely easily. I mean, explaining in an email about how to drag a photo from a cdrom and using ftp in IE is actually not easy, and it was a total failure. Led me to thinking about a product idea too.. Computers are in fact way too ornery for normal people to use. Like my sister is managing a successful 3 star restaurant in Stowe, Vermont, and is a great cook, she's sharp and talented but not into computers.

    Is the best way really for me to get her to hand my mom a photocd or roll of film every 6 months? I also get 20 meg scans in the email, must be a better way. Maybe my fledgling wxperl skills will help there one day. Or maybe some dhtml thing that shows you the photos in your cd drive and uploads the ones you want? Maybe a blogging toolbar thingy? (Tell me if anyone has a clue for this seemingly innocuous but dastardly problem.) Talk about useability! The problem is that these things only look obvious to people for whom they are already obvious. (i.e. you have to spend a thousand hours with computers first).

    Anyway I'm starting to get involved in RFID and sensors in the home and it seems to me that if you want to help around the house you are definitely in an upwardly mobile profession. No sweat!

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by castaway (Parson) on Nov 06, 2004 at 09:00 UTC
    Strange software engineers.. Yes, I've also come across some of these people, but I don't pretend to understand them. They work all their working week with computers, solving problems, making natty little useful programs, yet some of them don't even have a computer at home! I can only guess that this is a bunch of people who are stuck doing something because it brings in the money, and not because it interests them much at all. Which is a poor reason, IMO.

    Some of this thread talks about not wanting to tell people what their job is. Why?? Maybe thats one of those weird cultural things, but I don't get looked at strangely at all, when I tell people I write computer software for a living. I haven't met anyone who hasn't understood what that meant either, most people know what computers are. Although, I do understand from some point of view. I would guess there are also doctors, lawyers etc who keep pretty quiet, in order not to get invited to examine lumps and bumps, or peoples wills/lawsuits etc.

    I actually enjoy fixing things for other people, I picked this profession because I enjoy doing it, so why would I not help out friends with computer problems? In my experience, one can usually sort ones circle of friends into their usefulness in certain areas, and know who to call in certain crises. If I'm the one that gets labeled to call with computer problems, thats good with me.

    Anyway, to answer the original question, maybe I'm in a minority here then, but my job is an extension of my life, and not the other way around. So at home I also spend much of my time writing useful programs to help ease my life, to solve other peoples problems, to help out at PM, or just generally to have fun.

    Currently: A banking program which allows me to assign categories to each bank transaction (grabbed via a Finance::Bank module cronjob to a database), and eventually will allow me to figure out what I've spent on what, and which of those are essential payments etc.

    C.

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by Jouke (Curate) on Nov 06, 2004 at 10:11 UTC
    So, when you leave your job at the end of day, what/how do you use that skill for something else which might be pleasing to others rather than your employer or yourself (e.g, wife/husbands/kids, even in-laws)?

    When I'm not programming to earn my daily bread, I work on pVoice. Initially a project for my own daughter, but after three years of working on it, it has become useful for more and more people.

    If I wouldn't have been a programmer, I wouldn't have thought of starting such a project. I think that in my case I couldn't have had a better profession than being a software engineer...


    Jouke Visser
    Using Perl to enable the disabled: pVoice
      Thanks Jouke, I read about pVoice about a year ago, it really warmed my heart. I remember sitting there thinking how wonderful it must be to do such a project, and shared it with my friends. Great work.
Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by Ytrew (Pilgrim) on Nov 07, 2004 at 06:04 UTC
    Software engineering is not a useless skill, even in a time limited scenario like at home. After all, just because you can't excercise all your talents doesn't mean you have no skills. Rocket scientists can't build space shuttles in their back yards, but their kids can have awesome model rockets.

    Learning HTML probably lies somewhere in difficulty between trivial, like changing the oil (pull a plug, wait, replace plug), and learning to do some basic plumbing (which is mostly owning a hacksaw, some soldering skills, and finding the main cut-off valve). Most programmers find using HTML very easy. Many non-programmers find it intimidatingly hard.

    Programmers can make simple HMTL web pages for their friends. They can read and understand computer manuals, a skill that eludes many people. They can apply general deductive reasoning, which apparently holds no value in real life, but is funny at dinner parties. :-)

    Speaking of parties, the following is a little anecdote about what happens when a bunch of computer programmers throw a party.

    A girl at the party wants to dye her hair a new colour. She's never dyed her hair before. She's a bit nervous, because she wants it to look good. The other programmers did the obvious thing. They took a digital photo of her, loaded it into an image editor, selected her hair, and changed the colour of the picture until they found one that she liked. She dyed her hair that colour. It looked great!

    Five years later, expensive hair salons were charging a premium for the same sort of "computer preview" service that my friends hacked together while busy getting drunk at a party.

    I don't think computer programming is a "useless profession" at all. Sometimes, it means you get to do things that most ordinary people can't do yet, and won't be able to do until years later.

    --
    Ytrew

      basic plumbing (which is mostly owning a hacksaw, some soldering skills, and finding the main cut-off valve)

      Plus having arms with more joints than is normal, so you can get at all the fiddly bits. Plus a willingness to go up to your elbows in shit and piss.

Re: Software engineering: a useless profession?
by hdb (Parson) on May 17, 2013 at 07:59 UTC

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