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Re: Re: Re: Re: On being a programmer

by footpad (Abbot)
on Dec 29, 2000 at 01:27 UTC ( #48694=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Re: Re: Re: On being a programmer
in thread How to debug unknown dynamic code?


FWIW, I tend to agree with you. While I cannot dispute the fact that some people should not program, I am uneasy with the idea that good programming can only occur if you are fortunate enough to possess the right gene.

I will concede that inate talent has an important effect, but I also believe that some people can rise above their (ahem) genetic flaws and accomplish great things.

As an example, Mozart is generally considered far more brilliant than Salieri, however, some of the latter's works are quite artistic and beautiful. Certainly they do not compare to the former's achievements and undoubtedly resulted from much hard work and discipline. Talent certainly allowed Mozart to succeed far more quickly, but Salieri was still able to work his way to modest success and recognition. (He was, after all, Court Composer.)

I personally find it dangerous to pin labels on individuals. Not only am I frequently wrong in my assessments, but I am just as frequently surprised when those folks far exceed the limits imposed by my presumptions.

Perhaps another example can be found with Einstein, who has been described as having difficulty with school* and yet managed to express general and special relativity. Or Lincoln, who failed in business, had been defeated in earlier elections, and suffered many other setbacks. Yet, he is lionized by many as one of the best Presidents we've ever had.

Yes, some people should not program. However, I don't believe it's our place to judge another's fitness for that task, unless (of course) we're in a management role and that's an entirely different discipline altogether.


Update: Reworked the reference to Einstein.

* Sources:

Note that all links were active at the time of posting.

Updated 2008.08.13 by footpad: Fixed broken superscript tags. Thanks MidLifeXis

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Einstein Didn't Flunk Math - rumor control!
by merlyn (Sage) on Dec 29, 2000 at 01:59 UTC
    Einstein, who failed fourth grade math and yet managed to express general and special relativity.
    Well, not that it undermines your entire argument, but this is false, or so I'm told by some of Einstein's offspring in a letter to the editor of one of the science magazines I was reading in high school.

    Apparently, at the school Einstein attended for 4th grade, they had an unusual grading system, where the lower numbers meant the higher grade, so that "1" = very good while "4" = very poor. Einstein got "1"s in math. Some journalist came across this data, and without verifying the context, got the rumor going around that "Einstein flunked 4th grade math", when in fact it was quite the opposite; he'd scored the highest possible grades!

    No, sorry, I don't recall the precise source any more, but it was a reputable magazine (Discovery magazine, or Science magazine, or something like that).

    -- Randal L. Schwartz, Perl hacker

      I have run across the same fact, though I am having some trouble finding a link. (Best I can do is the alt.folklore.urban FAQ. Search for Einstein.

      The version that I heard was a little more specific. The German school system had 4 is very good and 1 is very poor. The Austrian was reversed. Because this caused confusion the Austrian changed to match the German very shortly after Einstein went through. So when a careless biographer looked at his grades...

      However people who want to think of Einstein as some rube from the hicks still can take comfort in the detail that he wound up marrying his first cousin...

      I had a quick look, and I found one page that says he didn't, but I couldn't find any sites that said he did (fail 4th grade maths, that is). Personally, I doubt he did fail - how on earth could one of the world's greatest ever minds have a problem?

        With mathematics? He probably didn't.

        With the school subject "mathematics" (or whatever it was called at the time)? Quite possibly.


Re: (footpad): Re: On being a programmer
by coreolyn (Parson) on Dec 29, 2000 at 01:59 UTC


    Thank you for your response1(damn I'm outta votes!). I think you nailed the underlying issue that was bothering me but I couldn't get my finger on, that being the "judgement of fitness".

    Some of us learned how to program in a vacume, without books or teachers, and yes there are a lot of bad habits that need to be broken from such an education. Although I still can't see a debugger as a bad habit -- it's just another tool.

    There are so few that even attempt to code, and such harsh judgements only serve to detract from the education that such judges are trying to teach.

    Telling a child that they are stupid when they do something wrong does not teach them how to do something right, it only re-enforces a sense of futility.


    1Great Mozart / Salieri comparison


      To my mind, ignorance can be corrected through education and experience; intolerance can't.

      Or, stealing another cliche, "you can lead a man to logic, but you can't make him think."


      P.S. Amadeus is one of my all-time favorite plays and movies. Historically inaccurate, but still worthwhile, even nearly twenty years later. I *want* to play Salieri some day.

        See now my backgrounds a bit more blue collar. I learned that cliche as:

        You can lead a camel to water, but unless you've got two bricks to smash his balls between he won't drink it.

        Hmmm, I think that must be the way merlyn learned it too -- just kidding merlyn!


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