If it ain’t broke, it must need improving

A Facebook acquaintance of mine posted a link to this article over at Software Engineering Tips – “Signs That You’re a Good Programmer.” Two of my favorite qualities were:

  • Eager to fix what isn’t broken
  • A destructive pursuit of perfection

The others are really good, too – as a former programmer now forever behind the technology curve, I can bear glowing witness that when you’re in the groove, this article describes to a “T” what it’s like to be a programmer. And it has ever been so. I first discovered this little gem back in 1980 while working at the State of Washington’s OFM, but it’s still every bit as valid today (except, perhaps, the part about the 80-column cards!)

Ode to a Programmer

“No program is perfect,”
they said with a shrug.
“The client is happy –
what’s one little bug?”

But he was determined;
The others went home.
He dug out the flowcharts,
Deserted, alone.

Night passed into morning,
The room became cluttered
With core-dumps and punch-cards.
“I’m close,” he muttered.

Chain-smoking, cold coffee,
Logic, deduction,
“I’ve got it!” her cried,
“Just change one instruction!”

Then change two, then three more,
As year followed year,
And strangers would comment,
“Is that guy still here?”

He died at the console
Of hunger and thirst.
Next day he was buried
Face down, 9-edge first.

And his wife, through her tears,
Accepting his fate,
Said, “He’s not really gone,

Programmers are engineers – they work with code and numbers and concepts instead of wrenches and solder and lathes, but they belong to the same breed. Suggest to an engineer that something needs to be repaired, and they won’t rest until it’s done. Dare to suggest that it might be improved, and you have won their heart forever:

Repaired Improved

Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio

And many of these people are sheer geniuses. I know a guy down in Australia who can take a paper clip, six gum wrappers and a hank of jute and create a street racer or an oil-cooled computer (yes, I’m looking at you, Steam Wolf). MacGyver was an engineer.

To all the programming widows and widowers languishing at home, you have my sympathies – but that’s just who these people are.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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