Programmers, the Internet’s Frontier Cowboys

Think about it for a moment… the world is increasingly becoming more and more dependent on technology and especially the software that powers most of it. Could programmers become one of the most crucial centerpieces of a new technology frontier? They build the systems, they know the systems, and if there was a backdoor into those systems they would be the ones that either did it on purpose or by accident. Top companies like Google, Sun, and other software firms are gunning for the best and brightest programmers on the planet as if they were sports superstars. The rest are considered third, fourth, or fifth stringers. Is it wise to treat programmers as sub-par when the Internet remains largely lawless and your company depends on their products? We explore the issue in this entry of the Programmers Underground!

At one time I considered professional programming competition. I love algorithms and I love solving the impossible, why not do it for fun and profit? Topcoder is an ongoing competition for programmers from around the world with various levels of competition for big cash. But they are not there for the cash (even though it is a bonus) they are there for the opportunity to be picked up by one of the event sponsors. Some of those sponsors included Google, Sun Microsystems, and even a few banks get in on the deal… and we all know that is where the butter really is!

Each year they throw a world-wide competition based on the rankings accrued throughout the year’s puzzle solving. Some of the members have become world famous in software development and have been offered lucrative jobs straight out of college because of it… paying top dollar for their services. These guys are the elite of the industry and have minds like that of a computer compiler itself. I never fully got into it because of time constraints and the need to put food on my own table at the moment. I couldn’t dedicate the time necessary to compete with college students who have all day long to code and who have access to great knowledge resources to sharpen their skills.

Instead I am just a programmer who works the day to day grind solving the problems of a company with almost no thought from management. Essentially I am marginalized. But I always thought that if I had gone all crazy and say f*ck the rest of them, what kind of damage could I do and what would be the consequences? As many of you know the Internet is pretty much unregulated. Unless we go after some big company or a government agency, little is done to actually go after people. It is a wild frontier out there where knowledge is power and governments are struggling to keep up with the regulation. This frontier is being built every day by software developers or by people using their tools. In the world wide web, we are spiders… in this frontier we would be the cowboys / cowgirls (got to be politically correct there). We are soldiers and no, this is not some kind of crazy manifesto! 😉

I personally don’t understand why programmers are always seen as a “cost department” when in many companies the products we develop allow the company to make money and increase productivity. Of course this doesn’t go for everyone. Some companies, like Google, really pride themselves on their developers because half of management is also developers. They are celebrated and in return they get maximum output and great solid products which has made them very rich. I thought “Great! A company like that will show the rest how to go about treating programmers!” but that has yet to happen. Partially because companies are oblivious to the market they are in and some just focus on the bottom line… an area which hardly quantifies productivity savings… the main staple of a programmer’s output.

So what is a programmer to do? I believe the further we go down the road of technology and software the more important the role of the programmer will be. They already know they need us, but they don’t know why. They only know to come to us when the problems appear, otherwise we are “that guy in the corner over there”. We build their intranets, their websites, develop their products which they sell to others and all while we keep R&D moving forward. We “try” to listen like therapists, treat management like kings, and praise the idiotic for successfully sending an email… be it for the tenth-gazillion time.

Perhaps we should make it obvious that we are needed, rob that stage coach riding across the grasslands, our six shooting compilers a blazin and asking questions later. Riding our trusty horses broadband and bandwidth, we could bring the Internet to its knees. Sure, there are going to be a few of us who have nice cushy jobs and act like the sheriff in town to stop us all to keep their paychecks coming in, but why not avoid the whole thing? How can we stop that civil war of information from destroying us? Perhaps you should take that “guy in the corner over there” out to lunch for a change. Maybe buy him an extra doughnut… get him that six pack of monster or jolt or mountain dew as a Christmas present.

I think if we as a people show that we value our programmers and developers a little more things will calm down. Leave us to our wizardry, our brilliance with the keys, so that we can bring about the solutions. Listen to our needs because when we ask we really do need it and when we speak please listen… even if you don’t actually follow the advice later.

You may not know why you need him/her, but at least say thank you for whatever he/she does so your company doesn’t become the next O.K. Corral. The wild wild west is there on the Internet, and yes, that guy in the corner could be your next sheriff in town …. or could be your next Jesse James!


About The Author

Martyr2 is the founder of the Coders Lexicon and author of the new ebooks "The Programmers Idea Book" and "Diagnosing the Problem" . He has been a programmer for over 25 years. He works for a hot application development company in Vancouver Canada which service some of the biggest tech companies in the world. He has won numerous awards for his mentoring in software development and contributes regularly to several communities around the web. He is an expert in numerous languages including .NET, PHP, C/C++, Java and more.