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Shady Illuminations

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Coders

by John Shade

Generic image illustrating the article
  John shares six reasons to avoid software development as a career.  

I know, I know, all your friends write software and you wouldn’t be uptight if one of the kids will.

And you read in the Times Book Review that geek is chic and you figure all of your babies’ friends will think they’re cool if they code. Cool like that Mark Zuckerberg. So cool.

And Johnny did such a great job on your website.

But I want you to consider the consequences if you let your babies grow up to be coders.

Six Reasons to Avoid Software Development as a Career

1. They’ll create something cool and get sued for it.

The recent story in The Guardian, the British newspaper that has bigger mountains to topple, is just the tip of this particular iceberg. The story is all about non-US app developers staying out of the US market for fear of being sued.

It’s all about software patents. Software patents are being routinely granted for ideas that are either obvious, trivial, or absurdly broad. Patent trolls build business models around acquiring software patents to use to squeeze money out of independent developers. The only way to guard against being sued is to pay more in patent search costs than you’re likely to ever recoup from your app. Not that being in a position to defend against a lawsuit will keep you from being sued anyway. And many an entrepreneur has been put out of business by the cost of successfully defending against a lawsuit.

An iOS app is a rowboat off the coast of Antarctica in iceberg season. Don’t let your babies grow up to be rowboat captains among the icebergs.

2. They’ll make an off-by-one error and get thrown in jail.

In an essay in InfoWorld that was so well received that it got republished in JavaWorld, InfoWorld senior contributing editor Paul Venezia campaigns to have bad coding made a felony. This is a brilliant idea and I’m amazed that nobody else has thought of this great technique for motivating quality code development. Would paired programmers share a cell? But that’s just a detail.

Anyway, you can see how the possibility of hard time in Leavenworth would make the profession a little less rewarding. I mean all in all, netting it out. Don’t let your babies grow up to be code criminals.

3. Their brilliant ideas will never take off in an industry that is still focused on imitating filing cabinets and typewriters and slide projectors.

A recent O’Reilly Radar blip describes what might be called the tyranny of files. The file metaphor is just one of the chains that bind software development to the rotting corpse of a dead idea, but it’s one of the ripest. But the true horror is that this attack on files will be a new idea to so many people, when Ted Nelson said it all forty years ago.

To those who believe that good ideas will eventually drive out bad ones, I have one word: QWERTY. Don’t let your babies grow up to be bitter old failures.

4. Even if they do invent something awesome and it does take off, it’ll probably rot our brains.

Tim Berners-Lee and those guys at Darpa invent this Internet/Web thing and the world beats a path to, well not necessarily to their doors, but there’s a lot of path beating being done. And now it turns out that this great invention gives you brain cancer. No, wait. That’s cellphones, that other great invention. The Interweb just makes you stupid.

Aside from the bad karma, this is a classic negative feedback loop. Coding requires intelligence; coding produces technologies that reduce intelligence. A self-limiting system. High school guidance counselors advise against careers that are self-limiting systems. If you babies won’t listen to you, surely they’ll listen to their guidance counselor.

5. Scarier than just rotting our brains, your babies as coders might destroy all life on earth.

The really cool programmers today aren’t coding in Ruby on silicon, they’re recoding the DNA of living organisms. You can read about it in Technology Review.

Notice anything interesting about that article? It’s subtle, but if you read carefully you’ll pick it up. The magazine thinks this is a great idea. Cripes, haven’t MIT’s editors ever heard of grey goo? Don’t they know what Craig Venter is an anagram for?

Your babies don’t need the total destruction of all life on earth on their consciences. Being a doctor is OK. Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such. Just don’t let your babies grow up to be Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Strangelove.

6. Even more terrifying, they might bring about the Sex Singularity.

Let’s not even go there. These are your babies we’re talking about.

On the Other Hand

But if your babies have it in them to become coders, then they aren’t the sort of babies who are going to pay any attention to mama’s advice. So your best play is to hope that your baby grows up to be the world’s most famous programmer and a billionaire and then retires to be a benefactor of mankind. And knowing what a silly twit your baby is, you can count on him still managing to make himself look ridiculous.

John Shade was born under a cloud in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1962. Subsequent internment in a series of obscure institutions of ostensibly higher learning did nothing to brighten his outlook. He’s just glad he got a chance to say a word about the coders and the mothers from codeville. Send the author your feedback or discuss the article in the magazine forum.