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We Live in a Programmer's World

Their perspective affects us all greatly.

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

- Their perspective affects us all greatly.

Click for AUDIO VERSION.

Recently, I was putting up some outdoor Christmas lights and, wanting to schedule when they would turn on and off at night, I tried to adjust a timer to suit my needs. I didn't have an instruction booklet, just the timer. I had worked with many timers over the years, but this one gave me fits in trying to set it. What I believed to be on/off switches, of course, didn't work. Then I noticed the lights went on and off mysteriously. I tried many variations of the settings, but nothing seemed to work. Feeling stumped, I thought back to something my father told me years ago, "You have to remember, this was designed by programmers, and they don't think like the rest of us do." I then applied reverse logic to the settings and "Voila!" it worked perfectly.

I had a similar problem with a new TV remote control which appeared to be simple in layout but wasn't intuitive to use, requiring a learning curve for both my wife and myself. We have had it for a few months now but still do not understand its full functionality, but we limp along with what we've got.

Then there is the problem with my wireless PC printer. Not long ago, the internet network in our neighborhood was recently knocked out. After service was restored, my main printer failed to recognize my wireless network. To solve the problem I pulled out the original installation CD and ran it. During the process, it couldn't find our wireless network. Following the instructions, I tried to enter the data myself (with great precision I might add), but to no avail. The only way I could get it to work was to re-attach an old USB printer cable directly to my PC which remains there to this day. I thought this was incredibly odd as my network was working fine and communicating with other devices, but not my printer. This was something that should have taken a couple of minutes to correct, but turned into a two hour headache.

There are many other stories I'm sure you can relate to, but I think you get the point.

What these situations demonstrate is that we live in a programmer's world. Devices that should be intuitive to use are complicated, seemingly by design. Having worked in the information technology sector for over 30 years, I have learned programmers will typically do what is easiest for them to program, not what is best for the end-user. This ultimately means humans are the ones truly being programmed, not the technology, as we have to adapt to awkward devices, not the other way around.

Many years ago I wrote a paper titled, "Theory P: The Philosophy of Managing Programmers" which attempted to explain how programmers think and how to manage them in the process. This ignited a tempest of protests from the programming community accusing me of defamation of character. In re-reading the column today, I stand by my observations and believe they are correct.

Among my comments, I contended, "There is also the problem that programmers tend to be somewhat faddish. It is not uncommon for them to recommend a solution that is technically fashionable, not necessarily what's practical. An elegant solution to the wrong problem solves nothing."

We have to remember, programmers are detail oriented and consumed with their small part of a much larger puzzle. As such, they will not necessarily devise something to the end-user's satisfaction, just their own. This explains why they require proper direction, or they will inevitably invent a devise that will either be difficult to use or cause the human to change to adapt to it, thereby causing strange operating habits or social foibles, such as our dependencies to answer smart phones like Pavlov's dog or while driving around town, thereby creating a traffic hazard. Whichever it is, I resent having to apply reverse logic to get something to work.

I think my father was right, programmers really do not think like the rest of us do. Unfortunately, we're stuck in their world, and we have allowed them to call the shots.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Copyright © 2018 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


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