Programming is not Uniquely Unique

posted May 23, 2007
in Programming

I want to be clear about my purpose here. My point is not to claim that the uniqueness of programming is itself unique. Every interesting field is unique in its own special way. For each field, it is helpful to understand why it is unique if you wish to truly excel, or you may bring inappropriate concepts from other domains in, or export inappropriate programming concepts to other domains. I say that programming has several unique aspects and that these aspects are worth thinking about, but this does not mean that programming is privileged somehow.

In fact, that would be a very bad attitude to have since the very purpose of a professional programmer is to serve somebody else, and service workers don't succeed with a holier-than-thou attitude.

This chapter is intended both to combat the perception I have seen that programming is somehow equivalent to some other task, prompting bad suggestions and in the worst cases bad decisions, and to explicitly call out the things that are special about programming to encourage people to think clearly about them. None of this takes away from the specialness or uniqueness of anything else.

There is a delicate balance to be had here. There are powerful underlying similarities shared by many disciplines, but everything is also unique. Ideal skill development can only be had both truths are correctly balanced, when you learn how to correctly leverage your past experiences while at the same time seeing how the new task is different.

(This work is of course about programming because a programmer is what I am. I am not qualified to write Baseball Wisdom or Accounting Wisdom, presuming I'm even qualified to write Programming Wisdom. In a way, nobody ever really is, but it's better that somebody try.)


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