The most useless knowledge of all

There are things a programmer needs to know, no excuses. There are things you can’t possibly all remember, so it’s fine to look them up when needed. There is the business domain the software touches on that you need to know. And then there’s knowing how to grapple with quirks that come from not doing things in a standard way; the most useless knowledge of all.

Throughout history humans have developed skills and then invented tools to perfect the execution of those skills. A lathe can make cuts straighter than any skilled carpenter could make with a hand saw but it doesn’t replace the carpenter. Meanwhile other innovations have made entire professions obsolete through competing technologies. The centuries-old craft of typesetting has been effectively killed off by word processing and laser printers; not by a typesetting robot. Mind you that the difficulty of mastering a craft says little about its likelihood to be mechanised into oblivion: there’s still plenty of vacancies for human dishwashers. Continue reading “The most useless knowledge of all”

Your right biceps is fine. How about the other arm?

My mother was a keen amateur tennis player in her younger years, so watching the Wimbledon finals on tv was a recurring summer fixture. Not caring much for the game myself, my inquisitive but naïve mind wondered why these top players didn’t have more pronounced muscles on the arm that swings the racket. Isn’t tennis all about hitting a ball very hard? Disclaimer: I was ten years old. Continue reading “Your right biceps is fine. How about the other arm?”

There’s no such thing as generic software. My two cents on the Dutch Inland Revenue

In a recent series of four articles Dutch national newspaper de Volkskrant gave a fascinating and unsettling account of the Dutch Inland Revenue (belastingdienst). This has apparently plumbed such depths of disorganisation that the tax collection process itself is in jeopardy. No tax revenues means no oxygen to keep the public sector rolling. Only the most rabid or naive of libertarians would not be horrified by such a prospect. Of course I was most interested in the faltering IT landscape with its six hundred different applications, the actively endorsed exodus of mature IT staff with their in-depth domain knowledge, the glaring cultural divide between generations of developers and the equally large unwillingness to bridge the chasm. Continue reading “There’s no such thing as generic software. My two cents on the Dutch Inland Revenue”

IaaS: automation until there’s nothing left to do

Yesterday I attended a meetup by Marcel Birkner and Dennis Schulte from codecentric Germany about everything cool in the buzzing arena of infrastructure as a service (IaaS). They were all there: Terraform, Ansible, Vagrant and of course Docker. I myself, a mere builder of functionality, marvelled at how virtualisation has changed our profession. The only physical machine you’re likely to see or even care about is your laptop workhorse. All services that a team needs to be productive (continuous integration, source control, artefact repository) is conjured up by just running a script. Continue reading “IaaS: automation until there’s nothing left to do”

The hood is still welded shut

I am very happy with my new iPhone SE, but there’s every reason not to be. Recently the Atlantic published the ominously titled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a generation?” The short answer: it sure looks like it.
Even as a childless Gen X’er it doesn’t take me much imagination to appreciate that for today’s teenagers a life without their smartphones is as unthinkable as one without running water. But aren’t we losing a sense of proportion? Running water and sewage systems have kept our cities free from cholera while Apple and Samsung give rise to new and unintended epidemics: all this ceaseless staring at your screens leads to upper back trouble, sleep deprivation, depression and a reduced interest in social and sexual relations. Conservative forces won’t see much wrong with the last one, I can imagine. Continue reading “The hood is still welded shut”