Monday, October 4, 2010

Real Programmers Don't Do Conferences

Real programmers, that bombastic breed of half-commando, half-superhero, half-パラサイトシングル midnight gangster with the virtual girlfriend and real-life it's-complicated sex partner. You know who you are. Down in the trenches, in the server room, in a windowless office at 3am barreling through the third batch of espresso made with Water Joe debugging a 450,000 line monstrosity that mankind has no business investigating. You with the sunken eyes, the perpetual off-in-the-distance stare, the kind of look that makes you know a conversation is only ever half-listened to. The face that says, I'm thinking of something else more important right now and the Real World is bothering me with its compromises and opaqueness and lack of su privileges.

You know these types, these Bamboccioni, if you know anything about programming. You may have been one. You may even be one. But we all can appreciate who they are. At the end of the day, they're the ones that actually make our computers do something useful.

I can tell you one place you won't see these people. At an IT convention. Sure, they may drift around Black Hat once every leap year, or they may tag along as a sacrificial lamb for some marketing department drone who's too busy practicing his O-Face to learn how to demo Great Incredible Enterprise Collaboration Tool 2.0. But they don't make up much of a convention and they sure as hell don't have the social skills to stand up in front of a group of people without puking and later going Columbine from the aftershock. They fear crowds, know others primarily by their IRC handles, and generally despise other members of the human race.

Now I know what you're going to say. What about Linus? Gosling? RMS? insert your favorite tech god here. I don't dispute that they may have once been Real Programmers, perhaps they were. But they aren't now. Now, they are prophets. Too busy teaching and preaching to listen to the winds in the wilderness. Once cannot be both a contemplative monk and a rock-jock conference deity pulling down $3m a year, plus endorsements. The Church has its Regular and its Secular, and spouting off at IT conferences is most definitely in the Secular camp. Sorry brother, but you've traded your desert-worn camel skins for the finest silks of the Vatican.

Next you'll retort, wait a minute pal, I'm not some conference VIP, I'm a Real Programmer and I go to conferences all the time to network, to meet other coders, to ride the bleeding edge. Yes, you may program, I don't deny that. But you're not a Real Programmer. You're networking? Real Programmers do that online, faster, better, and cheaper than you could ever do bringing people to one physical location. You want to meet other coders? Real Programmers don't meet people, they meet programs, they meet source code, they meet chat windows that may or may not be friends or federal agents. You want to ride the bleeding edge? In the time it's taken you to sign up for a nametag, you've already been passed up by the blokes coding at that very instant.

So who's going to conferences, if not Real Programmers? I'll tell you who. Salesmen. People with something to sell. Maybe they're selling their brand, like a marketing agent. Maybe they're selling their product, and trying to get you to sign on the bottom line. Maybe they're selling their framework, their methodology, their startup. Maybe they're selling consulting time. Maybe they're selling their waking hours, trying to find a better job. Maybe they just want an employer-sponsored trip to Vegas. I don't know. But what I do know is, they're not programming, at least not spending the bulk of their time programming. That's being done by the guy without the expense budget.

So enjoy your cocktail shrimp, your hotel mints and model-presented game preview. Nothing wrong with that, it takes all kinds to make the world go round. But don't pretend you're a Real Programmer.


  1. 6 months ago, I would have agreed whole heartedley. Now I've small reservations. I think you'll find some real programmers at a conference trying to either:

    - find a better job
    - sell some code they've made

    Maybe other reasons. Online networking is powerful but doesn't replace face to face, at least not for the people the programmers need to deal with.

    Plus, face to face talking is still more efficient for many conversations.

  2. There is a flip side to this, which is as you hinted the most efficient collaboration method is in person.

  3. still... u need to share ideas to not get stuck with the same technology and mindset... when was your last conference dude?

  4. p.s. I've been not one eve at home since I'm in Berlin...

  5. Drop the "Real Programmer" semantics. You can make your point without bashing those of us who are trying to be among the best and most useful programmers on the planet without becoming zombies. Being completely imbalanced does not make someone "real", it makes him less than human.

    I'm 33 and I just joined a gym for the first time in half a decade and bought a musical instrument. I still plan on world domination via a keyboard.

  6. By the way, I've longed to go to MIX and PDC for years, solely for the purposes of meeting other developers and delving deep into highly technical--and high quantity--educational sessions about technology and critical changes being made in the tools I use as a programmer.

  7. Dear Arley,

    You're like the Glenn Beck of the IT world. Rock on, Brother! (err... not that I'm a fan of Glenn Beck. But still, rock on...)

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