The Metaprogrammer September 6th, 2016

A sea of MacBooks

There are some topics which, if posted onto a forum or news site, cause programmers to spew out more blather than all the rest put together. Such topics include:

You post an article about a new programming language, you'll get 10 replies. But start a discussion on what headphones you wear while you work, and ten-thousand people will rise up from nowhere, pushing the thread ever-skywards on a tower of upvotes. These things are not programming, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they'll get the most programmer attention every time they come up. Therefore we can suppose that this must be metaprogramming. You might have thought that metaprogramming meant macros, type introspection, that kind of thing. Nope, I'm hijacking the word for today:

(verb.) The act of talking about programming, rather than doing any actual programming.

Perhaps like the screenwriter who can only write if they are seen to be writing whilst in Starbucks, the metaprogrammer is concerned more with the appearance of work than the work itself. It's a kind of Schrödinger's Programmer - only by observing the programmer can we collapse the wave function. If the programmer is not seen, does he really even exist? Does an unwatched programmer begin to fade away like the Cheshire Cat, until all that remains is the fedora?

A coder I know (whom I won't name) once said that he would only ever consider someone to be a good programmer if they had a twitch livestream about programming. As if a programmer who isn't visibly metaprogramming on live TV can't even be considered to be competent. They sure have some exciting ideas for streaming entertainment nowadays: "Come see the wonderous optimizing! Watch live as he waits for Visual Studio to load!"

The metaprogrammer needs to be pampered. If they don't have the shiniest Apple MacBook then they can't work. Never mind that their job involves typing letters into a text file, something you could have done on CP/M back in '78. Gotta have that 40" monitor, it's essential, can't work without it. To insult a new hire by providing only a single 4:3 monitor? I can't work like this. This keyboard doesn't even have any OLED keycaps on it. This is an outrage.

Maybe it's just an insecurity, and they need these things to feel better about the work. Much like a comfort blanket perhaps, or a little desk toy they keep on their workstation. Can't program without it, it helps me think. There's another one -- "workstation". No, I couldn't possibly use something as pedestrian as a "computer", I need a workstation dammit. With chrome plating and fuel injection.

If you want to run a startup today, you gotta have a cafe. That's the perk people want above all else. Ask people why they want to work at Google, they won't talk of their desires to work on world-changing projects, or the opportunity to apply cutting-edge tech. No, they'll say "because of the free food!". The perks, my friend. The perks are everything. No-one cares about what you do there, but whether you get a free massage, or bagels supplied every morning like manna from heaven.

I've seen people almost come to blows over who gets the Aeron chair. I've seen artists who demand the luxurious corner office, with the luxurious view, and then put paper over the windows to stop the light coming in. I've seen companies buy MacBook laptops for every employee, even though they're never taken away from the desks.

Some of the best programmers I've ever worked with don't have twitter accounts. It's almost unthinkable, isn't it? How can they possibly be one of the top programmers in the world, building the most successful projects out there, without being seen to be doing it? You can write beautiful code, the best code in the world, but it doesn't mean a damn today if you didn't blog about your new standing desk.

When did the messenger become more important than the message?

Written by Richard Mitton,

software engineer and travelling wizard.

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