Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The dangers of monocultural programmers 

via Joel on Software . . . What are the cultural differences between Unix and Windows programmers? There are many details and subtleties, but for the most part it comes down to one thing: Unix culture values code which is useful to other programmers, while Windows culture values code which is useful to non-programmers. This is, of course, a major simplification, but really, that's the big difference: are we programming for programmers or end users? Everything else is commentary. . . . Suppose you take a Unix programmer and a Windows programmer and give them each the task of creating the same end-user application. The Unix programmer will create a command-line or text-driven core and occasionally, as an afterthought, build a GUI which drives that core. This way the main operations of the application will be available to other programmers who can invoke the program on the command line and read the results as text. The Windows programmer will tend to start with a GUI, and occasionally, as an afterthought, add a scripting language which can automate the operation of the GUI interface. . . . There are too many monocultural programmers who, like the typical American kid who never left St. Paul, Minnesota, can't quite tell the difference between a cultural value and a core human value. I've encountered too many Unix programmers who sneer at Windows programming, thinking that Windows is heathen and stupid. Raymond all too frequently falls into the trap of disparaging the values of other cultures without considering where they came from. . . . The very fact that the Unix world is so full of self-righteous cultural superiority. . . stems from a culture that feels itself under siege, unable to break out of the server closet and hobbyist market and onto the mainstream desktop. This haughtiness-from-a-position-of-weakness is the biggest flaw of The Art of UNIX Programming, but it's not really a big flaw: on the whole, the book is so full of incredibly interesting insight into so many aspects of programming that I'm willing to hold my nose during the rare smelly ideological rants because there's so much to learn about universal ideals from the rest of the book. Indeed I would recommend this book to developers of any culture in any platform with any goals, because so many of the values which it trumpets are universal. See also The dangers of Gender Monoculture Quantitative and Qualitative Change

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