Programmers are the foot soldiers in the technology wars: the closer you get to the big-money decisions in the corner office, the less people actually care about code and coders: get the business priorities right, the thinking goes, and then worry about making the technology happen. I actually have some sympathy with that thinking. But there are a lot of programmers and they make a lot of everyday decisions: do these add up enough to make them important influencers of technology success?

The Table · In this table, an entry gets a ten if it’s the kind of thing that programmers fiddle around with at home in the evenings just because it’s cool; a zero means that Directives From On High are passively or even actively resisted.

Winnersscore Losersscore
Unix/C 10 4GL 0
Open Source 10 AI 5
PC Client 7 VRML 5
WWW 5 iTV 2
Java 10 Ada 0

Discussion · Unix/C, Open Source, and Java really stand out from the pack here. I did my first work on a Unix (V6, PDP 11/34) in 1979, fell in love, and never really fell out again. For the next fifteen years or so, I got used to being told that Unix wasn’t industrial-strength, it wasn’t strategic, it wasn’t where IBM was going, it wasn’t where Microsoft was going, and so on and so on. At the same time, the programmers kept bringing it in the back door and quietly using it for more and more stuff. Open Source and Unix/C are obviously closely related. Java not only inherited a lot of C sensibility but got a lot of the O-O things right, and programmers empirically like anything Object-Oriented. This was enough to get Java over its lousy early implementations and preposterous positioning as a competitor to animated GIFs.

As for the rest: programmers go along with SQL but few really love it; they liked the PC Client because of the responsiveness even as they groused about the primitive OS and kludgy hardware. The WWW took much of the community with it, but many others missed (and still miss) the rich UIs you used to be able to build when free of HTML’s shackles.

XML, on the other hand, while incredibly useful, remains kind of awkward to work with, and most programmers wouldn’t call it fun.

Conclusion · It’s pretty clear that a population of happy programmers is a useful predictor of technology success. It’s not a surefire bet; there are false positives (OODBMS) and negatives (XML). But in general I think prognosticators ought to pay more attention to programmers.

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
January 12, 2004
· Technology (87 fragments)
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