[SIGCIS-Members] Programmer vs. coder vs. sofware developer vs. software engineer

christina dunbar-hester c.dunbarhester at gmail.com
Mon May 11 13:41:41 PDT 2020


Little late here, just catching up on listserv emails. I'd add Sareeta
Amrute's book Encoding Race, Encoding Class to the discussion of labels,
work "content", and status; her site is migrant coding/programming labor in
Germany, productively fitting these topics into global political economy.

**
Christina Dunbar-Hester
New book! *Hacking Diversity*
<https://press.princeton.edu/titles/14235.html>, Princeton U. Press
& less-new book *Low Power to the People*
<http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/low-power-people>, MIT Press


On Tue, May 5, 2020 at 2:33 PM Mar Hicks <mhicks1 at iit.edu> wrote:

> Hi Bill (and all),
>
> Chiming in here to agree with Janet’s and Nathan’s assessments and to
> mention that I also discuss this in my book, Programmed Inequality. In that
> case, job titles for programmers and computer workers were incredibly
> important for fixing the price of labor even when people were doing the
> same work (but had different titles assigned to them). This continues into
> the present (as many of my interviewees and friends who work as developers
> have described to me). In addition to the categories already mentioned,
> national origin and immigration status come into play in US software
> development labor hierarchies today.
>
> Additional books that may help connect more dots re: naming and prestige
> consolidation in tech, and how that relates to where we are today, include:
> Kate Losse’s The Boy Kings, Charlton McIlwain’s Black Software, Margot
> Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, and Joy Rankin’s A People’s History of
> Computing, in addition to the key works already mentioned by others. I’m
> sure that there are important ones I’m missing at the moment as
> well—hopefully others will chime in.
>
> Best,
>
> Mar
> ______________________
> Mar Hicks
> Associate Professor
> History of Technology
> Illinois Institute of Technology
> Chicago, IL USA
> mhicks1 at iit.edu | marhicks.com | @histoftech
> <http://twitter.com/histoftech>
> *Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost
> Its Edge in Computing*
> www.programmedinequality.com
>
> On May 5, 2020, at 4:06 PM, McMillan, William W <william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu>
> wrote:
>
> Janet, you state it eloquently: "the names in use were laden with
> questionable assumptions about the nature of the work, and that titles were
> often chosen for strategic purposes rather than as a straightforward
> description of the work and its level of skill and responsibility."
>
> Very true today.
>
> RE "software engineering": that can imply a technocentric approach, but
> the best definitions of SE are much more than that. Even better than the
> ACM/IEEE SE curriculum (in which I had a small part), I think the best de
> facto definition of the field is Ian Sommerville's _Software Engineering_,
> a text I used in my teaching career from the first edition to about the
> 10th.  There is a lot about UI design, requirements analysis, and many
> other topics computer scientists might consider marginal.... even
> socio-technical concerns.
>
> - Bill
>
> ________________________________________
> From: Janet Abbate [abbate at vt.edu]
> Sent: Tuesday, May 05, 2020 4:29 PM
> To: McMillan, William W
> Cc: members at sigcis.org
> Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Programmer vs. coder vs. sofware developer
> vs. software engineer
>
> Hi Bill,
>
> I have a chapter that deals with these issues in my book Recoding Gender
> (the “software crisis” chapter). Basically I argue that all the names in
> use were laden with questionable assumptions about the nature of the work,
> and that titles were often chosen for strategic purposes rather than as a
> straightforward description of the work and its level of skill and
> responsibility. In addition to “coder," one of the other early job titles
> was “mathematician,” which has very different connotations for the same
> work. Grace Hopper described her employers as inventing a title for her
> that would be impressive enough to fit the salary she was earning. I
> actually had the same experience back in my programming days; my boss told
> me I would get the title "Programmer/Analyst" to match my salary, not
> because I was suddenly going to be doing “analysis.” I’m particularly
> skeptical about the term “software engineer”: while it does emphasize some
> important skills in terms of collaborative processes and quality control,
> it also devalues some important skills involving understanding the user’s
> requirements and working with them (and of course there is a gender
> dimension to this). And as you note, the term has become almost generic
> nowadays.
>
> I do agree with you that the issues of training, competence and
> responsibility are important ones to raise. I’m just not convinecd that
> it’s necessary or even possible to link those reliably with job titles for
> programmers.
>
> The reason for the resurgence of “coder” for high-end programming jobs is
> an interesting question. I wonder if it’s a deliberate and ironic
> downgrading, like wearing a hoodie to work instead of an IBM-style suit? A
> sort of “we don’t need status symbols” statement?
>
> best regards,
> Janet
>
> Dr. Janet Abbate
> Professor, Science, Technology and Society
> Virginia Tech
> Co-director, VT National Capital Region STS program
> liberalarts.vt.edu/sts
> www.facebook.com/VirginiaTechSTS
> https://sites.google.com/vt.edu/stsconnect/
>
> On May 5, 2020, at 3:50 PM, McMillan, William W <william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu>
> wrote:
>
>
> Thanks to those who sent suggestions for background info on this topic!
>
>
> My own interest in the history of computing is really more about
> understanding the present, and my concern about the use and misuse of
> professional titles, though informed by history, leads to questions such as:
>
>
> - Why do we call programmers and software developers coders nowadays, when
> that term has long been used to label those with quite limited intellectual
> involvement in software development, and even considered to be carrying out
> a clerical task (as explained well in Nathan's book)?
>
>
> - Why do we apply the term software engineer to those who can program, but
> who really know very little about software engineering in the broader sense?
>
>
> To me this suggests that our society, and the enterprises that create the
> software we use, have extremely limited understanding of software
> development and what it entails. This is a failure of those of us who teach
> computing and software engineering and maybe of professional societies.
>
>
> The risks to society are immense. Imagine if a machinist or even a
> self-taught tinkerer could adopt the title mechanical engineer at will and
> be tasked with designing the critical devices of our civilization. Or if
> anyone with some knowledge of biochemistry could serve as a pharmacist?
>
>
> Maybe SIGCIS members don't believe that this topic belongs on this list,
> but I feel that historians might be better positioned to address it than
> many in the technical and commercial communities who are consumed by
> immediate demands, and who have very limited understanding of their
> profession's past.
>
>
> OK, end of rant!
>
>
> Thanks,
>
> Bill
>
>
> ________________________________________
>
> From: Members [members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org] on behalf of McMillan,
> William W [william.mcmillan at cuaa.edu]
>
> Sent: Monday, May 04, 2020 11:28 AM
>
> To: members at sigcis.org
>
> Subject: [SIGCIS-Members] Programmer vs. coder vs. sofware developer vs.
> software engineer
>
>
> Hello, SIGCIS folks.
>
>
> The ruminations below might have little scholarly importance, but I think
> the subject is interesting at least in regard to the culture of computing.
>
>
> What do we call people who design and implement computer programs?
>
>
> Nowadays, the term coder is used, maybe most often. My understanding is
> that this used to refer to the job of translating a detailed flow chart,
> which was created by a programmer, into an implementation language. I.e.,
> the coder was sort of like a human compiler who translated a detailed
> algorithm into a computer language like Fortran, Cobol, or assembly
> language. The coder didn't design algorithms.
>
>
> Later, the coder dropped out of the loop and a programmer implemented
> algorithms directly in a computer language (possibly after creating a flow
> chart or pseudo-code).
>
>
> The term software developer has been used, possibly implying that the job
> is broader than just programming, including gathering requirements,
> testing, and integration with existing systems.
>
>
> Starting in the late 1960s, the title software engineer became common. At
> least initially, this implied a very broad scope, as well as specialized
> training in requirements analysis, system design, programming style,
> verification and validation, risk assessment, maintenance techniques, UI
> design, and other aspects of software development. I believe that Texas
> even licenses professional engineers in software engineering, and a
> detailed curriculum has been defined:
>
> https://www.acm.org/binaries/content/assets/education/se2014.pdf
>
>
> The title software engineer implied that the person at least had a solid
> university course specifically in software engineering, as well as a good
> foundation in computer science or information systems.
>
>
> The term systems analyst sometimes implies a similar role, though it might
> mean something more akin to requirements analysis.
>
>
> Currently, anyone who writes computer programs might identify as a
> software engineer, even if he or she has no background beyond computer
> programming. Companies use the title willy-nilly. This inflates the
> prestige of the job, I suppose.
>
>
> At the same time, we call developers coders, which to me sounds like it
> deflates prestige.
>
>
> What professionals call themselves does matter. If a medical assistant
> calls himself a physician, the risks are obvious. If a physician (true
> software engineer) calls herself a technician (coder), then at least
> confusion results. Of course governments regulate the use of job titles in
> medical professions, while software development as it exists today is very
> libertarian.
>
>
> Has there been much consideration of the common use of job titles in the
> history of computing? Certainly there's been a lot of work in the history
> of software engineering, programming, systems analysis, etc., but I'm
> asking about the use and misuse of job titles by individuals and
> organizations.
>
>
> Thanks.
>
> Bill
>
>
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