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

James Cortada jcortada at umn.edu
Mon May 11 13:54:19 PDT 2020


And while we are staring at your email, congratulations on your "new book"
and for your "Less-new book."  It's great to see productive work.  Jim

On Mon, May 11, 2020 at 3:42 PM christina dunbar-hester <
c.dunbarhester at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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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>> _______________________________________________
>>
>> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion
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>>
>> _______________________________________________
>> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion
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>> This email is relayed from members at sigcis.org, the email discussion
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>
> _______________________________________________
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-- 
James W. Cortada
Senior Research Fellow
Charles Babbage Institute
University of Minnesota
jcortada at umn.edu
608-274-6382
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