DaedTech

Stories about Software

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Don’t Let Anyone Tell You that You’re Not a ‘Real’ Programmer

Apologies for my absence last week from the tech pundit-o-sphere.  I was, well, what I mostly am these days: busy.  But today, I’m back with a premise that sounds suspiciously motivational-speakery.

Don’t worry, though, realpolitik fans.  It’s not that.  Not exactly.

Sure, don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t a ‘real’ programmer because (1) that’s a crappy thing to say and (2) because you’re awesome and all of that.  But I’ll leave those lines of argument to others.  Instead, I’m going to talk about why letting this nonsense into your head is bad for your career and your positioning.

The No True Scotsman Fallacy

First, though, let’s wander down to the anthropology dime store and categorize what we’re dealing with here.  When someone tells you, for whatever reason, that you’re not a ‘real’ programmer, they’re most likely indulging in something called the “no true Scotsman” fallacy.

The gist of this is to create a subjective, moving-goal-posts purity test for membership in some club.  And people generally do this as a direct follow-up to painting with too broad a brush and having  someone subsequently call them on it.  For instance, here’s the eponymous example, quoted from the Wiki article:

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person B: “But my uncle Angus is a Scotsman and he puts sugar on his porridge.”
Person A: “But no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

In my personal experience with purveyors of this fallacy, I generally see two principle motivations, often intermixed:

  1. Zealous, subjective belief in the purity test itself.
  2. Having made a strident claim before really thinking it through, accompanied by a personal tendency never to back down afterward.  (Sound familiar?)

Now, take a dash of this part of human nature, mix it into a heaping bowl of the internet, bake it in the oven for 20 years, and get ready to enjoy a bottomless casserole of “why you’re never good enough.”

The Many Flavors of ‘Not-Real’ Programmers

By now, you might find yourself nodding along, imagining programming-oriented statements like this.  Maybe people have painted you with a brush like this, or maybe you’ve just seen them do it to others.

  • No real programmer works heavily with CSS and markup.
  • Real programmers use the command line — not user interfaces.
  • In 2019 you’re not a real programmer if you’re using anything but git.
  • No real programmers just use their IDE out of the box, without customizing it.  (Also, bonus for, “real programmers use VIM and not IDEs.”)

I imagine these statements sound quite familiar.  There sure are a lot of armchair arbiters of ‘real’ programming, aren’t there?

So, having defined what this is and given examples of how to recognize it, I’d like to spend the rest of the post talking about why this type of seemingly-minor bloviating is actually insidiously pernicious for those exposed to it.

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To Find a Niche, Learn Why Your Company Pays Your Salary

My belief in picking a niche for yourself becomes obvious to anyone who reads more than a post or two here.  I’ve written too many posts about it to list, and I talk about it on my Youtube channel these days.

But today, I’d like to reference a couple of specific posts where I talk about this in order to flesh out a concept.  Here are those posts.

  1. Just under 2 years ago, I wrote a post about how you could pick a specialty with the help of your resume.  My advice was to look at the “key accomplishments” sections and start brainstorming with those.
  2. Earlier this year, I wrote a post about picking a niche.  And, in that post, I distinguished between generalizing, specializing, and niching.  Specializing involves looking at your own skill set, picking something you like, and hoping people want to pay for it.  Niching involves looking at needs that others have and filling those needs.

Here’s the gist of what I want to talk about today.  2 years ago, I gave advice that would indeed help you pick a specialty.

But, I actually think that it’s, at best, locally maximizing advice to help you pick a niche.  So I’d like to course correct a bit with my advice to the countless people that ask me for help finding a niche.

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Celebrating Software as a Tactic, Not a Profession

As you may recall, a few weeks back, I offered the hypothesis that software is a business tactic, rather than a profession.  My main purpose in writing that post was to level set a bit with my desired direction for the blog, leaning toward an increase emphasis on reader questions.  And, you all immediately obliged, so thanks for that!

So, I’ll start by responding to people’s questions/reactions to that post, both in comments and through other media.  The follow-up questions/thoughts that I’ll address fall largely into 2 buckets:

  1. How do you reconcile “software as a business tactic” with “software as an end,” particularly an aesthetic one, such as with video games?
  2. Maybe software is a business tactic and isn’t currently a profession, but why shouldn’t it be?

Number (1) is easier and chronologically first, so let’s do that.

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Those Who Can’t, Sell Tutorials on How You Can

I have a vision for what I want DaedTech (and myself) never to be.  I never want to have the “I made it, and so can you by following these [N] easy steps!” vibe, in any way.  If you ever catch me doing that, please gather with your pitchforks and storm my gate.

Here’s the thing.  Success is hard, specific, and custom to your own context.  But a lot of people don’t let that stop them from hawking it in $99 info products.

Fake It ’til You Make It… as an Expert?

I’m about to describe what I think of as an anti-pattern in the knowledge economy.  You’ve probably experienced this at least subconsciously, if you haven’t yet learned to actively recognize it.

This crystallized in my head recently when I signed up for something called “The Dynamite Circle” (it’s a community for established digital nomad-leaning entrepreneurs).  I was poking around and noticed this blog post, with a couple of great turns of phrase.

In describing a pre-quit-your-job, would-be lifestyle designer, they said:

You are buying products from blogs that make a little money on how to make a little money with your blog.

That produced almost a spit take from me, because I can picture this exact thing.  And so, probably, can you.  It has:

  • An oversize photo of the site proprietor smiling maniacally
  • Some polished-but-somehow-budget graphics
  • The typical “hero journey” landing page layout
  • And assurances that you, too, can make money through affiliate marketing, quit your job, and earn passively on a beach in Bali.

But, if you dig into any of the public metrics around the site, you see that it’s getting very little traffic.  What you’ve really got here is someone writing blog posts from a cubicle on their lunch break about how you can follow their lead to a beach in Bali.

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Software Development is a Business Tactic, Not a Profession

Any regular followers of DaedTech may have noticed that I’ve dropped off the map of late with new content.  Now, before I go any further, please understand that I’m not petering out with content, holistically.

I think you’ll pry my (metaphorical) pen from my cold dead hands.  I can’t not write.

But the break here is semi-intentional.  I say “semi”, because it started with me not having time to post one week, and then realizing that I wasn’t overly excited about any of the content I was queuing up.  This led to an unannounced decision to take some time off and gather my thoughts about what I want to address on this blog.

Don’t worry.

I’ll get to a justification of my premise that software development isn’t a profession.  But that operating thesis is fundamentally inextricable from my background and my current wrestling with topics.

A Brief History of DaedTech

I won’t make this section a long, self-indulgent tour of my life.  Rather, here’s a quick-hitter history of how the subject matter here has evolved on this blog over the last decade.

  • Early-DaedTech: I was a line level programmer (mostly .NET).  So I wrote about .NET programming topics, office politics, and general programmer life.
  • Mid-DaedTech: I was in leadership and starting to side hustle.  Here, I trained .NET/Java devs, so those topics remained, but topics about business/leadership/hustle started to displace them.
  • Recent-DaedTech: I was an IT Management Consultant.  At this point, granular tech topics dropped off the map, and everything started to be about free agency, career, and hustling.

Which brings me to today.

The Topical Conundrum

Whether I’ve written with some broader purpose in mind, or just written about whatever strikes my fancy, I’ve always drawn topic inspiration from my day-to-day work.  And this made for relevant content in the tech world, since my journey was IC software developer –> IT leader –> (software) strategy consultant.

But as what I’m doing is increasingly about running a growing business and marketing, a gulf is emerging.  Certainly, readership of this blog has evolved over the years, with those most interested in my early .NET unit testing how-tos dropping off, and more folks interested in freelancing stopping by.  But I now face an interesting conundrum.

  • I could start to write about the trials and travails of being an executive at a growing, tech-facing marketing business.  But this would probably create a complete audience overhaul, and, l like writing about the software world.
  • Or, I could keep writing about the things I wrote about as a software developer/leader/trainer.  But the day to day of that recedes further in my rearview mirror all the time.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I still write code and have opinions about software.  I still occasionally consult on codebase assessments.  I’m not worried that I’ll become technically illiterate or something.

What I’m worried about is writing about the industry more as an antiseptic observer than as a participant.  I’m worried that an increasing number of posts I might write would invite declarations of “easy for you to say!”

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