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:
- Zealous, subjective belief in the purity test itself.
- 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.