Useless ranting

I’m a bit burned out on discussing anime topics. So instead the Mythical Readers will be treated to something else I’m burned out about.


It’s not what you think. I’m not tired of the Apple vs. Microsoft vs. Android smartphone wars. I’m not tired of the Nintendo vs. Microsoft vs. Sony game console wars. I’m not tired of…

Actually, come to think of it, I actually AM tired of all that. But that is not what I want to blather on about in this particular post. Because those, you see, are user concerns.

I’m a programmer.

Although, I must admit in the interest of honesty, I do precious little programming these days. You’ll learn more details about that, I’m afraid, in the oncoming ranting.

I went into computers as my profession for two reasons: one, I can think like a computer operates, and two, I don’t like people. Neither of these reasons is applicable to my actual career these days. I shall proceed to pontificate upon the reasons why, so it’s probably best if you hit that back button now, ere your brain die a bit more.

Still here? You little masochist, you.

I attended college in the middle of the 1980s. Back then, computers were… more basic. (Puns are always intended here; fair warning.) The first part of building any program that was non-trivial was figuring out the best data structure to handle the various tasks that you were trying to accomplish. Things like linked lists, arrays, maybe even hash tables. To use the analogy of building a house, it was like deciding which trees to cut down to acquire the wood you’d use to build the structure. It was a kind of architecture, albeit a virtual one, and this appealed to me greatly.

Why? Probably because I’m the son of a carpenter.

Now, my father always intended that I go to college. He didn’t want me to be stuck doing physical labor as he was. (So instead I sit at a desk all day and get fatter.) It was a simple known fact throughout my childhood that I would go to college. My sisters could go to college, but I would. Fortunately, I didn’t mind this, so it wasn’t a problem.

But while he didn’t want me to do physical tasks for my livelihood, he did want me to know how to do such things. Hence for the garage we added to our house, I helped dig the footings, put up the forms for the concrete, shovel gravel, nail the frame, hang the siding, pull the electrical wiring. When I was twelve.

That wasn’t a big deal; when I was eight, I was helping build our back porch, which entailed digging really deep footers, mixing the concrete, hauling the brick, etc.

This isn’t an aside. The point is, I learned to build things. And while I didn’t necessarily want to have to do that work, I did learn a bit of the satisfaction of being able to stand there when you’re done, look at it, and think, “I built that”. And then actually use what you’ve built.

The early days of computers were like that for me. Sure it was just executed code on a CPU, but in a virtual way, I was building things. Plus, I was good at thinking the way the computer would execute code, which is why my favorite language was always C. Also why I would (during the first part of my career) find myself often in the role of troubleshooter, because I could figure out what the computer was doing, rather than what someone wanted it to do.

Those days are gone. Because programmers don’t build things anymore.

All the components of a program have already been built. They’re all encapsulated in standard libraries, which are encapsulated in standard controls, which are encapsulated in standard widgets and standard interfaces. Layer upon layer of abstraction, until today a programmer hasn’t got the faintest fucking clue as to what the computer is really doing. Which means when something at some lower level goes wrong, today’s programmers are fucked. Not only don’t they not know how to troubleshoot it, not only don’t they not know how to fix it, they couldn’t fix it if they did know. They don’t have access to that code.

In house building terms, the layers of abstraction are like no longer building a house starting from the 2×4’s up, but by pulling your truck up to the back of the house factory, them putting a nearly complete house in your truck, and you drive it to where you want it and just plop it down. Oh, but don’t worry; you can pick the color on the shingles and decide if the mailbox goes on the left or right side.

The stuff that I found the most fun — the interesting stuff — is no longer part of programming today. That’s already pre-built. All that’s left for the “programmer” is the bells and whistles.

Which is why when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped from actual coding to database design. At least here was a structure to be built, and added to, and maintained.

Until the place I work decided to leapfrog from their old technology to the newer shiny stuff, by bringing in vendors to replace everything we had with their new vendor stuff.

So my job now is to keep the old stuff working until the new stuff is in place, and assist in moving data from old to new. Which is like being told to keep a house that’s slowly falling into ruin patched up just enough to give the occupants time to move all their stuff out.

Which is fine, really. My work place needed to do this massive shift, even I can see that. That it affects me in mostly negative ways isn’t a personal thing. I get it.

But, by the gods, is my job boring now. I really just don’t care about it anymore. I wouldn’t say I’m phoning it in, because I’m actually using a Cub Scout troop to send it in via semaphore flags.

I haven’t been regulated to the corner to rot and die. Oh no, I’ll be somewhat involved in the new stuff. Which is already built by the vendor. And will be modified for our requirements by the vendor. While we tell them what we need done, and watch while they do it.

So I’ve been abstracted away from doing anything at all, really. Except sit in rooms full of people and talk about what someone else will do.

Did I mention the “I don’t like people” thing?

So not only don’t I really do much these days, I do it in hell.

There are folks who still use and love their Amiga computers. Their Apple ][e. Their Atari ST. I would never do that, myself… but I understand. Damn, do I understand.