Nasty computer scientists (again)

Autism spectrum
Autism spectrum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My gut feeling is that we are about to see another “internet bubble” burst: money has again flooded in to the development community (partly because in a recessionary environment cash is being hoarded just about everywhere else), skilled staff are in short supply and a massive IPO (Facebook) is about to happen, which will only, if temporarily, increase the frenzy.

With the bubble along come the nasties – or as one of them apparently refers to himself the “No Talent Ass-Clowns”. The person concerned, one Matt Van Horn, has probably taken enough flak for his immature and ridiculous behaviour, so I won’t focus on him, but on the more general issue of why so many poorly adjusted and socialised males are attracted to computing? (It’s for others to judge if I fall into either group here, but I think I can at least be allowed to get away with regarding myself as higher functioning if they do.)

Perhaps it is partly some self-selecting autism spectrum thing (computers do what you tell them without the burden of emotional interaction), but I also have to pin a lot of the blame on the promotion of the “hacker culture” by its high priests – whether in the Orthodox Branch – or the Reformed Wing.

Neither RMS nor ESR are particularly attractive characters, whatever their technical or marketing skills may be, so holding them up as the great paragons of the computer revolution is almost certainly counter-productive.

Eric Raymond on “how to become a hacker”

Eric S. Raymond, taken on 3-June-2005 at FISL ...
Image via Wikipedia

I am about to stick a citation for Eric S. Raymond‘s The Art of Unix Programming into my MSc. project report.

I don’t think the book is a particularly good one, much of it is at the level of mumbo-jumbo to be frank, but it does make a few telling points about the Unix style of development: points which did influence me in the way I wrote software for the first part of the project.

But on the way there I also picked up my copy of his The Cathedral & the Bazaar and took a quick flick through it – it must be the best part of nine years since I actually read it.

The essay “How to become a hacker” suggests that the book might have been better called “The Cathedral of the Bizarre” instead (I have shortened the quote below a bit but I am not misquoting):

“There are some things you can do when you are not at a computer… many hackers do them, and feel they connect in some basic way with the essence of hacking …

I have got to say it … these look like a guide to become a typically poorly socialised male science or computing student, not how to be a hacker – what about, read up on mathematics, set theory and computability? Study natural languages? Understand how an operating system works (I have been genuinely surprised on my MSc course as to how poorly many good programmers actually understood how an OS worked) or get a better understanding of electronics?

Given that earlier he writes “attitude is no substitute for competence”, maybe he should have taken his own words to heart?

Yes, yes, I know having a pop at ESR is like shooting fish in a barrel, but still, it is rubbish.