Hackers and Fighters

I found this post on “street programmers” and computer scientists quite interesting because I manage a staff where the former outnumbers the latter significantly. In this environment, his conclusion that the street programmer is better than the CS graduate is wrong. The staff that have formal training consistently deliver higher-quality results when compared to the street programmers. The code they produce is easier to maintain and better-tested.

Mark Tarver’s definition of street programmer is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to people who write software for a living. It doesn’t include the people who got into this line of work because of Internet bubble; people who did it because they saw dollar signs rather than out of a genuine interest. I believe the person who self-teaches well is quite rare indeed.

I can’t dispute Tarver’s points about the state of computer science education. Far too many of them have been confirmed by friends of mine who are in Ph.D programs now. He’s certainly right about the conservatism of CS courses too. I still remember learning Pascal in the early 90s as part of my CS curriculum.

Even with the shortcomings of today’s computer science departments, the degree still serves as a useful filter when trying to decide if an interview with someone is likely to be time well spent.  I’ve also encountered enough good programmers in my time with degrees in math or physics that I’d certainly hire them if they interview well enough.