[plt-scheme] Perplexed Programmers

From: Matthias Felleisen (matthias at ccs.neu.edu)
Date: Wed Aug 29 10:24:42 EDT 2007

On Aug 29, 2007, at 9:40 AM, Erich Rast wrote:

>>> I'll tell you what I think the "software crisis" is.  It's that the
>>> difficult stuff is possible but virtually none of the easy stuff is
>>> easy.
>> That's #1. And it is professionals like us who have failed to
>> bring across to the general public and to managers that
>> programming is not an 'idiot' job (though 'idiots' can write
>> things like programs for their own amusement and that nobody
>> else uses).
> Probably counting as one of those 'idiots' (being mainly a hobbyist  
> programmer), I find this comment somewhat arrogant and also quite  
> misleading.

I am not referring to hobbyists who work their way through good  
program design stuff on their own. I am referring to the wave of
  -- learn to program n 24 hours
  -- programming for dummies
  -- idiots can program, too
  -- etc.
books that have come out over the last 10 years. I am using the  
generic 'idiot' term because I looked at one of the 'Idiot' series  
book. Since you're not located in the US, I am beginning to thin that  
you are unaware of this book series. (The reason for '...' is to  
refer to this book.)

> From my extensive experiences with it, I'd say that 'academic'  
> software (mostly written by computer scientists) is among the worst  
> when it comes to reliability and configurability, and I have grown  
> a decent amount of frustration about the software and abandonware  
> lurking around on university servers.

I am in agreement with you, and I am seriously unhappy about it.

> So before pointing at others,

I am pointing at my colleagues because few, if any, stand up to these  
books and condemn them.
I am pointing at my colleagues because not condemning these books has  
created an atmosphere of 'programming is a commodity' and code  
monkeys are a dime a dozen.
I am pointing especially at my Software Engineering colleagues who  
continue to repeat exactly this slogan to NSF directorate officers  
from the top to the bottom rung with the explicit goal of not  
supporting research on programming. (Her name starts with M and ends  
in w.)

As long as we don't stop that, we can't diagnose the problem properly  
not to speak of fixing it.

> Anyway, please don't take this critique personally.

This is a professional discussion and our problem was a cultural one.  
I assume too often that everyone is aware of US (book) culture.

> I believe there is a problem with funding in academic environments.  
> More money should be spent on maintaining existing software in  
> academia, and there should also be more quality assurance, perhaps  
> even reviews by other people from the staff. Academic abandonware  
> IMHO is a big waste of money and resources, and just GPL'ing it  
> doesn't make things better.

You have hit the nail on the head. If researchers were required to  
maintain their software for 5 to 10 years and to demonstrate a user  
base of, say, a few dozen non-local people, we might just bring home  
important lessons for CS people to work on.

As is, they prefer to work on aspirin-abandon-it research than  
vitamins-are-essential research. (This is a reference to investor  
mentality who prefer to see aspirin-like inventions over the selling  
of vitamin supplements in better shape.)

(Then again, if we had adopted a simplistic version of my proposal I  
am afraid we'd be maintaining HerrProfessorDrFortran.)

-- Matthias

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