Friday, October 12, 2007

Chess Club Poseur

Charles Nutter earned his last name last month with a mind-boggling question: Are Authors Technological Poseurs? The argument in his post was totally reasonable, but the title was demented.

First, the argument: people who spend all their time writing code know more about code than people who spend all their time writing about code. Obviously, that's a reasonable statement. And generally speaking it's true - with the caveat that somebody who writes bad code all day every day may in fact know very much less than somebody who writes about good code.

The question in the title, however, makes it impossible not to take the issue personally. It's kind of like asking, "Are People Who Disagree With Me Douchebags?" If people can't agree with you without criticizing themselves, you don't have a discussion - you have a fight. This kind of thing is what makes online communities messy and lame. Everybody who works in open source needs communities to be healthy and cool. You should always avoid questions which can easily devolve into name-calling, for the simple reason that questions which can devolve into name-calling often do.

But that's not the crazy part. That's the part where I have to say I think his phrasing was ill-considered, due to its potential for fostering dissent. That's the part where reasonable people could disagree. But there's another part which reasonable people could never even imagine saying. That part is flat-out insane. The crazy part is the idea of a technology poseur. Charles Nutter, as lead on the JRuby project, works for Sun. In Sun's Silicon Valley culture, I guess the idea of a tech poseur makes perfect sense - tech is everything in Silicon Valley, and corporate fakes are everywhere - but if you live ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD, the idea of somebody pretending to be a nerd so they will seem cool kind of operates in a counter-intuitive manner.

Honestly, dude, what were you thinking? That's like, I'm going to pretend I know how to play chess, so I can get chicks. Let's interrogate this chess club poseur to see if he's really down.


  1. Giles:

    The window title is hilarious. No, not the post title. I mean the page title that blogger thoughtfully assembles for you: "Giles Bowkett: Chess Club Poseur."

    You have just motivated me to fix this problem on my own blog. More than a few people laughed when I had a post with a window title of "raganwald: You Suck."

  2. Us insular geekbots don't like it when you hold up a mirror. It makes it very difficult to deceive ourselves into believing things like "technical poseurs will get all the chicks" and blaming authors for all our ills.

  3. Very nice post :) Although a few facts should probably come out:

    - I don't live in Silicon Valley...I work from home in Minnesota. I'm a dead-of-winter, roaring-fire, chestnuts-roasting kind of basement hacker. I just love sitting in a warm house on a cold night hacking away.

    - The title of that post was intentionally inflammatory, and it generated a lot of good discussion both in comments and offline. I'm feeling the pain of trying to write a book *and* continue to hack earnestly on a project I love...and when I say pain I mean it in every sense of the word.

    And honestly, the question I posed was sincere. If I'm wrong I'd love to be proven so. But it does worry me that the next generation of programmers and hackers could potentially be trained by folks who don't actually write code for a living. Maybe that's a good thing, but for me it's rather worrisome.

  4. Sadly I think that's already happening. There are a few great programs, but a lot of universities, people are already taught by people who don't actually code. That's one of the great things about being self-taught, in the beginning you're taught by a novice but by the end you're taught by an actual hacker.

    Glad you see the humor in it, by the way. :-)

    Two other things about the original post. The first is that setting time aside from hacking probably does make you less of a programmer than you could be; but that doesn't necessarily make you less of a programmer than some other person. Michael Jordan could take decades away from basketball and still outplay me in his 70s when the time came. He'd be rusty by his own standards, but those standards are so much higher than mine that it wouldn't matter.

    The other thing, I took a huge break from programming and it absolutely made me a better programmer. I learnt to do so many other things that when I came back to programming I had a much broader perspective on it.

    Anyway, personally, I would say, if you don't want to write a book, don't write a book. You're not going to write a good book unless you enjoy the process. Ola Bini just wrote a book on JRuby anyway.

  5. @Reginald:

    I nearly pissed myself when I saw that.


    Donal Knuth hasn't used email in 17 years. Discussion over.


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