Rambles around computer science

Diverting trains of thought, wasting precious time

Wed, 25 Feb 2009

Hackers, programmers, painters and software engineers

Reading the recent ACM Software Engineering Notes (more about which later) I was pointed towards an interesting article by Paul Graham entitled “Hackers and Painters”. I won't repeat its content here, but suffice it to say it's an interesting reflection on the various roles of scientists, CS researchers, programmers and software designers, the relationships between these roles and the misunderstandings that exist in those regards. I agree with much, though not all, of its content, but I'll let you read it for yourself and see what you think. One thing that caught my eye (and led me to write this) was yet another interpretation of the word “hacker”---it seems the author expected “hacking” to mean “software designer”, whereas I'd expect most people to go with “programmer”, “serious programmer”, “programmer with hardcore programming-first lifestyle”, or (my own choice of nuance) “programmer skilled at program mash-up, quick-fixing, modification and generally getting dirty-handed with other people's codebases”. Oh well, vocabulary is a scarce resource (and that's a source of surprisingly many problems).

Meanwhile, a brief rant about ACM Software Engineering Notes. I don't mean any disrespect to the people involved, but this publication really is something of an embarrassment. I'm constantly battling the impression, among fellow researchers in this largely SE-oblivious institution, that the software engineering community is boring and/or second-rate. Reading the proceedings of ICSE or FSE would easily be sufficient to dispel that impression, but reading much of SEN, one could hardly fail to acquire it. It suffers from a rather haphazard selection of content, extremely patchy writing quality, apparently nonexistent copy-editing and distinctly ugly typesetting. I can't help but also comment on the “crossword” that appeared in the March 2008 issue---a fun idea, whose initiators I praise for that, but shall we say there needed to be quite a bit more thought on its design and content.

My earlier reading ran into several interesting short pieces in SEN---“notes” you could say. This suggests that at least back in the early part of this decade, SEN did exactly what it says on the tin. However, recently (or so it would seem) SEN has begun publishing full research papers, with abstracts appearing in print and the rest on-line. These are unrefereed, and the standard is not high. Now, I'm all for having a place to send unreviewed “notes”---I really like the idea of a publication that everyone in the community reads, and that contains short articles which allow its constituents to keep up-to-date with goings-on in each of the many and varied corners. This appears no longer to be the role that SEN is fulfilling, so I'm really wondering what it's good for. Again, apologies to anyone involved, as I'm sure it's a somewhat thankless job to keep it going. On the other hand, someone could probably earn a lot of thanks by putting in a bit of editorial effort to revitalise it. I'd do it myself, but of course nobody's asking, and in any case it's just Not My Time for now.

[/research] permanent link contact

Powered by blosxom

validate this page