Programming, the Dismal Science

Dr. Ernest N. Prabhakar (
Wed, 14 Jan 98 21:22:10 -0800

Begin forwarded message:

Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 12:04:27 -0800
From: Glenn Carlyle Smith <>
Subject: Programming, the Dismal Science

Wow, it looks like computer science is looking to wrestle away
Economics' title of "The Dismal Science". Below is a URL to a NYTimes
article that paints a picture so dark of programming as to be comical.
(Laughable might be another applicable adjective.)

A few lowlights (this is all from a single new york times article):


"We need a large technical class that is well trained to do work that is
mind-numbingly boring," said Eric Roberts, associate director of
Stanford University's computer science program.


"Let's face it, when you think of a programmer, the image is an
overweight person eating Snickers bars and drinking Coke and sitting in
front of a screen with big glasses on," said Ed Lazaowska, chairman of
the computer science department at the University of Washington.


But Tamer Hendi, 19, a student at the Georgia Institute of Technology,
sees little that is cool about computer science. "I couldn't see myself
doing it," he said. "I'd rather do chemical or industrial engineering,
try to get a job where there will be more dealing with people.


"I love math, but I realized I'm just not a computer scientist," Ms.
Woodworth said. "I was burned out, and I didn't care about the subject
matter. It just seemed passionless." She is now an art major.

[One could make the argument that she was *always* an art major!, ed.]


"There's never a question that you won't get a job," Cheng said.
"There's just the question of will you be bored. If you go in the movie
theaters around here on opening night of any science fiction or
thriller, you can see the people with monitor tans. I just don't want to
be like that. I'm looking for more of a balance."

Graham Miller, Cheng's classmate, is already thinking about an exit
strategy. "Programmers only last up to 10 years or so," Miller said.
"After that, you need to find something else to do."

[An "exit strategy"? Sounds like he needs the Hemlock Society..., ed.]


The bigger problem may have less to do with image than with reality. The
jobs where programmers conceive and design products are rare. The bulk
of the openings are for what students refer to derisively as "cubicle
hackers" or "code machines," people who type endless streams of commands
to someone else's specifications.

Max Edleson, a Stanford freshman who ran a corporate Web site last
summer, knows the drudgery. "I got paid a massive amount to sit in front
of my computer eight hours a day, but I got physically ill doing it," he
said. "I felt this void of thought that I couldn't deal with."


Anyway, the URL is:


In case it interests you... :-)

Surfin' that void,