Flutterby™! : QOTD

Next unread comment / Catchup all unread comments User Account Info | Logout | XML/Pilot/etc versions | Long version (with comments) | Weblog archives | Site Map | | Browse Topics


2002-03-22 19:05:10+00 by Dan Lyke 8 comments

Today Mickey repeated, possibly paraphrasing James Coggins, "programmers are the only profession that stand on people's toes rather than their shoulders".

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-03-23 18:40:17+00 by: dws

An older source: "In computer science, we stand on each other's feet." -- Brian K. Reid.

#Comment made: 2002-03-24 03:20:55+00 by: meuon

I'm reading where wizards stay up late and am learning about some people that we are standing on shoulders of. People who made major thought process changes to computing. Names I had never heard before like Licklider, Bob Taylor, and Larry Roberts. Maybe not the shoulders, but more than feet. At least knees.

#Comment made: 2002-03-24 04:02:21+00 by: Mars Saxman

That is a cool quote, but I have no idea what it means.


#Comment made: 2002-03-24 13:12:12+00 by: meuon

It's implying that in the computer world, we make lots of small improvements made by many people compared to many fields where a few people make great foundational changes, and we build on those large, single person, monolithic foundations (standing on shoulders). As programmers, little of our work in unique of ourselves. Few (if any) of us have written our own operationg system, and tools to use it by ourselves. Even Linus Torvalds, whom may be credited for many many things, borrowed ideas, code, techniques...and worked closely with many others.

#Comment made: 2002-03-24 14:30:26+00 by: ebradway

Meuon's example is just the opposite. Borrowing code and techniques would be akin to standing on each others' knees at least. The real issue is so many programmers (and managers) want to reinvent the wheel. Build everything from the ground up. I believe one Flutterby member is currently writing a database engine in C++ because the boss thinks it'll be more effective than using an SQL server. I teased him by saying he should implement the indeces in hardware in the RAID controller - he responded by telling me not to say that too loudly.

But software is a very different science. It's infinitely maleable - anyone can build anything. And programmers are a unique demographic - very independent and usually quite intelligent. There is always an urge to just 'roll your own' rather than learn someone else's library.

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 02:11:22+00 by: meuon

Code is code is code.. no knees.. barely toes. Idea's and fundemental concept changes (code, hardware, philosophy) are knees. Dan or you can build a Database server and unless it does something different/better than others, it's just a database server. Build a database server that can really infer relationships when no formal ones exist, or can do something else new, and you are standing on knees. Invent the "GbDthickly" server, that makes all normal database servers obsolete and gives us a new and practical/useful way of thinking about data and using it, and I will be proud to stand on your shoulders.

In my old analogy, Lots of people (like me) can play with Lego blocks and build things. Some people (Dan, Andrew, Eric?) can create new Lego blocks. Very few people create alternative building systems.. Erector Sets, Tinkertoys..

In the computer world, there are lots of people that play with the blocks.

#Comment made: 2002-03-25 16:20:57+00 by: ebradway

meuon, You've always taken a different approach to writing software than most. You do a better job of standing on the shoulders of others. What you haven't seen alot of are the folks like the IT Audit manager at a certain telco we are all familiar with who insists that his auditors use C to parse logs from telco switches.

Or the person who doesn't like the industry standard handling of the enter and tab keys and has the programmer develop an entire windowing library that implements it the way he wants it - and then bitches because there are bugs in the code...

#Comment made: 2002-03-26 04:54:22+00 by: meuon [edit history]

But I like it when the lego blocks were designed and built by people that built good lego blocks. I've gotten good at picking out useful blocks (fit well with the other blocks...) and using them. I think of is as standing on the toes, feet and maybe knees, of people who are also standing on feet... whom, down there in the pile are some shoulders.

And the plug of the day: http://www.coloradofever.com/store.shtml includes Perl, OpenSSL, Sybase, Apache, Linux and a bunch of borrowed, edited, munged and kludged code. Where are the shoulders? All of these blocks are good blocks, and work well together but there are no new concepts, in any of these items. the HTTPD server is maybe close, but Apache is a evolutionary work by many people over time since the original conceptual web server which does rest a lot on Tim Berners-Lee's shoulders.

Again, I think there are few shoulders in the computer world, lots of stepped on toes. :)