06 March 2007

English Majors as Programmers

The Embedded Muse is an e-newsletter edited by Jack Ganssle; see the Ganssle Group home page. In Issue 142 he writes:

I've found that some of the best developers of all are English majors. They'll often graduate with no programming experience at all, and certainly without a clue about the difference between DRAM and EPROM. But they can write. That's the art of conveying information concisely and clearly. Software development and writing are both the art of knowing what you're going to do, and then lucidly expressing your ideas. The worst developers, regardless of background, fail due to their inability to be clear. Their thoughts and code tend to ramble rather than zero-in on the goal... Too many engineering-trained developers have a total disregard for stylistic issues in programming. Anything goes. Firmware is the most expensive thing in the universe, so it makes sense to craft it carefully and in accordance with a standard style guide. Make sure it clearly communicates its intent. This is where the English majors shine; they've spent 4 years learning everything there is to know about styles and communication.

As an English major who has programmed computers since the age of ten, and who also took every programming course I could manage, it's nice to hear a little love for English majors! But I should add that an English degree is not a requirement; I also know some excellent developers who majored in more technical subjects, such as anthropology and archaeology!

2 comments:

jd said...

Agreed. I would extend your observations to all creative fields that value aesthetics and order.

Code must be more than functional. It should be clean, balanced, powerful, and elegantly simple.

I've known many brilliant programmers and engineers with little value for aesthetics that produce dense jungles of functional but ugly code.

Nick said...

That's a very interesting point.