The Adventures of Joshua Judson Rosen
(action man)

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Mon, 30 May 2011

21:26: What have you tried?

If you've regularly googled for technical stuff as part of your job as a professional hacker over the past decade, you may have noticed the (ever increasing, it seems) number of dumb questions on developer forums--questions where people not only don't RTFM, but aren't even trying to solve it themselves. A friend of mine found himself wading through this when he came across Matt Gemmell's article, `What Have You Tried?'.

It made both of us smile, but I wish it hadn't--I wish it wasn't so right....

I've been periodically trying to reconnect with the Python programming community, over the past few years; I go back to the newsgroup/mailing-list... and, every time, find that a greater and greater share of the traffic is people just wanting someone else to do their homework for them.

Some of them, at least, are quite bluntly honest about it--writing things like, "I don't want to learn how to program or how to write Python, I just want to solve this problem". Some of them aren't. Neither group is really the type I want to hang with, though.

So I find myself drifting further away from the Python community, and thinking that maybe it's just not even a world I want to be part of anymore--I seem to remember a time when most of the people there seemed bright and help-ful, but now they're all so dull and help-less, and most of the ones who have any intent seem to be set on just making rude noises. And I wonder if maybe it's just that I've changed since that time--if maybe I used to be more like the current crowd.

But I'll bet that the crowd has actually changed, too--and that it's largely just the sort of change that comes as a side-effect of popularity.

Back in 2004, Paul Graham wrote `The Python Paradox', which starts out:

In a recent talk I said something that upset a lot of people: that you could get smarter programmers to work on a Python project than you could to work on a Java project.

I didn't mean by this that Java programmers are dumb. I meant that Python programmers are smart. It's a lot of work to learn a new programming language. And people don't learn Python because it will get them a job; they learn it because they genuinely like to program and aren't satisfied with the languages they already know.

Which makes them exactly the kind of programmers companies should want to hire. Hence what, for lack of a better name, I'll call the Python paradox: if a company chooses to write its software in a comparatively esoteric language, they'll be able to hire better programmers, because they'll attract only those who cared enough to learn it.

Seven years later, Python programmers are dumb. What happened? Well, now Python is something that can get you a job--it's actually popular. And so is programming in general--I guess college-bound kids finally got wind of how much some of us get paid, in this field (or something--though I guess they somehow missed the parts about things like 80-hour work-weeks).

I guess it just makes those of us who can actually think and learn and do stuff look better, though....