I want to climb to the top of a clock-tower in Redmond and start shooting, screaming "FUCKPIGS! FUCKPIGS!" at the top of my lungs.
And then I think, there's some fiction in this. Though technically it's not fiction. It's a manifesto, an account of my situation, and my thoughts on the state of the information and communications industry, as told by someone who isn't me, but who I could well turn in to.
Good Programming Considered Harmful
by Stewart Wilson
I'm on my third beer of the night when the download finishes. Unlike everywhere in the civilised world, I don't have a broadband connection. With the information industry going the way of the Hindenburg, I can't afford one. And every time I think of that, I feel sick. Especially when I see my neighbour downloading music on a half-meg cable line, never so much as stressing the bandwidth that she has. Bitch doesn't know how spoiled she is.
I don't know when the change happened, but it did. At some point, it was decided that the main consumer for software didn't need to know anything about computers to use them. This is, on the surface, a noble sentiment. However, it does have a very dangerous subtext, hidden in that one little word: "main". For a while, everything was good. This main consumer, the clueless luser, had need of those that had the knowledge and experience to both create software for them and to help them with it. This was good. The clued were able to reap the reward they had been looking for outside of their field for so long. Being tech-savvy was stylish, it was hip, it was the keys to a new Jaguar XJ-6 as a company car.
As I open my fourth beer, I fire up a text editor. It's a port of a particularly large and full-featured editor from UNIX. I use it because I like the functionality and mainly use Linux. It's a port because the laptop I'm working on won't run Linux. It has one of the worst offences of the Beast of Redmond squatting on its hard drive, and the factors that caused the bubble to burst mean that Linux will odds-on never run on it. I start typing, something else to stash on my hard drive, the contents of my brain spilled into electrons. I figure I might as well type what I'm thinking.
The bubble burst, and when it did it went hard. There was a combination of factors. There was no endless supply of the clueless, and by this point they knew the very basics of how to talk to people online, how to buy things online and how to surf one-handed. The need for the Clued was decreased. The number of clued and those that the clueless thought were clued had been increasing steadily, and at this point the first large classes of graduates in information tech subjects came on to the job market. Demand outstripped supply for the very first time, and it didn't matter how clued one was, only how well one bought into the corporate mindset.
I light a hand-rolled cigarette. I'd have preferred a Silk Cut or a Marlboro, but the pre-rolled are too expensive for someone living on unemployment benefit. A pouch of tobacco, papers and extra slim filters are as good as it's going to get for me. The beer seems to be vanishing as I type, pinning the problems with both the world and the Internet firmly in place.
It could be because the technical sector is flooded with people who play the computer industry like a corporate game. It could be because the industry is focused on the consumers that don't want to know details of how to use computers. It's more likely a product of the two. Now, there are very, very few jobs for people that do know how to use computers properly. The software being written these days is almost entirely aimed at the people who don't know how to use computers. More effort is put into making the software look good, not enough into how well it works or making sure it is free of bugs and errors. The new download is proof positive of this. The new version of some messaging software. The core of the software, as can be seen by looking at the size of earlier versions, is not too large. It's the kind of thing that someone on a dialup connection can get without too much hassle. The new version is three times that size. Functionality hasn't changed. The increased size is entirely new features that the computer-savvy turn off at the first opportunity, things like graphical backgrounds and pretty pictures for the borders. The whole thing looks — to me at least — as though it has been designed by Fisher Price for use by a Teletubby. Even after removing the extraneous crap, it still looks that way. The "features" are included as standard rather than being downloaded if wanted and that's typical of Windows software. Include everything, turn on all the pretty crap and leave it to people to turn it off rather than having people that want it go through the pressure of downloading the extra stuff themselves.
No good programmer would write a piece of software like that. A good programmer is concerned about the size of their program, the efficiency with which it runs, and how elegantly routines can be written to accommodate those concerns. No good programmer would have written this messaging software. The people that wrote it were the kind who have MCSE qualifications, who take pride in how "pleasing to the eye" their 'ware is. Not good programmers. And they are the ones that people want to employ. People with no real clue.
The final beer hisses as it opens. The cigarette smoke has burned the back of my throat. Badly rendered 3-d logos spinning in the new messaging software. That just depresses me more. I keep typing. Maybe if I can get this all down, I can think of what to do with it.
There is a market for people who write good software. Thing is, this market is the Linux market, a group of computer geeks known for being insular and heavily hung up on their ideals, and one of those is free software. While it's a lofty ideal, nobody gets paid for writing free software. It doesn't put food on the table and there are precious few jobs that require Linux skill. There may be a change in this if the subculture could corner a noticeable part of the home desktop market, but that's where the insular nature of the community really hurts it. The clueless are treat as inferiors when they try to get clue. While treating them as being clueless may be perfectly viable — I do it enough, after all — treating them that way when they search for clue is a bad thing, as it scares them off and actively stops them searching. Because of that, the Linux market is going to be mostly a labour of love for those who write good software.
So people who can program well are stuck working for no money. Those who can program badly are hired to write for the quintessential example of bloated crap, child of the Beast of Redmond. But that's not where it ends. With the proliferation of such point-and-drool software, anyone who can afford an internet connection can get online. They can come to what is traditionally the domain of the clued. Which is no real problem. The problem is when that domain is dumbed down to the point where content is actively discouraged. The majority of people online now prefer Flash animations over pages which load quickly for those of us using modems still, pretty pictures that take ten minutes to load over simple text and mark-up. With the drowning of Usenet in spam, the true clued have no place to their own. The clueless have stopped looking at them as people with skills which take time to learn and now see them as people who should be doing things for them. And this is the life I lead, unemployed because I'm too good at what I do, because I prefer message to medium. J. Random Six-pack has not just spoken, he's bent me over and fucked me up the arse.
I have skills, according to other people. I can write, though no fucker will ever publish me. I've a knowledge of most fields of physics, information theory, psychology, philosophy, the English language, politics and journalism. But I have no official qualifications in any of them. I'm a mathematician, but that's alongside my computing degree and I've not the skills someone with a full degree in mathematics has that makes them employable. I have all these skills that I can't use.
I finish my fifth beer, and reach for the vodka. Another night of drinking myself to sleep. That's the way the world is now.