On Not Programming

I didn’t realize until after I posted yesterday that it was Ada Lovelace Day, for
appreciating the contributions of women programmers.

So this morning I started thinking about what I should have
posted. My first idea was that there’s a program I’ve been planning
to write for some time, so maybe the right thing was to write it
and then to post appreciating my own accomplishment.

So I started thinking about how to write the program, and the
next thing that happened was that I figured out a way to not write
it at all, but to use already written software. This means I not
only don’t have to write it, but I don’t have to test and debug
it, and potentially miss a bug and publish a bad
transcription.

To the extent that I was a successful programmer, I think a lot
of my accomplishments were of that ilk — rather than churning out
tons of code, I could sometimes solve a problem by creative use of
code that was already there. I learned some of what I knew about
how and why to do this from a woman I worked for in the late
seventies, Jacqui Horwitz, who had done a successful
implementation of a computerized medical records system by
adapting an existing system rather than writing one from
scratch.

In that job, there were 4 programmers, 2 men and 2 women, and I
eventually found out what all our starting salaries had been.
Both men had significantly less previous experience than both
women, and less idea how to go about solving a problem, and larger starting salaries.

One thing I consistently refused to do in my career as a
programmer was to write lines-of-code counting programs. (Someone
else always wrote them; there wasn’t much solidarity in the
software world.) The
reason management wanted them was that they had the idea that you
could measure productivity by counting lines of code. This was
clearly wrong.

I don’t want to make grandiose claims for these anecdotes as
illustrating why women’s contributions are undervalued, but if
they illuminate that subject, or any subject, for you, I’m glad.

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