Wishful Thinking In Its Rawest State

     On May 1, 2015, I retired from employment as a software engineer, a trade I practiced for nearly five decades to great satisfaction and profit. I keep in touch with old colleagues, both for friendship’s sake and so I can have a sense for how developments affect the kind of work I once did. But I seldom read trade publications any more. It appears that that might have been a mistake. They’ve opened their pages to destructive nonsense:

     The commonly held belief that programming is inherently hard lacks sufficient evidence. Stating this belief can send influential messages that can have serious unintended consequences including inequitable practices. Further, this position is most often based on incomplete knowledge of the world’s learners. More studies need to include a greater diversity of all kinds including but not limited to ability, ethnicity, geographic region, gender identity, native language, race, and socioeconomic background.

     Seldom will you encounter a more fatuous, wishful-thinking-based statement. I have no knowledge of author Brett Becker, but from the paragraph above he appears to be deeply infected with “woke.” This infectious agent, sometimes called the SJW virus, has been responsible for more lunacy, and more destruction, than any other intellectual malady of recent years. It habitually expresses itself in “shoulds” – and anyone who’s been reading Liberty’s Torch for a while will know how fond I am of that word.

     The article goes on in a predictable fashion. Having claimed that the notion that programming is hard lacks evidence, it then goes on to dismiss the existing evidence – the number and characteristics of those who practice the trade successfully – as somehow irrelevant to the contention. It’s all very much in the SJW tradition of promoting the desires of the author over the demands of reality. But the author’s chief target is not the evidence but our statements: he wants us to stop saying that programming is hard, as if not saying so could make it easy enough for anyone to master.

     Programming is hard because it’s a method for instantiating solutions to problems – and solving problems is hard. It requires sustained focus, observational acuity, the ability to separate the relevant from the irrelevant, a high degree of comfort with abstractions, a specific kind of eloquence, and the willingness to persevere in the pursuit of mistakes, whether large or small. These things cannot be taught to everyone. Those who are talented at them are consequently rare and highly paid, as I was.

     The longtime relationship between programming and applied mathematics is no accident. Both are problem-solving methodologies, and both are hard to master. Many a promising student of the sciences is deflected from his original ambitions by the inability to progress far enough in mathematics. That’s not a character flaw but a specific kind of intellectual limitation. That limitation is shared by nearly everyone who has ever lived.

     What pains persons such as Brett Becker is that the distribution of the aptitudes and abilities required for success in programming strongly favors two demographics: Caucasian and Oriental men. He dislikes this viscerally, as so many SJWs do. It impedes his worship of that chimeric destroyer of societies, “equality.” Ability “shouldn’t” be biased racially or sexually! It “should” be uniformly available to all persons, without regard for race, sex, creed, national origin, or political affiliation. That’s equality, and we will have equality despite all opposition, including that from Nature itself!

     You know the rest of the argument, Gentle Reader. In these latter days, it’s habitually waged in street battles, with bricks and Molotov cocktails. But it won’t change the reality of the situation. What’s hard to do – what requires sustained focus, intellect, sharp observation, and savage persistence – only those with high ability will do with success. And for whatever reason, those qualities are not uniformly distributed among the races and sexes of Man.

     But that won’t keep the Brett Beckers of the world from trying to silence us. It’s their mission, you see. They must have their “shoulds,” or their Weltanschauung will crumble. Eric Hoffer knew their kind well. They have not changed since he wrote The True Believer. We must not expect them to change any time soon.


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    • Michael Arvizu on November 7, 2021 at 10:40 AM

    Hi Fran, your comment on the use of “should” immediately made me think of this song:



    1. Michael, that is absolutely brilliant. Thank you!

    • Steve Walton on November 7, 2021 at 12:29 PM

    I retired from software/hardware engineering in 2013 as a very highly paid employee, responsible for invention, design, development, and implementation of actually advanced (you know what I mean) systems and algorithms at one of the leading aerospace firms in the world. I say this not to brag in any way, but to give some foundation to my opinion that every word you wrote here is precisely accurate.

    • Ward Dorrity on November 7, 2021 at 4:16 PM

    In my years at Microsoft, I heard a dev friend of mine describe the kind of focus required to program well as follows:

    1. Visualize a three story house.
    2. Populate the the rooms one by one with furniture.
    3. Then rotate that visualization in three dimensions without misplacing a single aspect of the layout.

    1. Not a bad analogy — and not many people can remember how to do the coordinate transformations for a three-D rotation, at that! (:-)

        • Steve Walton on November 8, 2021 at 10:42 AM

        I could never remember them without getting a sign wrong here and there, so I just made a practice of re-deriving them every time I needed them.

        1. It was much the same for me, and with all the work I had to do with tensors, it was a considerable handicap. Well, that’s what reference books are for.

    • billo on November 7, 2021 at 6:01 PM

    Sounds to me like someone should re-read “The Mythical Man-Month” by Fred Brooks.  The problem is that it *is* easy to program badly and to program small projects — and especially easy to program small projects badly.  It’s difficult to develop large projects and it’s difficult to develop elegant projects — and especially difficult to develop large elegant projects.

    But it’s no different than any other trade.  It’s easy to build a table.  It’s a little harder to build a table that’s sturdy.  It’s harder to build a table that’s sturdy and not ugly.  It’s difficult to build a table that’s sturdy and elegant.  It’s very hard to build a table that’s sturdy, innovative, and beautiful.

    The article gives the feeling of someone who has glued four two foot two-by-fours to a piece of plywood and said “crafting furniture is easy.”

      • Steve Walton on November 8, 2021 at 8:53 PM

      Two by fours? That’s far too much effort! Four concrete blocks, one 2′ x 4′ chunk of plywood from Home Depot, done. Easy.

    • John Fisher on November 7, 2021 at 6:42 PM

    I do still follow IEEE journals since my retirement as I still do a little consulting for friends in what was my industry. It is sad to see the ACM has fallen as far as the IEEE has.

  1. While the shoulds that others place on me may be dismissed, the ones I feel are inherent in me are another matter.


    Is not dismissing oneself a self-depreciation well beyond humility?

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