It’s probably unclear from my previous posts, but I’m a software engineer. I guess I don’t really talk about it much, since I don’t really like it that much. At times, the job downright infuriates me.
One aspect of being a software engineer that really upsets me is the “cultural” aspect of it. I don’t know how it works in other professions, but I feel like in software engineering, it’s not just go into work, do your work for 8 hours, and then go home. The engineering culture is pervasive. Many engineers program in their spare time. They think about programming on the weekends. They make jokes about programming. They look at you condescendingly when you say you don’t know or understand something that they know all too well.
It’s things like those last two that irritated me way back in 2000, when I started college. I was in the introductory computer science course, thinking that I would like it, for some reason. I found the material dry and also incredibly hard for me, but what turned me off the most were some of the people I had to interact with. I would be in lab, trying to complete whatever assignment I was doing, and there would be a bunch of CS majors around, making jokes about programming, talking about esoteric CS topics that I didn’t understand, and just being obnoxious in general. I hated it. In math class, on the other hand, people weren’t making jokes about triple integrals, showing off their knowledge of differential equations, or being loud and obnoxious. But perhaps I was just luckier in math class. I didn’t feel like there was a “culture” about math, though. They didn’t live and breathe math, unlike how a lot of CS majors seem to live and breathe CS.
So imagine my surprise when I was invited to SuperHappyDevHouse. I didn’t know much about it, besides that it was a bunch of people getting together in a house and programming. For fun. On a weekend. It boggles my mind. Why would you get together and write code, when you could do anything else? Especially after spending five (or more) days this week already programming for their regular jobs. I then read the Wikipedia article. It describes the event as “a non-exclusive event intended for passionate and creative technical people that want to have some fun, learn new things, and meet new people.” That sounds good to me. But they don’t mention the programming/hacking aspect of the event.
But then I kept reading the article, and it became more disturbing. A tech journalist wrote about it like this: “Thatâ€™s what we want to do for others- we want to enable them to come together for a common purpose to help humanity. We see different parts of technology as different elements that come together to create a key that will unlock a door that will change the world.” Wait, what? It’s a one-day event. How are you going to change the world in one day? If they could really do that, then imagine what they could do in a year. This sounds like someone with delusions of grandeur. Or a cult.
The thing is, I wouldn’t really be upset by all this “culture” if I didn’t have it shoved in my face all the time. People around me at work get super-excited (to the point of yelling) about minor things like “performance improvements.” People talk nostalgically about the days of Oracle databases. People develop cults around their editor of choice. And people shove things like SuperHappyDevHouse in my face. If you want to have your day of programming, go do it. Don’t flaunt it in my face, boasting that you can change the world in a day, when you’re just one person who’s typing text into a terminal.
I just wonder why software engineering is like this. Why does it come with a whole different culture? I can’t imagine, say, accountants getting together on a Saturday in a house, and going on a mad accounting frenzy. I can’t imagine them condescendingly saying things like, “You don’t know what a Form 4868 is??” I don’t see accountants flaunt how good they are at accounting, or using a bunch of technical jargon to make others feel dumb. What is it about computer science and software engineering that causes people to become obsessive, arrogant, elitist people?
You might be asking why I’m still in this industry if I’m so offended by it. The thing is, not all engineers are like what I described above. I am friends with quite a few of them, and they’re not like that. But I do meet quite a number of them who are actually unpleasant in the way I described. I also have no idea what job I’d do otherwise. That’s probably something I need to explore, but right now, my job fits into my life quite well. I don’t work very long hours (although probably longer than people in some other lines of work), and it pays quite well. I just get fed up with it from time to time.
Update: It is unbelievable how much unwanted attention this post attracted. Summary here.