I AM NOT A PROGRAMMER

Justin B Rye 29 May 04
(Non‐Geek Escape Route)

The Linux‐using world has always had a bit of an image problem.  Somehow the general public has got the impression that Linux is only meant for socially incompetent elitists.  Part of the problem here is that software developers have a characteristic skill‐set with its own implicit value system, applicable to real‐life problems as well as programming, and feel a strong common bond with others of their kind; as a result, they have a hard time empathising with outsiders.  (When people wearing ties do that, it's called a “professional attitude”.)

Now, I respect those skills and feel a great deal of gratitude to that community; but I'm not a member, never will be, never want to be, and never want to be told I should want to be.  I am not a programmer, and feel no more tempted to become (for instance) a kernel‐hacker than to become a graphic designer or forensic dentist.  This idea that Linux has ordinary mortal end‐users with no trace of a Computer Science degree may come as a shock to the man in the street; the more annoying thing from my point of view is that an awful lot of the people writing and maintaining software for GNU/Linux seem to have trouble with it too.

In the hope that it might help developers get a feel for what other kinds of people there might be in the wide world of Open Source Software, let me introduce myself.  I was never the kind of kid who owned a home electronics kit, a ZX Spectrum, or even a programmable calculator; my A‐levels were in Latin, French, and English Literature, and my degree was an MA.  I just happen to have worked my way up from guest login to commandline power‐user to Debian GNU/Linux systems administrator.  I've been writing shellscripts for years; but that's a very different thing from programming!

I'll concede that I'm something very like a programmer… I'm hairy enough, for a start.  But when approached from the non‐CS‐degree side, the slope is nowhere near as slippery as my codehead friends all seem to assume.