Sunday, February 08, 2009

Regarding Objectifying

I showed a nonprogrammer friend my weird little cartoon about Python, harping on this "everything is an object" heuristic.

She reacted somewhat negatively to all my "objectifying" talk as too calculating and cold, the whole problem with engineers.

I was glad for this feedback, as I've been wrestling with this very issue on edu-sig. Below is an excerpt, with a link to the full text.

My thanks to David Koski for bringing my attention to the xtranormal web site, and his first attempt at a geometry cartoon (= mathcast).

The more I look at it, the more I'm thinking peoples' stereotype of "engineers" is what's keeping 'em from wanting to tackle any of this "programming" stuff.

They think of "an engineer" as someone "cold" who lives in a fluorescently lit windowless basement, a stereotype, but still pretty vivid (I've been there many times).

We look at this at Wanderers (Linus Pauling House group), a lot of us engineers by training, got some good insights from Dr. William Wulf, who spoke directly to bridging the "digital divide" between the "two cultures":

Bouncing off David MacQuigg's spiel (which I liked) about OO being over-hyped within the industry, there's that whole problem of "objectifying" which we're told is callous (part of the problem), as when we "see people as objects".

And that's exactly what we do, let's be honest, when writing OO code atop SQL tables, bringing all those pieces together to give us a "sim" (a model human) with a and a person.bankaccount who lives at person.address.

What I continue to stress is that we ("we engineers") see ourselves that way too i.e. this isn't about being aloof and above it all, looking down on miserable animals that aren't us, as if we had gods' eye views. No, we're those patients in those beds, those people on the roller coaster, those people with shopping carts, on airplanes. We're not misanthropists. We're philanthropists (like Bill Gates, Mark Shuttleworth...).

This is a lot the same ethic in open source too: no, it's not "cheap" what we're making, we're not "cutting corners", because we're designing this for us (not snookering some customer, not trying to pull a fast one). Of course some people do get away with shoddy work, but the point I'm making is engineers have plenty of incentive to do a great job, because hey, we're gonna live with the consequences, with the tools we create (or fail to create).

If no one builds bridges, there won't be any, pretty simple.