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A Journey — if You Dare — Into the Minds of Silicon Valley Programmers

My responses in a NY Times comment section for the book, Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the WorldCoders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson:

#1 - Link

Although I've been a software developer for 15 years, and for longer alternating between a project manager, team lead, or analyst, mostly in finance, and now with a cancer center, I found it funny that you blame the people doing the coding for not seeing the harm it could cause. First, most scientific advancement has dark elements, and it is usually not the science but how it is used and sold by business people that is the problem. This leads to the second problem, in that it is not coding that is in itself problematic, but specifically how technology is harnessed to sell. It is normal and desirable to track users, to log actions, to collect telemetry, so as to monitor systems, respond to errors, and to develop new features, but that normal engineering practice has been used to surveil users for the purpose of selling. Blaming coders for this turn is like blaming them for the 90s internet bubble. As it is now, it is a rush for profits, not the technology, that is a problem. Many famous historical innovations were driven over the edge by corruption and wealth, not by the people involved in designing and building the systems, although we are so far along in commercialization that it is now part of many developers roles to further the business model.

#2 - Link

@Ben - I completely agree. Most scientific advancement has dark elements, and it is usually not the science but how it is used and sold by business people that is the problem. This leads to the second problem, in that it is not coding that is in itself problematic, but specifically how technology is harnessed to sell.

As for its depictions of coders, I imagine many people not in tech think of coders as young bros' that make apps at cool companies, while in reality, the average is a 38-year old married male with 2 children that makes intranet website and desktop applications for mainstream businesses.

The art aspect if funny, as it is more about soft decision making where one has to weigh the value of one architecture over another, the viability of technology in the future, the ability of coworkers to support and understand the work, the aesthetics and usability of a website. All of these decisions can be made analytically or quantitatively, but more often than not, it is one's sense based on reason and experience.

As for the bug, yes, a missing character might be a problem if I was writing COBOL in 1982 (real story). Nowadays code checking built into IDEs immediately flag such errors, before compilation.

#3 - Link

@Eugene - 10x itself has gained mythical status, but mostly as a misunderstanding, then maybe usurped by an absurd culture of competition.

1 - “In one of their studies, Sackman, Erikson, and Grant were measuring performances of a group of experienced programmers. Within just this group, the ratios between best and worst performances averaged about 10:1 on productivity measurements and an amazing 5:1 on program speed and space measurements!” – The Mythical Man-Month

2 - The original study that found huge variations in individual programming productivity was conducted in the late 1960s by Sackman, Erikson, and Grant (1968). They studied professional programmers with an average of 7 years’ experience and found that the ratio of initial coding time between the best and worst programmers was about 20 to 1; the ratio of debugging times over 25 to 1; of program size 5 to 1; and of program execution speed about 10 to 1. They found no relationship between a programmer’s amount of experience and code quality or productivity.

#4 - Link

I can see that many developers chimed in to complain about the characterization of coding as something that anyone could do, or that coding is primarily syntax. As for myself, I've been in tech for over 30 years and was a CS major in the 80s, learning COBOL, PL/I, and BASIC, but over the years working with numerous scripting languages, and then progressing to using other languages and tools, VBA, SQL, VB.NET, C#, JavaScript, F#, R, Python, as well as numerous related IDEs.

That is one aspect, but behind that is lots of reading, often more articles than books, but covering design (UI/UX), patterns/architecture (GOF), algorithms, database design, best practices, management, social sciences, and operations (Deming to agile). All of this informs the decisions I make when building something for an employer. Granted I am fairly bright, so would have acquired knowledge regardless, but to define coders as simply working with syntax is demeaning. Even people that are deficient in the broader sense of the world can be deeply knowledgeable in their respective domains.


Plugin development for Excel

This is a response to an old question on Stack Overflow:

As mentioned by others, there are three basic Office technologies other than XLL's, they are VSTO, VBA, and Office JS API.

My personal experience having worked with all three, is that VSTO is the most powerful, in either VB.NET or C#, as they are essentially the same language. The future road map for the two languages will show divergence because C# will receive higher-end features while VB.NET will be targeted as the easy to use one, but as this point, there is little difference between the two for programming Excel. VSTO will provide built-in processes for versioning, release, automatic updates, and rollback, and is capable of anything within the .NET library.

VBA is the original programming language for Office and most samples are based on that. You can create fairly complex ribbons and context menus with it, but that said, it will be incapable of async/threaded operations and is lightweight for service related work. That said, if you don't need such operations, VBA can work, but you should have some plan for managing versioning and code management, which is not natively part of the VBA sphere, and will be entirely managed by you.

The office API is like programming web pages with Office, defining and using JS for operations - newer ones leverage React and Angular - with HTML and CSS for the panels. My recent experience converting Outlook VSTO add-ins was frustrating as many easy-to-implement features in VSTO/VBA are not available or are more complicated in JS. The experience and the interface though is quite nice, are much better looking than the typical WinForm, and it will be capable of working in web-based office clients, unlike VSTO.

The XLL link you provided is for a wrapper around C++. This is likely more complicated than any of the other types, and although there is power in going lower, you would need to have the experience and skills to make it worthwhile.

  • Desktop: All (VSTO, VBA, JS)
  • Web/Mobile: JS only
  • Easy Upgrade and Code Management: VSTO, JS
  • UI: JS is better looking, VSTO/VBA is WinForm looking
  • Skills: HTML/CSS/JS (Web) vs VBA/WinForms vs VSTO/WinForms (C#/VB.NET)
  • Examples: VBA, VSTO, JS, in decreasing order