• Matthew Kaufman

What Even is a Programmer?

For a word that so many use, how do we even define who it applies to?

In the modern world, we’ve all probably heard the term programmer. For some of us who work in tech, it can incredibly frustrating to the outside world that everyone thinks we’re all the same job or same thing. But when you stop to ask the question of what or even who is a programmer, it gets hard because it’s not really a position. I’ve hunted around for jobs throughout various points in my life, and I never saw a single position just titled, “Programmer”. Not to say that those aren’t out there, but that most people don’t use the term when it comes to job titles. Moreover, it’s probably the most interesting thing about working in the field of technology, because people’s education backgrounds and degrees very rarely say “programmer”. In fact, I’ve met tons of people who have degrees in things you would never imagine being related to computers at all, and yet they are some of the best I know at throwing together code. So what is even is programmer and how does one become one?

Let’s start with the most basic definition. It’s someone who programs. This is a really good start as we can build our definition off of that. By the definition provided by Merriam-Webster, programming means “to work out a sequence of operations to be performed by (a mechanism, such as a computer)”. So this is easy, right? It’s anyone who is providing these sequences of operations to be performed. But wait a minute, that sounds super easy. I mean, if I had a million dollar app idea and I didn’t know how to actually make the thing, I could still provide a list of operations and behaviors on how the app would work. I would be able to describe what should happen when I press certain buttons. Does that make that person a programmer then? Well, the answer is technically yes.

In fact, there is a whole portion of the technology job market dedicated to exactly this. There’s people who spend their time outlining the general “look and feel” of how an application should work. It’s actually UI/UX, which are short for User Interface and User Experience. But these people may not actually ever even write a single line of code. Their job is just to design how the thing works broadly.

Then there is this whole portion of the field who receives these designs and turn them into actual code that a computer runs. These people are definitely programmers, not just in the definition, but in what most people’s minds. In fact, I’d be willing to bet if you asked someone to imagine who or what a programmer is, you’d probably think of this person. But in all reality, they’re only a piece of the puzzle. These people just turn rough instructions and guidelines of things should look and operate, into buttons that actually do these things.

Our story doesn’t end here though. After all, there the button you’re pressing has to store data somewhere and get it back from somewhere, doesn’t it? Of course there’s an entire group of people who are in charge of that process, protecting that process, and handling the data. These people are also programmers because they’re in charge of the sequence of operations that handle getting and storing the data.

Beyond this, there’s the people who make sure that the things someone made actually work. Just like any other field, there has to quality assurance. While some companies focus more on this note than others, the people who work in this field often find themselves building testing protocols and procedures. These procedures can even be automated, so there’s no way that these people aren’t programmers too. While these can cause many of the other jobs in the industry pain and agony by constantly finding different ways the application can be broken, they’re invaluable resources and help to make sure things are done the proper way.

I could go on all day about the various parts of the wonderful world of technology, but there’s never really a clean end. So back to our original question, of what even is a programmer? That is an incredibly tough question, because at a very real level, we all are. When I say that we all are, I don’t mean all of us in tech, I mean all of us as human beings are. After all, if you’ve thought up a brilliant idea and outlined exactly how a new invention, app, feature, or the likes would work, then you’re a programmer at some level. If you’ve ever developed a process for building things, even if that process is the proper way to fold clothes, at some level you’ve programmed. Have you ever broken something or went through some kind of process to try and figure out how or why something isn’t working properly? Then you too are a programmer.

This leads me into the beauty of the the tech world. I’ve met people across the entire industry who come from all kinds of backgrounds. I’ve met musically inclined individuals who learned that they could write code and that parts of programming was like writing a symphony. There are mathematicians who think of computers and programs as giant functions that they simply must solve. Don’t forget the art majors in college who draw some kind of masterpiece and end up creating beautiful user experiences and innovate new ways to interface with users. Just like Auguste Gusteau said in the popular Disney film Ratatouille, “Anyone Can Cook” and realistically anyone can program. Sure you might find out that you excel at certain portions of programming, but with a word so broad, I’m sure that anyone out there can find something they could do. So next time you start thinking about someone programming, realize that to a certain extent, you too do the same thing, just in a different sense and in a different industry.

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