Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Are programmers open minded enough in technical opinions? Why not?

Today I checked an entry on stackoverflow.com to see how the answers were doing and which answer the questioner selected for himself to be valid. Again I was totally disappointed because the answer selected was in my opinion far away from being the best answer, rather it seemed to be the most convenient answer for the guy who asked at first place.

Are we open minded enough?

Questions of programmers mostly divide in two parts: The technical questions (i.e. questions which provoke solutions that either work or won't) and questions which - at least - elict to give an opinion in the answers because they cannot be answered that simple (i.e. "which framework is best", "what is the fastest method to..."). The latter kind of questions troubles me here.

When we ask for opinions of the community we should stay as open minded as possible judging the answers, but this, alas, is very difficult. Let me state some points why this is so.

Why aren't we open minded enough regarding our technical opinions?

So, why is it so? I gathered some reasons and their descriptions I stumbled upon in my life and wrote them down:
  • Projects, timelines, customers and change requests to be done "until yesterday". In a perfect world we would have enough time to evaluate different approaches for a programming project or problem. But in the real world you often have to just get the job done and have no time to rely on fancy stuff like other opinions. This may get a habit that is hard to be dealt with so that finally the own opinion counts (more).
  • Experience vs. half knowledge. Every programmer has a certain experience in a certain moment in his life. You certainly cannot have a (completely) valid opinion of things you didn't "experience" until now, be aware that half knowledge is a bad judge. Anyway, many people in cs trust their half knowledge more than (other) opinions from more experienced people, often even without really recognizing that they do so.
  • Sticking with own tools / frameworks / languages. Regarding their languages, tools and frameworks most programmers are very conservative and do not want to change them. That is not bad per se, things that worked out should be kept and experience gathered stays preserved, but it leads to programmers who do not try (or accept) new ways and therefore being "open minded" gets really hard.
  • Only the newest tools / frameworks / languages are the best. This seems to be the opposite of the argument above but it merely isn't. Someone who only relies on the latest techniques may not be aware that a problem can be solved better using an "old" technology. This perhaps because he never got deep enough using something (long enough) to see the advantages that are not obvious at first place. On the other hand the drawbacks of a new technology are not known at the beginning so everything looks more simple than before. That creates prejudices which constrain to be open minded.
  • It worked fine in my project so it works fine for everyone else. Generalization. Nearly everyone fails on this and it is perfectly human to do so. But in cs all project are, more or less, different. Be it because of the (slightly) different requirements or the environments or specifications a program has to run in. Even small varieties may make the great difference and everyone should keep this in (an open) mind.
This all is not really new and there are many slogans that reflect them like: "A fool with a tool is still a fool", "If all you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail", "Use the right tool for the right job" or "Some tools make simple things even more simple and complex things impossible". Anyway, every time I answer a "technical opinion question" I lean back and try to evaluate my answer against the points I mentioned above. I think this improves my answers a lot.

Related posts:
Different types of programmers
How to choose the best programming language

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Anonymous هيماني said...

Thank you

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Alwosta said...

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10:11 AM  

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