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Page history last edited by rsb 2 years, 9 months ago



Although I write software when I need to, I haven't been a full time programmer for a looong time.  I view programming skills as tools  - tools that open up opportunities to do things one might actually enjoy.  If I happen to enjoy writing a program, well, bonus.  Mostly, I use programming skill to build databases and glue services together.


I was asked to explain to an acquaintance why it has never, ever, been a better time to learn to program computers, and to get a job doing so.  I was told to really get them pumped about it.  I decided to write a response.  Here's what I told them via email (minus the bold bits and subsequent edits): 


Infinite opportunity to...WHAT!?!


The opportunity is now nearly infinite.  The education is free.  It's a wonderful time to learn.  There is nothing I would recommend more as a career move than to become a monkey-kicker.


Allow me to explain.  The monkey-kicker analogy covers everything you need to know.


First, you should understand the true nature of programming, and the truly complex ecosystem of jobs surrounding it.


You see, programming is, effectively, a conversation with a computer. 


That doesn't sound that bad, does it? 


Except that a computer is the equivalent of the drop-dead stupidest person you will ever speak with.  Dumber than you can possibly imagine.  These things are so dumb that you can't even make sensible yo-mama jokes about them.  That's because the dumbest human you can imagine can pass themselves off as human; computers can't. 


Texting with a computer, for eight hours a day, for a couple years, will engender in you a genuine and awesome respect for the massive power and potential within the least generally intelligent human mind.


But, "Hey", you say, "don't we get to make the computer manipulate information for us at amazing speeds?"


Yes.  You do.  At its core, the computer is completely subservient.  You, sir, get to provide the worlds densest, fastest idiot with instructions.  All day long. 


So, that's something.


And yes, that computer is incomprehensibly fast.  It's like a monkey on the craziest speed you have ever seen or heard of.  It's a *flying* monkey. 


Cool, you say?


Consider that every idiotic thing that the incredibly-stupid flying-speed-monkey does, it does at a million miles an hour. 


If it thinks you are telling it to screech, bite, and floor your automated car, an infinite number of times, then it can do that - very, very quickly.


However, if you are careful, and if you speak the few words it understands with the utmost clarity and forethought, in detail so excruciating that it might take you years to describe what you want...then you have a chance to get that monkey to do wondrously productive things.  The little victories along the way might offset the daily grind, somewhat.  As seen on TV, you might even become rich, or help others, in this way.


But, there's a catch.


There's always a catch. 


The Monkey Whispers of Insanity


That absolutely subservient flying-idiot-speed-monkey is often being given whispered instructions from other programmers - WHILE YOU ARE GIVING IT INSTRUCTIONS.


This is why all programmers yell obscenities at their screen from time to time, then work through the night and into the morning.   These silent night marches end as often with a scream of "NOOOOoooooo!" as a scream of "YESsssss!".  


The screaming in the next cube is only disturbing until you get used to it.  It is most often heard from programmers who interact with computers on which other programmers' whispered instructions are HIDDEN from them. 


Yes.  That's a real thing.  


Imagine trying to get a monkey to do what you command while other people whisper thousands of contradictory instructions in it's ear - in any one of thousands of unpredictable dialects of monkey-speak.  


It's little monkey-brain will be causing wild havoc, at high speed.  


To make that work, you would have to be a monkey-trainer (programmer) that accounts for EVERYTHING that every other monkey-trainer could possibly be saying to the flying-idiot-speed monkey (paint the picture, that's it, good monkey - no! not fly/screech/poop! - paint!  oh, god!).


And that's just what happens *before* they create a million copies of the flying monkey and allow it to interact with the general populace, who invariably do things to the monkey that neither god nor man ever, ever intended.  

And the monkey-trainer can't just *not think about it*.  Through some level of indirection, programmers are forced to talk about it.  


"Uh-huh.  You did *what* to the monkey?!?  Ah.  Er.  Well, I suppose if you wanted us to add an appendage there, well, yes, it could conceivably.  Urp!  Oh, no, nothing, I just puked.  It's o.k. I have a bucket.   Yes.  Yes, sir.  No, I can't imagine why we didn't think of that when we designed the monkey software."


In the worst cases, things go south for the programmers.  Some become a breed apart from humans.  Pale mutants who inhabit the night, obsessed with the manipulation of flying monkeys, equating monkey-speak-perfection with the highest form of creative genius.  Their egos may inflate with each monkey-speak success, and they might begin to speak to non-programmers as if they were computers as well.  Sadly, some, are never rehabilitated. 


Others accept that they are basically monkey-trainers with good humor, and keep friendly relations with those outside their profession, becoming some of the more lovable and productive members of either human or mutant society.  There *is* an art to monkey-training - as with any other profession - but it can best be appreciated when paired the gentle art of humility.


Be aware - programming does not promise you a rose garden - but it does offer options.


Oh, that kind of problem?  You can just monkey-kick that. 


Programmers aren't the only people working in the flying-monkey ecosystem, chasing these crazy creatures around the virtual room.  There are literally hundreds of jobs that involve some understanding of monkey-speak, but do not necessarily involve mutation into full-time, nocturnal monkey-trainers. 


Jobs for people who cannot adapt to new tech services (the monkey environment) are disappearing - they exist primarily in companies behind the times.  At the same time, the number of basically non-technical jobs that require minor amounts of coding (monkey-speak) is growing rapidly.   It's a job shift from old processes to new ones.  Old jobs to new jobs.  


People in the "new jobs" are able to get away with only basic collaboration skills and one or two dialects of monkey-speak - speaking it only for a few minutes or so each day.  They develop a small library of powerful monkey-speak tricks - following a relatively simple set of principles.  They might call these their computing power tools - bits of monkey-speak that can really shove a monkey into a corner and bend it to their will, in specific situations that apply to their job.  Most of the time, the skills you want to have are in understanding how data is stored and manipulated, and how to get it into and out of services, following good principles (out of scope to describe those here but feel free to email me on that one).


When these people take out their computing power tools, what they are really doing (because, analogies), is donning a pair of size eleven double-E monkey-kickers.  They bravely face worlds full of flying monkeys, circling and leaping, threatening to poop at any time. 


These fearless technical problem solvers are your monkey-kickers (people who know how to program computers in some contexts, but do it only when necessary).  They save the financial lives of the non-monkey kickers on a daily basis.  


Need a monkey to look a little different?  I know a designer who knows what to do.  He knows just the bits of HTML and CSS (monkey dialects that affect the way a monkey looks) to make that happen.  He trained in these dialects on his own, and he uses them to give that monkey just the right kick.  (Gently! we like monkeys.)  Attitude adjusted!  That monkey looks awesome!  Now the designer goes back to touching up photos, or whatever designy things designers like to do.


Need a monkey to tell you why your sales are dropping off in your online store?  Well, I know a support technician who can help.  She knows just the bits of python and spreadsheet programming (monkey dialects that can extract data from a monkey) to get that monkey to talk.  Monkey-kickers on!  That report's on your desk.  You saved us!  Now she goes back to training humans.


Those people are your monkey-kickers.  They are the people that are going the extra mile to learn how to manipulate computing systems so that they can be more effective at their jobs.  They come in at just the right time, with just the right combination of knowledge of their job and knowledge of computer programming to save the day.  Monkey-kickers get over their intimidations and learn to build tools whenever they get the chance.  They are lifelong learners.  


Need to convert some data from one format to another?  Need to enhance the way an off-the-shelf tool works?   Using a bunch of off-the-shelf web apps to build something, but the tools that integrate them are missing a feature?  You probably don't need a degreed computer scientist.  You could use a monkey-kicker, though. 


Now imagine you're an employer.  You are comparing two prospective hires: a geologist who can also kick the monkeys you need kicked versus a geologist who can't kick-monkeys.  You will probably take the monkey-kicker.  In some cases, maybe even if he's an amateur geologist.  You can hire the expert geologist later.  The monkeys need kicking now, and every day in the future.  


For instance, say you have a bunch of geology data in one system, that needs to get transformed into a nice format, timestamps and other data added, then it needs to go into google maps and build maps for people in the field, and email them to them - now, that's a bitch - it will kick your ass if you don't have a monkey kicker around.  It will literally take you months that you could have spend building that garden you always wanted in your backyard and that your partner is getting on your case about.  Get a monkey kicker who has done that type of thing half a dozen times, and it's done next week, with zero time and effort on your part (other than to truly define the problem you want solved on paper).


Monkey-trainers (full-time coders) have long realized that monkey-kickers (part-time coders that glue stuff together) exist.  Many monkey trainers have leveraged their skills to get out of monkey-training, and into the industry and locale of their choice, by learning just what type of monkey-kicking a geologists assistant in Hawaii really needs to know.  They made the jump to monkey-kicker.


Other monkey-trainers have begun to build systems that reduce the need for monkey-trainers!  Those systems can be sold to companies who do not employ monkey-trainers, making it easy for those companies to get by with a monkey-kicker or two.  That's actually a big deal.  Today, self-trained monkey-kickers can build businesses that used to take dozens of monkey trainers to build.  The industrial revolution continues.


So, sure, you might fall in love with monkey-speak, and become a full-time monkey-trainer.  But you have other options - bear in mind that lots of jobs exist for people who are willing to learn a just a little monkey-speak - not too much, and build a powerful set of tools, applicable in certain contexts.  


When looking for those jobs, you need to learn what monkeys haunt the employers you want to work for.  How can you help kick those specific monkeys into line?


You might find some art classes and a programming bootcamp gets you where you want to go, or maybe some online design classes and some time coding up a little geology application for your phone.  It's a great time to learn.   So get out your size 11 EEs.  Monkey-kickers are in very high demand.


Related opinions:


Coding Horror StillDrinking BusinessInsider Python Programmer


Addendum - O.k. I kind of feel bad about the monkey kicking moniker:


Disclaimer: vast numbers of virtual and/or imaginary monkeys were harmed in the course of writing this article.  


I don't need to say that you should never harm a real monkey.  But I did say it, just in case we have an idiot in the room.  Never harm a real monkey.  This is the internet, after all.  Please consider giving to one of these foundations I discovered while considering what a bad person I am:


Born Free USA - takes in animals that never should have been brought to the US and were abused and tries to give them a decent life.


Primate Rescue Center - also provides rescue and lifelong care for abused primates in the US.


Pan-African-Sanctuary Alliance -  in africa - reduces hunting incentives - builds sanctuaries - looks like a great organization. (use the donate button at the top of the page, the one on the right sidebar is broken).


I just gave to all of them, and it not only squashed my guilt, but was satisfying as all get out.







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