Wow, we link to "Don’t Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice" by Patrick McKenzie in our FAQ? Sure he's got some brutally true snippets in there, but overall it's a bad article.

"Engineering is a cost center" is laughable but might be true from a management's perspective. Fun fact: Peter Drucker, that "business oracle" who made these terms? He later appended his idea: “The only profit center is a customer whose cheque hasn’t bounced." But it can be a useful to understand why bad managers will try to undercut you.

Then he has gems like: "companies with broken HR policies where lack of a buzzword means you won’t be selected. You don’t want to work for them". So... You shouldn't work somewhere with broken HR, but broken management is ok?

He DOES have some useful advice, the sort that gets repeated a lot around here: "Many asked how to know what programming language or stack to study. It doesn’t matter." That's something we would be repeating constantly to the stream of students asking us what classes to take. His time estimations might be a bit off, but it's good solid advice about not fretting over the language.

But he really flubs other: "You will have other coworkers who — affably and ethically — will suggest things which go against your interests, from 'I should get credit for that project you just did'. How could that possibly be seen as ethical? And I think that's one of my bigger complaints about this article. Questionable ethics. Oh look, the guy has moved into management and he's a boss that employs programmers. Go figure.

All in all, it's like he's trying to be brutally honest, like someone that's gone past enemy lines and is reporting back all the dirty laundry of management. But it just comes off as cynical and pessimistic. He presumes a very antagonistic relationship between managers and workers. The article, while helpful in some aspects, should not be promoted on SE.Programmers.

Unless the results of the engineering are directly sold for profit at the company, then Engineering absolutely is a cost center. Pretty much everything other than management and sales is viewed as a cost center. This isn't pessimistic, it is reality for the vast majority of us. –  maple_shaft Nov 16 '12 at 17:41
"You will have other coworkers who — affably and ethically — will suggest things which go against your interests, from 'I should get credit for that project you just did'. How could that possibly be seen as ethical? It happens to me so much that I guess I just don't notice it anymore. :/ –  maple_shaft Nov 16 '12 at 17:45
@maple_shaft "Pretty much everything other than management and sales is viewed as a cost center" management and sales. –  Philip Nov 16 '12 at 18:40
before removing, I would at least try to find out how it came into FAQ, what was the reasoning to include it. My brief search found nothing about this, except for a brief tweet of Jeff Atwood: –  gnat Nov 16 '12 at 19:35
@gnat That's a good find, but I don't think it's relevant, the link was added to the FAQ a day after the article was published (Oct 28 '11) and Jeff's tweet was on Apr 3 '12. I can't find any discussion on Meta about adding it (which probably means I didn't really search hard enough). Also I don't have an opinion on whether the article is useful or not (because I never bothered to read it ;) –  Yannis Rizos Nov 16 '12 at 20:22
@YannisRizos well one thing for sure, if (note: if) a more thorough search finds nothing authoritative on its inclusion, we would have to consider it voluntary unjustified act - and, respectively - this meta discussion as a sufficient justification to drop it –  gnat Nov 16 '12 at 21:17
@gnat Hm, I don't think it matters why it was added, it was more than a year ago. If the community overwhelmingly supports removing the link, we'll remove it. –  Yannis Rizos Nov 16 '12 at 21:21
@YannisRizos if honestly I'd prefer to know why (of course, if there was "why"). Majority opinion is not always reliable, and community can make mistakes –  gnat Nov 16 '12 at 21:26
@gnat Trust me I'm fully aware that the community can make mistakes ;P –  Yannis Rizos Nov 16 '12 at 21:30
@maple_shaft: It happens to me so much that I guess I just don't notice it anymore. :/ Seriously?!? That's mildly horrifying. Where in the world are you working? And wherever it is, get out. Now. There are much less dysfunctional places to work at out there... –  Mason Wheeler Nov 16 '12 at 22:34
@MasonWheeler Throughout my career there have been people that steal credit or use your good work to advance themselves no matter where I go. I also have changed jobs more than I have changed shoes, it is a common theme. It must be a regional or enterprise corporate thing. –  maple_shaft Nov 17 '12 at 0:14
Hm, I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, "Don’t Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice" was never in our FAQ /waves hand –  Yannis Rizos Nov 19 '12 at 12:00
Having just read the article I wanted to leave this comment on his blog but comments are closed. I completely agree that the article makes some very broad sweeping statements a lot of which are wrong. It seems that he is encouraging people to become MBAs/senior project management types. If you have a role like this then your aren't a programmer and you shouldn't waste the companies money by writing code - you should get someone who calls themselves a programmer to do it. Also surely if calling yourself a programmer will get you fired then we wouldn't have any programmers or commercial apps? –  JoeNFU Aug 7 at 19:13

5 Answers 5

I would be okay with this being removed.

I personally feel that there is a huge amount of wisdom in this article, but there are a number of highly opinionated and possibly wrongheaded assumptions that many people may not only disagree with, but also find highly offensive.

Specifically I am calling out his observations and assumptions about software development in Academia (or any other non-business entity for that matter).

Your major and minor don’t matter. Most decisionmakers in industry couldn’t tell the difference between a major in Computer Science and a major in Mathematics if they tried.

This sends the wrong message and is anti-Academia. It also assumes that the only software development jobs that matter are in the business world. What about Non-Profits? What about Government? What about Academia?

Your professors might understand how the academic job market works (short story: it is ridiculously inefficient in engineering and fubared beyond mortal comprehension in English)

Again this might be offensive to someone in Academia.

If you really like the atmosphere at universities, that is cool. Put a backpack on and you can walk into any building at any university in the United States any time you want. Backpacks are a lot cheaper than working in academia. You can lead the life of the mind in industry, too — and enjoy less politics and better pay.

When it comes to Academia he clearly does not know what he is talking about. It is wrought with politics as well, it is just a very different game than what you would play in the corporate world.

On this basis alone linking to this article may give the wrong impression to certain sets of software developers that are more than welcome.

I personally find some of it pretty offensive. I'm surprised this was actually in the FAQ, I've only seen this article ferried about in comments and answers on this site... The whole part about the engineer interviewing you is treating you as a material object not as a human is basically calling me and most of you unsympathetic corporate automoton sociopaths. –  Jimmy Hoffa Nov 16 '12 at 18:45
@JimmyHoffa On the same note though, you have to look at this article in much the same way that you would a Spolsky article (Eg. "Under no circumstances should you ever completely rewrite working software"). Don't take advice from it literally, it is meant to get you thinking about the consequences of certain beliefs or decisions. A little bit of contreversy also helps your blog get noticed more and will help you climb to the top of the Google page. –  maple_shaft Nov 16 '12 at 19:42
I can appreciate some literary color like you're referring to, but this just strikes me more as an angry diatribe. Whether that gets it ranked better on Google or makes people think twice doesn't make it any less virulent. Not the sort of professional resource we want people guided to by the FAQ unless we want to convince them to get mad and be jerks. –  Jimmy Hoffa Nov 16 '12 at 21:53
I think it's a handy thing to break people out of the mindsets they might have got caught in. It has to be firm or people won't pay attention. Once they are thinking again rather than following in the track of the ideas they already had, they can discard its content. It's more of a jolt imho. Doesn't mean it belongs on the FAQ here. –  glenatron Nov 26 '12 at 13:34

I agree. It's not something that belongs in the site faq. The 'dont call yourself a programmer' article is an opinion piece, and shouldnt be presented as if its the site's uniformly accepted authority on the topic. There's already a link to The Workplace - which should be the go-to 'authority' on the topic. I think that's sufficient.

Agreed. It just seems out of place there. –  C. Ross Nov 18 '12 at 14:05

The article is at least very subjective. It might perfectly match the author's own experiences, but I don't think it is generally true. Promoting this article probably gives it more universal validity than it deserves.


I vote that it should be removed. IMHO the article is sensationalistic content marketing to attract visitors. The summary in the outro states ...

At the end of the day, your life happiness will not be dominated by your career ...

This supports the assertion that the topic was geared as an opinionated 'self-help guide for developers ... '

I can't see how this article would add any direct value to


The context of the link is

For answers to common programming career advice questions, please see "Don’t Call Yourself A Programmer, And Other Career Advice" by Patrick McKenzie.

I Say refer the reader to instead.

The Workplace is already referenced in our FAQ in the general workplace issues, office politics, résumé help (check out The Workplace instead), line, which is the only part of our FAQ that addresses something that is on-topic on Workplace. –  Thomas Owens Nov 18 '12 at 4:17

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