on the lost unity of programming dot dot dot

Jul 18, 2015  

An excerpt from “Concepts, Techniques, and Models of Computer Programming” by Van Roy and Haridi:

Despite many efforts to introduce a scientific foundation, programming is almost always taught as a craft. It is usually taught in the context of one (or a few) programming languages (e.g., Java, complemented with Haskell, Scheme, or Prolog). The historical accidents of the particular languages chosen are interwoven together so closely with the fundamental concepts that the two cannot be separated. There is a confusion between tools and concepts. What’s more, different schools of thought have developed, based on different ways of viewing programming, called “paradigms”: object-oriented, logic, functional, etc. Each school of thought has its own science. The unity of programming as a single discipline has been lost.

Teaching programming in this fashion is like having separate schools of bridge building: one school teaches how to build wooden bridges and another school teaches how to build iron bridges. Graduates of either school would implicitly consider the restriction to wood or iron as fundamental and would not think of using wood and iron together

An excerpt from “Mob Software: The Erotic Life of Code” by Dick Gabriel & Ron Goldman:

The effect of ownership imperatives has caused there to be no body of software as literature. It is as if all writers had their own private companies and only people in the Melville company could read “Moby-Dick” and only those in Hemingway’s could read “The Sun Also Rises.” Can you imagine developing a rich literature under these circumstances? Under such conditions, there could be neither a curriculum in literature nor a way of teaching writing. And we expect people to learn to program in this exact context?

When software became merchandise, the opportunity vanished of teaching software development as a craft and as artistry. The literature became frozen. It’s extremely rare today to stumble across someone who is familiar with the same source code as you are. If all remnants of literature disappeared, you’d expect that eventually all respect for it—as an art form, as a craft, as an activity worthy of human attention—would disappear. And so we’ve seen with software: The focus is on architecture, specifications, design documents, and graphical design languages. Code as code is looked down on: The lowest rank in the software development chain is “coder”—right alongside QA drone and doc writer.