Monday, February 19, 2007

Coder, Programmer or Engineer

I came across an article on digg which discussed about coder Vs programmer.

The article seems to suggest that coders are brainless code churning machine, programmers are thoughtful, intelligent and agile developers. Here is my take on this issue.

The article seems to ignore engineers. I believe engineers are at higher food chain than programmers. The word sfotware engineer is widelys misused. Anybody even remotely writing /doing something on computer considers himself/herself as software engineer.

Software engineer has to have expertise in following four disciplines.

1) Programming Langauge : It can be any language. Be it C, C++, Java, Perl, Python or more fundamental like LISP or Assembly. Programming language gives engineer all the necessary tools to implement ideas into working products. Engineer must be able to take advantage of some of the powerful abstractions provided by programming language.

2) Operating Systems: This does not mean that you know how to use an operating system. It means you understand the design & issues involved in designing an operating system and take them into consideration while writing a software. E.g If you know an OS scheduler is biased towards I/O jobs instead of processor intensive jobs, then you know that your routing protocol software computing shortest path algorithm will suffer. Hence you will set the expectations for the performance of your software.

3) Theoretical Computer Science (Data Structures & algorithms, TOC etc): You can write programs without knowledge of algorithms. But you can write good & efficient programs with knowledge of theoretical computer science. Writing a single threaded program might be the simplest way and anybody can write one. But to select between a finite state machine or multi-threaded master-slave approach requires sound understanding of theory.

4) Domain specific (Computer Networking, Databases, Compilers, AI, Robotics etc): This refers to your field of specialization in computer science. These domains are a layer above the first 3 disciplines.

If you are missing knowledge of any of the 2,3 or 4, then you are not an engineer. But just a programmer. Coder lacks knowledge of more disciplines than programmer.

This is just my opinion. YMMV.

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