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(Slate)   One programmer's confession of how he got by for years without knowing what he was doing, simply by looking the part   (slate.com) divider line 82
    More: Interesting, MIT Media Lab, software engineers, BBs, project team, 11th grade, Asians  
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7530 clicks; posted to Geek » on 15 Jan 2014 at 3:54 PM (26 weeks ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2014-01-15 03:15:35 PM
static1.wikia.nocookie.net

"They asked me how well I understood theoretical physics. I said I had a theoretical degree in physics. They said welcome aboard."
 
2014-01-15 03:50:03 PM
I read the headline and thought this would be about a guy who faked it until he got caught. But no. He wasn't faking it at all. He was LEARNING. And the article isn't about faking it at all. It's about his privilege as an Asian male and how it allowed him to learn while others were discouraged from learning in the first place.

So the article is actually worthwhile, not some Cracked-esque thing designed to go viral.

However, someone should fact-check what he said about Doom 3. Who would stay up late playing that game?
 
2014-01-15 03:59:16 PM
Only one?
They should check out where I work.
 
2014-01-15 04:03:32 PM
I work with WAAAAYYYYY  to many people who seem to do exactly this.
 
2014-01-15 04:09:50 PM
he must be working on the obamacare website.
 
2014-01-15 04:10:26 PM

FishyFred: I read the headline and thought this would be about a guy who faked it until he got caught. But no. He wasn't faking it at all. He was LEARNING. And the article isn't about faking it at all. It's about his privilege as an Asian male and how it allowed him to learn while others were discouraged from learning in the first place.

So the article is actually worthwhile, not some Cracked-esque thing designed to go viral.

However, someone should fact-check what he said about Doom 3. Who would stay up late playing that game?


Delighted to see that he's a professor so can actually do something about encouraging everyone with an interest to try and potentially succeed at CS or STEM.
 
2014-01-15 04:11:57 PM

FishyFred: the article isn't about faking it at all. It's about his privilege as an Asian male and how it allowed him to learn while others were discouraged from learning in the first place.


I have to agree, mostly.  I want to biatch about this article but I'm having a tough time finding a foothold.  I guess what irks me is the bait and switch and the fact that not only was he never faking it, he did all right with it.

"Over a decade later, she now does some programming at her research job, but wishes that she had learned more back in college. However, she had such a negative association with everything CS-related that it was hard to motivate herself to do so for fear of being shot down again."

OK, that last part sounds like a personal problem that she should try to overcome, if she still really wants to be a programmer.  But wait, she's some kind of researcher now *and* does some programming.  What's to stop her from learning more on her own?

Every bit of programming I learned, from assembly languages to C++ and so on, I learned on my own.  Sure, not everyone can and I probably missed out on some structure or algorithms and the like for having been outside of the formal academic environment while learning but what does his friend want outside of her research job and what programming she knows now?  Rhetorical question... whatever it is, the answer is buy a book and learn it.
 
2014-01-15 04:14:04 PM
dilbert.com
 
2014-01-15 04:16:59 PM
I thought this would be about the guy who got rich by taking on programming contracts and subcontracting them out to programmers in places like India and China for pennies on the dollar.
 
2014-01-15 04:17:28 PM
Meanwhile, there are several staff writers at Slate reading the article thinking "how long before they notice I don't have a journalism degree either" as they continue writing out trollerific articles.
 
2014-01-15 04:20:34 PM
At my workspace, he'd be known as a "superstar". It's the one's that don't know what they're doing, but think they do that cause so very much damage.
 
2014-01-15 04:20:51 PM

FishyFred: I read the headline and thought this would be about a guy who faked it until he got caught. But no. He wasn't faking it at all. He was LEARNING. And the article isn't about faking it at all. It's about his privilege as an Asian male and how it allowed him to learn while others were discouraged from learning in the first place.

So the article is actually worthwhile, not some Cracked-esque thing designed to go viral.

However, someone should fact-check what he said about Doom 3. Who would stay up late playing that game?


Yeah, that headline is atrociously inaccurate, which is a shame since it's a pretty good article.
 
2014-01-15 04:20:58 PM
He went to MIT. For computer science. With no real background or experience in programming.

I used to see kids like this all the time when I used to rent apartments in a college town. Points for aspiration, but I always looked at specialty schools as the place you go to develop a talent you already have a bit of, if not a natural mastery of-- not to learn everything from the ground up. But then that's just my opinion on it.

I always found these exchanges humorous:

Me: First year at SCAD?

Them: Yup!

Me: What major?

Them: Painting.

Me: Wow, neat. How long have you been a painter?

Them: Well, classes don't start until next week.


In cases like this they were seeking a $100,000 private art school degree in a disciple they'd never even tried. You'd have never guessed they came from money.

/end threadjack
 
2014-01-15 04:21:46 PM

FishyFred: However, someone should fact-check what he said about Doom 3. Who would stay up late playing that game?


I pulled an all-nighter when it came out.  Did the same for Half-Life 2.
 
2014-01-15 04:22:42 PM

wxboy: I thought this would be about the guy who got rich by taking on programming contracts and subcontracting them out to programmers in places like India and China for pennies on the dollar.


You mean Bill Gates?

/rimshot
 
2014-01-15 04:22:53 PM
That was a great read submitter.  +10

That was a terrible headline submitter. -1,000,000

It's nice to see a thoughtful article about the male centric world of computer science that doesn't use the word 'brogrammer', and has actual thoughts about to why this is so and suggestions on how it might be corrected.  I also notice he didn't leave the engineers out.  My biggest issue is with the current methods that we try to make STEM fields more inclusive to females specifically the scholarship and grants available to female students.  If you have a cultural bias that women aren't good at math/science and then try to correct it with scholarships at the post secondary level it won't fix the issue.  No girl who has been told all her life that she isn't as good as boys at math and science is going to decide to become an engineer simply because there are extra scholarships available to her.  You need to fix the problem at a younger age.  I'm not saying that the scholarships are a bad idea but they won't work in a vacuum.
 
2014-01-15 04:24:01 PM
i think i worked with this guy...a lot; multiple guys like this...A. THE. FARKING. TIME!
 
2014-01-15 04:24:03 PM
He went to MIT and, I assume, graduated.

Really smart guy learns fast.  Film at 11.
 
2014-01-15 04:28:08 PM
After 20 years in software development I have learned one thing, Asians make the best code monkeys and worst analysts. Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Indians, etc... worst farking analysts ever, but if you need someone to grind out code that has been designed down to the tiniest detail, hey they are the best at that. As long as you can explain to them exactly what you want them to do in excruciating detail you can get good work out of them.
 
2014-01-15 04:30:34 PM
I work at an ad agency, doing mostly retail marketing. As I type this, my latest display copy is being reviewed by a "Brand Marketing Manager" who makes 3 times my salary and speaks English far worse than the delivery guy from the noodle shop down the street.

tl:dr... it ain't just programming. Nobody knows a damn thing anymore.
 
2014-01-15 04:31:49 PM
Isn't this normal?

I mean maybe not to that degree, but a certain amount of knowing when to shut up and look smart coupled with the fact that every programmer takes 6 months to get to net positive productivity coupled with your genius IQ (Asian at MIT.  Yup, 99% genius) means that:

A) You're probably better than you think you are.  Because you got thrown in a room with the top thousand or so new programmers in the country and managed to be good enough at faking it to not stand out as sucking.
B) Bullshiat talks (up to a point).  And you got really good at picking up languages and concepts on the fly because MIT, so that after 3-6 months, you weren't bullshiatting.


/And then "Huzzah for the new racism, so much more pervasive and harmful and insidious than the old racism".
 
2014-01-15 04:37:11 PM
I liked the article. Everyone should have the chances this guy had. Most bright people can be serviceable programmers, but good luck with that if you don't look the part and don't fit the (wink wink) "culture".  It made my job searches last year so much fun. I'd walk in and just see it in their eyes.... "not One of Us..."
 
2014-01-15 04:42:39 PM

Slaves2Darkness: After 20 years in software development I have learned one thing, Asians make the best code monkeys and worst analysts. Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Indians, etc... worst farking analysts ever, but if you need someone to grind out code that has been designed down to the tiniest detail, hey they are the best at that. As long as you can explain to them exactly what you want them to do in excruciating detail you can get good work out of them.


THIS

It's why outsourcing farks up. Someone shifts the team to India and they do what you tell them to. They don't go "um, this makes no sense at all" or "wouldn't it be better to do...". Mistakes by analysts end up as mistakes in code, rather than a developer feeding back and questioning it and saving lots of pain later.

Developers aren't just code writers. Oh, and the reason a lot of analysts get away with being shiatty is because developers fix their crap. "really, you want 23 radio buttons? Wouldn't a drop down be more suitable?". Yeah, let me do your job for you too.
 
2014-01-15 04:43:13 PM
The best people think they don't understand shiat.
 
2014-01-15 04:44:40 PM

Egoy3k: That was a great read submitter.  +10

That was a terrible headline submitter. -1,000,000

It's nice to see a thoughtful article about the male centric world of computer science that doesn't use the word 'brogrammer', and has actual thoughts about to why this is so and suggestions on how it might be corrected.  I also notice he didn't leave the engineers out.  My biggest issue is with the current methods that we try to make STEM fields more inclusive to females specifically the scholarship and grants available to female students.  If you have a cultural bias that women aren't good at math/science and then try to correct it with scholarships at the post secondary level it won't fix the issue.  No girl who has been told all her life that she isn't as good as boys at math and science is going to decide to become an engineer simply because there are extra scholarships available to her.  You need to fix the problem at a younger age.  I'm not saying that the scholarships are a bad idea but they won't work in a vacuum.


I just don't get it, I work surrounded by women, DBA's, software engineers, project managers, etc. There are women everywhere in the technology workplace. I'm interviewing at another large company and the boss boss boss is a woman and the team i'm interviewing for has almost a 50/50 split by gender of software engineers. I work with Indian women, a Palestinian, and a couple standard whites. In my career ( about 15 years ) I've never seen any lack of diversity in the technology workplace.
 
2014-01-15 04:45:26 PM

Contents Under Pressure: I liked the article. Everyone should have the chances this guy had. Most bright people can be serviceable programmers, but good luck with that if you don't look the part and don't fit the (wink wink) "culture".  It made my job searches last year so much fun. I'd walk in and just see it in their eyes.... "not One of Us..."


Were you wearing a suit?

Because you never wear a suit to a tech interview.

Or if you must, it should always be about 40-60 pounds too small, incredibly wrinkled and missing all the buttons on the suit jacket with a "I learned how to tie this knot by looking it up on the internet this morning" tie.

And your hair should be mussed up.  Not "I just rolled out of bed", but "This is what my brushed hair looks like."  I'drecommend brushing your hair, and then running your fingers through it once or twice before smoothing it back down with your hand.

And a "I've been way too busy for the last 3 weeks to even think about shaving and I'm too lazy to take it off now (but not too lazy to do some edgework)" beard/stache.

And bloodshot eyes from too many plane rides and not enough sleep is a good thing.

/I'm joking, but I actually did this for a bunch of interviews and got offers from more than half of them.
 
2014-01-15 04:45:26 PM
"... required skills I hadn't yet learned but knew that I could pick up on the spot. "

WTF?  I haven't been a professional programmer for a decade, but isn't this how it is for a lot, if not every programmer?
 
2014-01-15 04:45:33 PM

Contents Under Pressure: I liked the article. Everyone should have the chances this guy had. Most bright people can be serviceable programmers, but good luck with that if you don't look the part and don't fit the (wink wink) "culture".  It made my job searches last year so much fun. I'd walk in and just see it in their eyes.... "not One of Us..."


I'm a programmer who had a similar progression as the OP of the article but I didn't finish college. I started in programming around 15 when I made a couple websites but nothing really major. I took a CS class in high school where I learned Pascal, then decided to be a CS major at UB (University of Buffalo). After 2 years I dropped out due to failing grades and became a hobbyist programmer. 

Eventually (about 4 years after college) I got a job in shipping/receiving and system configuration for a Point of Sale company. After 18 months I was in support, and was making stupid little VB/C# programs to assist with certain basic tasks. My boss noticed and sent me to a boot camp for FoxPro. So with a week of training I was suddenly one of two developers at this company and held this position for 3 years. 

About 2 years later I applied for a job at a University as the 'Technology and Web Coordinator' for the student activities office. I had zero professional experience in web development other than some basic stuff I learned when I was 16 and over the years. I beat out over 100 candidates because I interview extremely well. The first 6 months I re-taught myself JS, HTML, CSS and PHP and am still in the position almost 3 years later. 

I interview well and because I have no degree I'm 'cheaper' than those that do have one and thus that's what makes me appeal to people doing the hiring. Though I'm not an Asian guy, I am a pretty typically pasty, thin (ish) white guy with glasses, which seems to help as well. lol.

IT is a weird field...
 
2014-01-15 04:46:59 PM

Slaves2Darkness: After 20 years in software development I have learned one thing, Asians make the best code monkeys and worst analysts. Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Indians, etc... worst farking analysts ever, but if you need someone to grind out code that has been designed down to the tiniest detail, hey they are the best at that. As long as you can explain to them exactly what you want them to do in excruciating detail you can get good work out of them.



Case in point: if you're white and dumb it's just cause you're dumb. If you're not white and dumb it's because of your race.
 
2014-01-15 04:51:27 PM

minuslars: Slaves2Darkness: After 20 years in software development I have learned one thing, Asians make the best code monkeys and worst analysts. Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Indians, etc... worst farking analysts ever, but if you need someone to grind out code that has been designed down to the tiniest detail, hey they are the best at that. As long as you can explain to them exactly what you want them to do in excruciating detail you can get good work out of them.


Case in point: if you're white and dumb it's just cause you're dumb. If you're not white and dumb it's because of your race.


So I think it's cultural issues.

Because all the problems I've heard about with Asians is with "Asians in Asia" or "Asians fresh off the boat on H1-B visas".  And they basically describe that same problem.

/Or I noticed that the black kids being thugs in my high school were 100% recent refugees from the ghettos of Detroit.  Sure, they were black, but "from Detroit proper" was MUCH more important than "black".  If they were born and raised in the burbs, there wasn't a problem.
 
2014-01-15 04:53:21 PM

Cubicle Jockey: [dilbert.com image 640x287]


I have the kind of beard and hair that makes people think I'm a *nix administrator. Just enough gray.
 
2014-01-15 05:04:06 PM

chasd00: I just don't get it, I work surrounded by women, DBA's, software engineers, project managers, etc. There are women everywhere in the technology workplace. I'm interviewing at another large company and the boss boss boss is a woman and the team i'm interviewing for has almost a 50/50 split by gender of software engineers. I work with Indian women, a Palestinian, and a couple standard whites. In my career ( about 15 years ) I've never seen any lack of diversity in the technology workplace.


You're in a very diverse niche or company, it seems.  Overall women make up about 12 - 15% of the engineering and IT undergraduate programs in the U.S., and less than 10% of Engineering and IT professional jobs in the U.S. (growing by a very, very small percentage each year).  The gender diversity in STEM is pretty bad, and ethnic diversity is downright terrible.  It's extremely lopsided, and among U.S. citizens, almost non-existent.

It's getting slowly better, but at a snail's pace.
 
2014-01-15 05:10:13 PM
That was pretty much me. Even though I had a BA in CS, I didn't know WTF I was doing but I got a job anyway. It was at the height of the IT bubble and they actually sent me to classes and shiat. I miss the late 90s.

Of course, computer programming is farking terminally boring so I quit and went to film school instead.
 
2014-01-15 05:19:10 PM

gnosis301: "... required skills I hadn't yet learned but knew that I could pick up on the spot. "

WTF?  I haven't been a professional programmer for a decade, but isn't this how it is for a lot, if not every programmer?


Yes, BUT it's usually required to convince the interviewer that you have several years' experience in exactly whatever it is they are doing. (Down to the exact details of versions of tools used, etc.)

A few companies know better, but most persist, because that's all HR knows how to do. (And you have to get past HR to get to anyone who knows better...)

That's something that impressed me about interviewing at SAS (no, of course I didn't get the job)... they actually recognize that people who are experts in both programming and statistics don't usually appear in nature, and are quite willing to get someone who's half of that and have them learn the other half on the job.
 
2014-01-15 05:23:50 PM

meyerkev: So I think it's cultural issues.

Because all the problems I've heard about with Asians is with "Asians in Asia" or "Asians fresh off the boat on H1-B visas".  And they basically describe that same problem.


At least some of the problems are issues of outsourcing (rather than offshoring). If your company opens an India office and hires direct (and this is not too hard to do, even for a relatively small company) you can get good people who learn your business, have incentives aligned to your company, etc. (Of course you're not guaranteed to succeed - fill a building full of freshers and you're asking for trouble).

If you outsource, even to Americans, you tend to get problems with misaligned incentives, and if everything's not spec'ed out to the tiniest detail you'll have problems. Ask, for example, Kathleen Sebelius.
 
2014-01-15 05:29:30 PM
Done in one.

/that part always made me lol
 
2014-01-15 05:38:24 PM
tl;dr
 
2014-01-15 05:42:16 PM
Can anyone advise a wanna-be code monkey on a good way of picking up C++?  Most of the tutorial books I've seen are garbage.
 
2014-01-15 05:55:37 PM
tl;dr version:

A guy went to college, earned a degree, got a job and he's Asian.

Go home Slate, you're stupid.
 
2014-01-15 05:57:06 PM

Cpl.D: Can anyone advise a wanna-be code monkey on a good way of picking up C++?  Most of the tutorial books I've seen are garbage.


1) You're asking the wrong question.  Programming languages aren't important, programming concepts (Data structure, software architecture, Big-O, software architecture, algorithms, software architecture) are.  You get the concepts, and the languages come easy.

Though some transitions are harder than others  (C++ to Ruby just sucked because they're based on such different underlying concepts and ways of thought)

2) To Start?  Make a Linux VM using Virtualbox and a Mint ISO, pick up emacs/vim* (Not a high-level IDE like Visual Studio.  You need to know what the IDE is doing before you let it do it for you), and gcc/g++, and just start.  Do stupid things for a few weeks (Fibonacci Sequence, calculator, etc), and then branch out.

C++ is a royal pain in the ass language because it's a high-level (OOP, etc) language with low-level as fark ancestry and therefore syntax (Pointers.  90% of the world looks at pointers and goes WTF?).  So you're not going to learn it from a book.  You're going to learn it over time from years of study by studying other concepts like Big-O, data structures, and OOP and implementing them in C++.

If you really, really want to learn it well, Start with C, and this is my "Really, really, really learn how to do C/C++" course at university.

http://www.umich.edu/~eecs381/

* And if you're doing vim, run the program vimtutor first.

/And I've written some walls of text before.  Last one is here:  http://www.fark.com/comments/7857030/85549263#c85549263 .  Links to others are in there.
 
2014-01-15 05:57:51 PM

Cpl.D: Can anyone advise a wanna-be code monkey on a good way of picking up C++?  Most of the tutorial books I've seen are garbage.


Well you could start with object oriented code theory, after that then it's just about syntax.

While I'm here, anyone have any advice about .Net?
 
2014-01-15 06:06:17 PM

skozlaw: tl;dr version:

A guy went to college, earned a degree, got a job and he's Asian.

Go home Slate, you're stupid.


No, you're missing the point.  The main thrust is not "Asian feels inadequate, realizes that software engineering isn't that hard in the real world after 4 years of MIT", but "Welcome the new racism, even worse than the old racism."

You've got a bunch of angry white people asking why we still have affirmative action (when it clearly hasn't worked, and how can we become a post-racial society when your race is all that matters (and clearly they didn't get into college because of unqualified black people under AA and not because they had a 2.0 GPA)), and you can respond with "as a balance to pervasive, unintentional racism".  But to do THAT, you have to have people trained to see every single thing that goes wrong as not just shiatty luck or the result of a boss that hates you personally, but as "RACISM!!!".  Because when everyone's an unintentional racist, clearly we still have some work to do.

/This is also the sort of thing that makes me move Transnational Progressivism from "Conservative Conspiracy Theory" to "Interesting, internally consistent, semi-valid way of looking at the world".
 
2014-01-15 06:30:54 PM
I know Philip, and he's very bright and a good writer. He did undergrad in CS at MIT, got a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford, and worked for Google until he recently decided to become a CS professor.

I don't think the point of this article is that he didn't know what he was doing. The point is more that he was encouraged and given more opportunities than other people might have been.
 
2014-01-15 06:40:02 PM

Mugato: Cpl.D: Can anyone advise a wanna-be code monkey on a good way of picking up C++?  Most of the tutorial books I've seen are garbage.

Well you could start with object oriented code theory, after that then it's just about syntax.

While I'm here, anyone have any advice about .Net?


I hear it runs on a virtual machine like Java and it's also Object Oriented.   So just pick up an introductory or nutshell book on an object oriented language (like Ruby or Python or Smalltalk) and then check the Microsoft Developer's Website to work out the minor differences.  But honestly, if I were you, I would just ignore all that .Net stuff and stick to Forth.
 
2014-01-15 06:55:07 PM

rjakobi: Meanwhile, there are several staff writers at Slate reading the article thinking "how long before they notice I don't have a journalism degree either" as they continue writing out trollerific articles.


Yes.  I didn't read the article.  Slate used to be a worthwhile site ten years ago.  Now I see headlines like this and I think, "Oh, trolltastic."  This is to Slate as that story about the fur-wearing vampy school principal is to the NYP.  Neither can help themselves.
 
2014-01-15 06:57:24 PM
Well he may not have learned a lot of computer programming early in life, but he sure as hell got indoctrinated in the left wing concept of privilege.
 
2014-01-15 06:58:15 PM
TFA is all too funny. I've worked with both good and bad Asian and Indian programmers. That's life. But in reality, few need a degree for programming OR for being an Analyst. Want to learn current methods? Download Xampp, PHP and related libraries, or VS and learn ASP.Net. OOP? C++ within VS or Python. Code is code. Making it work is a different world.
 
2014-01-15 07:00:04 PM
If you get an internship and they make you do scut work, walk straight into the boss' office and tell em your leaving because the internship is not what was described.

/I'll pay you to now my lawn.
 
2014-01-15 07:01:22 PM

bonobo73: I hear it runs on a virtual machine like Java and it's also Object Oriented.   So just pick up an introductory or nutshell book on an object oriented language (like Ruby or Python or Smalltalk) and then check the Microsoft Developer's Website to work out the minor differences.  But honestly, if I were you, I would just ignore all that .Net stuff and stick to Forth.


Virtual machine, Christ. Sounds about right. I just do the programming thing as a moonlight gig anyway. Thanks.
 
2014-01-15 07:29:51 PM
No. Stupid subby.

A thoughtful article by a programmer that points out the challenges & discrimination getting into the computer field that non-white or non-Asian's face.

I faced that multiple times and even once was laid off despite doing an awesome job just for not having a penis. It sucks.
 
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