Just a couple of days ago, I had a friend tell me something along those lines:
“Hey, you’re a systems engineer, right? Can you help me upgrade my Windows? I
wanna install the best version, but I don’t know how… I’m sure you’ve done it
hundreds of times!” 🤦
“Well…” I said, “I haven’t been a Windows user for the past ten years…” Very
surprised, she replied with: “Isn’t this what you do? Fix this kind of stuff?”
to which I politely countered “If I were a Microsoft support representative, of
course, that’s exactly what I'd do 😊”. After some contemplation on her part,
she finally asked: “What is it you do again?”
My friend believed in the quintessential “fix my printer” programmer
stereotype. I’m sure this type of question has been asked to every programmer at least once
or twice. I don’t think we should be upset with these questions. If people
can’t figure out what you do with computers, and you’re doing reasonably well
money-wise, they end up thinking you’re something like a wizard. Their resulting
misconceptions can go from funny, to cute, to horribly wrong. This post describes a few
misconceptions I’ve stumbled upon personally.
They believe I am a hacker
This is a cool one. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been told by a friend
or relative: “Here’s my email. I’m not sure about giving it to you though… I
don’t want you to hack into my Facebook with your computer skills”. It’s
amazing that people believe I can do such things.
To be honest, I don’t
quite know what it takes to be hacker. I know some SQL knowledge is useful (to
craft SQL-injection attacks), but otherwise I’m still oblivious as to what it
takes to hack into other people's computers. Maybe that happens because of the
They suspect I am a magician
It’s kind of cool we’re usually portrayed as wizards to the world. This
stereotype has been supported by Hollywood movies. What's the tech-inclined
character like in almost any movie? That’s right! Usually a hipster
who furiously types random words into a terminal until something magical
It's no surprise many kids are utterly disappointed when they learn
that our job as engineers isn’t that exciting, which leads to my next point…
They think programming is boring
“That sounds super boring”—that's what another friend actually said as I delved
deeper into explaining what I do. Another common reaction is “I couldn’t
possibly imagine a life in which I'd have to stare at a screen all day”. That's
the worst misconceptions for me. Software engineering is about solving problems
and unfolding ideas.
For a non-boring first contact with concepts that govern code, see the book Computer Science Distilled. It's a slim intro to computer science that includes many basic principles every programmer should know, in a simple way. Check it out!
Many consider it to be an art. I agree to a certain degree. A programmer is like
an sculptor. We pick a raw material (an idea) and peel successive layers off
until something concrete emerges (a program). Most of the time this
process is more than enough to keep us programmers with our eyes focused on a
screen for many hours. From a layman's perspective, that may seem super
They see coders as antisocial people
It’s a widespread myth that programmers prefer computers over interactions with
people, and that they do it in order to cope with their own social awkwardness.
Truth be told, I think there are quite a few genuine introvert programmers out there.
Most of the time, however, people underestimate how demanding this profession
can actually be. There are many jobs in this world that’ll require you to
become a workaholic. I think programming often takes it to the next level:
we're like workaholics on steroids. And this can sometimes be a very lonely
place to be. But we're not there by choice, we're there by passion. Few people outside our
field can understand this.
They're sure I work on a monster super-computer
Many people believe programmers sit around a farm of interconnected servers
using a myriad of screens. In this era of cloud computing and fast internet
connections, there isn’t much of that left. Many programmers do take advantage
of having two (or even three) screens in order to see many applications open at
the same time. Still, most of the time, a basic consumer-grade laptop is just
fine. You don’t usually require loads of RAM/CPU nor hard drive storage to get
the job done.
They think I know all about hardware
When it comes to buying a new computer, I admit it, I know as much as the next
guy! Because computers are so relatable to programming, people assume I know
all about their latest trends. Which laptop is “hot”? Is the ASUS laptop better than Apple?
How much RAM should my computer have? My usual response to these questions is:
“It’s very difficult to say dude!”, just like any other non-programmer out
there, I have to do some research before I decide which computer to buy.