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Ask Slashdot: What Are the Hardest Things Programmers Have To Do? 473

itwbennett writes "Software development isn't a cakewalk of a job, but to hear programmers tell it (or at least those willing to grouse about their jobs on Quora and Ubuntu Forums), what makes programming hard has little to do with writing code. In fact, if the list compiled by ITworld's Phil Johnson has it right, the single hardest thing developers do is name things. Are you a software developer? What's the hardest part of your job?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Are the Hardest Things Programmers Have To Do?

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  • Re:Estimation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by networkzombie ( 921324 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @01:21PM (#45166683)
    I use IT Time. Begin with your best estimate of how long the project will take and double it. Add two, and then double it again. That is how long it will take. I cannot remember what colleague I learned this from (an Assembly programmer I think), but is has been fairly accurate (for me) for almost 20 years.
  • Re:Time Estimations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @01:32PM (#45166837) Journal
    Increase your estimate to longer than it will take, even with changing requirements. Tell your boss, "this part of the spec is undefined, but in the worst case, it will take X days." When you find out a spec change will increase your estimate, tell your boss immediately.

    Estimation is definitely a skill, but it's one that can be developed.
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @01:32PM (#45166847)

    I once had a non-technical manager and she told me what I did was simply "magic" to her and others and while she knew the results provided weren't as simple as it seemed to them, others in the organization felt it was.

    It's a very difficult concept for non-technical people to understand and part of the life of any developer to deal with. It's the same thing many developers feel about management and administration and we all need to share in the responsibility of not assuming it's easy and/or "magic".

  • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @01:34PM (#45166885)

    Coders have probably spent far more time helping wars, real and simulated, than solving them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 18, 2013 @01:36PM (#45166913)

    If you have names for everything, you will be able to build a design from there.

    You think the inventor of the mouse pad started with the name? What's a "mouse pad"? Sounds like a feminine hygiene product for mice...

  • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @01:46PM (#45167045)

    I'm one of those guys who do a bit of sysadmin, a bit of desktop support, a bit of coding, etc. It got to the point where if someone not in IT asks what I do, I just tell them "I run the Internet". Sadly, most of them take it seriously.

  • Re:Estimation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wavedeform ( 561378 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @02:02PM (#45167281)
    But this violates Hofstadter's Law []
  • Re:Maths (Score:5, Interesting)

    by man_of_mr_e ( 217855 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @02:22PM (#45167567)

    The hardest thing programmers have to do is think like non-programmers. Or maybe even think like someone other than them.

    None of these things are rocket science. Some of them are computer science, but that's kind of the point.

    Programmers are typically forced to develop software to demanding schedules which leave no room for the things in the list. They CAN do those things, they are just never given the time to do them.

    Yes, many programmers won't do them even if given the time, or will goof off if given the time until they have to write crap code to meet the deadline, but that's a different story. Or maybe not.

    The hardest thing a programmer has to do is Think like someone else, Not goof off when you think you can get away with it, and to push back to have the time to do the things that are necessary to write AND MAINTAIN good code.

    Of course, circumstances vary. The difference between a startup succeeding and failing may in fact require being first to market with crap code. But at some point, you have to pay back the technical debt you build up.

    Ok, so lets add that to the list as well.

    Oh, and making end users understand the impact of their crazy changes.

  • Starting a new job (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mendax ( 114116 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @03:29PM (#45168485)

    Hands down, the most difficult thing I've had to do is start a new job. New technologies, new software, new people, new environment, new policies, I'm two weeks into a new job and the anxiety is driving me bonkers. It's more stressful than the worst deadline crunch I've ever experienced... and here there is no deadline here!

  • by krray ( 605395 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @04:11PM (#45169113)

    I'm not sure why you got flagged funny.
    Off-topic, sure, but FUNNY?

    I'm with you though. Had to do the same not too long ago. 15 years and 10 months my black lab made it to. Hardest day of my life was putting him down.

    And then shortly after... My uncle went ape-shit crazy. Killed his wife. And was shortly thereafter murdered himself by S.W.A.T. No joke.

    And there sat the dog. So I got on a plane and drove the dog home +2,000 miles.

    Probably the best dog I've ever had yet...

  • OS Vendor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) on Friday October 18, 2013 @06:55PM (#45170633) Homepage Journal

    The most difficult thing *always* turns out to be programming to some API that the manufacturer says does X, but either really does Y, or simply crashes -- and then finding out that they're not going to fix it, except or unless in some later version of the OS, thereby doing all the current, stable customers out of whatever it was I was trying to accomplish. I mostly program for OSX these days, so my examples are all Apple-centric.

    1) I was writing a POS application for a Chinese restaurant owned by friends. I had an old mini core 2 running 10.6.8 I wasn't using, and I wanted to make the app around this unit. So I spent a couple of days writing it, using UTF-8 for the Chinese parts, and everything was going swimmingly. I ordered some receipt printers (one for the counter, one for the kitchen to print orders, and one for the to-go/delivery table.) English? No problem. Everything worked. Put characters -- I mean actual Chinese -- in the file to be printed via CUPS, and the print process would crash. The problem? CPU-specific bug in a CUPS filter (Apple owns CUPS now.) They have no intention of fixing it in 10.6.8. They told me, "Upgrade the mini to Lion." So I ordered Lion on a stick and stuffed it in there, and the Lion installer informed me "CPU not supported. Core 2 duo or above required." So the fix is in, but I can't run the fix. So I ended up buying a new mini. Yeah, that "fixed" it. At a cost of $600. Thanks a whole f'ing lot, Apple.

    2) Qt 4.x: Full of bugs. Fixes? Sure. In 5.x. But 5.x is full of new problems. I'll spare you the details, other than to point out that if they'd just bloody fix the stuff they claimed as working in the first place, rather than constantly surf forward and expect you to follow them, I'd a darn sight happier.

    I feel that if the manufacturer says "here's an OS, and here are the features it offers you (API list, UI operations, etc.), then they are obligated (because I have invested time and/or money based on what they claimed) to make it happen. I accept that first out the door, there may be things that are not working right. What I don't accept as "ok" is this attitude that it's ok to leave it that way. You get a straight up bug report you can verify (print high UTF-8 characters crashes your printer filters) by Ada, you should fix the thing YESTERDAY. It's more important than your new OS, because it's about the reliability and honor and ethics of what you do. You don't fix it -- Apple -- and you go from respected vendor to the opposite (both lose respect and that much less likely to vend anything to me.)

    Same thing goes for apps. You sell a paint program that is supposed to draw rects and circles, but won't draw circles, you bloody well need to FIX it so it DOES, and make sure that fix is available to every poor bastard who bought your paint program WITHOUT requiring them to change anything else.

    It's NOT acceptable to say "You must upgrade to the next OS" or "That's fixed in the latest version, but that only runs on a 4 core CPU so you're screwed" When you say stuff like that, some people, somewhere, are getting red faced, ramping up blood pressure, and contemplating ways to deliver a clutch of rabid wolverines to your development team in a box marked "live strippers, schedule party immediately."

    Related to that, I've learned to stay well clear of other people's frameworks and libraries. If I wrote it, I can almost certainly fix it. There's nothing more disheartening than writing in about a bug and hearing back that it's been upon some list, while your stuff remains broken, etc. Might as well have written it yourself anyway. Assuming you have time, of course.

    Everybody's in such a damn rush to move forward, they're unwilling to see to it that current efforts are made to represent fine craftsmanship instead of a harried dash to ship at any cost in reliability and honor.

    I've got a lot of older software because my reaction to "you gotta upgrade to get that fix" is "you're not getting more of my money until what you sold me in the first place works as you told me it would." I can't always stick to that rule, but I assure you, I try.

Loose bits sink chips.