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22 insults no developer wants to hear

Peter Wayner | April 12, 2016
Flame wars in the bug tracker might be exactly the right (harsh) feedback your code needs

The technology world is a bit different than the pretty, coiffed world of suits and salesdroids where everyone is polite, even when they hate your guts and think you’re an idiot. Suit-clad managers may smile and hide their real message by the way they say you’re doing “great, real great pal,” but programmers often speak their minds, and when that mind has something unpleasant to say, look out, feelings.

Parsing, unpacking, and sorting the insults that developers sling takes a thick skin. No one likes being told their ideas and code are anything less than insanely great, but some slights are better than others, cutting to the core of your coding faults. In fact, a good insult can contain a road map for moving your project forward. If your rival is willing to explain what you need to do to make your code worth using, well, that’s worth putting up with someone calling you or your code “heavy,” “crufty,” or “full of anti-patterns.”

Some people are explicitly rough, and part of that might be the mechanisms by which we receive insults -- almost never face to face. Linus Torvalds argues that email is an inherently flawed mechanism that often hides subtle cues, like the ones that the marketing department swaps by moving their eyes. Torvalds once told a thin-skinned developer, “it's damn hard to read people over email. I think you need to be *more* honest and *more* open over email.”

For a bit of fun, he inserted a logic bomb into the calls for more sensitivity by saying that his culture includes cursing. Whiners might try remembering that he comes from Scandinavia, the home of Viking warriors.

In the interest of helping the technology world cope with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, here is a list of some common insults that no developer wants to hear -- but often will. Brace yourself.

“Code doesn’t compile”

These three words may seem innocuous, factual even, but they hide true venom. After all, they signal that the code may run smoothly on your machine, but that doesn’t matter to anyone else. They gave it a go where they wanted your code to run, and it bricked. It could be that they don’t have the right libraries installed. Maybe they’re using a different version of the compiler. They may even have a different switch set on the optimizer. Whatever the real reason, nobody knows, and nobody cares. All they want to tell you is that you skipped the second lesson of programming class, the one when the instructor teaches where to put the semicolons.


Here, coding and stoner rock diverge. For some reason, “light” is a compliment when it comes to programming and “heavy” is an epithet, like putting way too many notes in your guitar solo. But “feature rich” is a compliment and “missing features” is an insult, so go figure. You can’t have features without adding code and making the stack fatter and thus heavier.


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