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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

“Bozo bit”

In the early days, Apple tried to append copy protection to software by adding an extra bit to the application file header. If it was set, the operating system would refuse to copy the file. This worked well until everyone figured out how to edit the header and flip a bit. Although everyone enjoys being compared to Apple, no one likes hearing that a slick new architecture or feature set reminds someone of the bozo bit.


Code that is fragile and unable to function with any necessary resilience -- that is, what they are saying about the results of your labor. Sure, when your code compiled and passed all of the unit tests, you celebrated. But then someone changed the inputs or tossed in a divide by zero and your code crashed. That’s when you realize there’s more to writing code than making sure it works on the first test.

“Cargo cult programmer”

This insult references a famous tale from Richard Feynman about an ancient tribe that lashed together some logs to build what looked like an airplane. Why? They knew the winged contraptions brought amazing visitors with valuable cargo from the sky. They thought that building something that looked like it had wings would produce the same results. In the case of software, the one who builds a system based on a shallow misunderstanding of the problem is the one who gets labeled a “cargo cult programmer.” One day the half-baked theory you based your work on might look humorous even to you.

“Eye candy”

Some people write command-line code that delivers the answers in simple text. Others build flashy user interfaces with dancing code, flashing buttons, and eye-catching colors. They may even embed several videos, sometimes with beautiful models with eyes that never quite meet yours. Is there anything underneath? The boss isn’t going to look at the code. In other words, a pretty visage covers an empty core.


The work “hack” is overloaded with various meanings, some positive and some negative. "Hackish" is much the same. Some use it to suggest a clever maneuver that would be appreciated by the wiliest hackers. Other times it’s a trick that’s not quick enough to be a hack, not solid enough to be real.


"Mangler" has an obvious insulting quality and a subtle one. If you’ve mangled the code -- well, what else can you expect? The term is also used, at least in coding cubicles, as a replacement for the word “manager,” as in “project mangler” or “division mangler,” to show how the artisans feel about the bureaucrats. Of course, managers have a different term for the people who overpromise and underdeliver. They’re called programmers.


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