Coders and wizards

Just a few thoughts from my personal experience…. What does it feel like to be a coder?

“I need you to create an app like Uber for $20”.

“Please make a dating app like Tinder for a budget price”

Yes people, these requests are very real. People often think programmers have an innate ability to cast a spell, mutter a few incantations like a wizard and behold – insta-app!

Ok, so the requests I have received may not have been worded quite like that… but it may as well have been. “I would like an app that the user can book taxis with, and rate the taxis, and taxi drivers can sign up to and… etc”

You see where that’s going. They are describing an Uber app… which they want at a budget price! People like to be cheap with developers. If a developer is going to spend the time and effort to do that, may as well develop it for themselves, am I right?

(Anyone out there seen The Social Network…?)

One might think it is flattering to have your skills thought of as like magic. In some ways, it is. But it means that there are unrealistic expectations of what a programmer like myself can do. And with great expectation, comes great inevitable disappointment. Or… something along those lines.

At some point, I had a long hard think about where the assumption that programmers can “magically” create something in no time like magicians actually came from. There are actually a number of parallels that can be drawn.


Note that I’m not referring to the magicians who perform tricks with slight of hand or other methods to deceive like the characters from “Now You See Me”, or Christian Bale’s character in The Prestige.

Particular talents

A common trait amongst magicians in most fictional literature is that they have a distinct talent for it. From there, there is a lot of study and practice that needs to be done to actually be a magician.

Well, I guess the same is said of programmers. Anyone can pick up a programming book and learn to do it, but not everyone has the natural talent of thinking algorithmically and logically – necessary to thinking about how to instruct a computer to perform certain tasks, or troubleshooting when something goes wrong.

Incantation in another language

Even if we don’t discuss the fact that there are numerous computer programming languages, computer jargon alone often sounds to people like another language. Though the same can be said of other disciplines like medicine and law.

But when it comes to programming a computer, we study one or more programming languages – memorising most syntax and semantics. For the things we don’t commit to memory, we have to refer to a programming reference or software documentation.

Sound familiar? Think of Harry Potter, or even the magicians from the Dragonlance Chronicles. The incantations to perform the spell are usually incomprehensible, simple spells are memorised, and others are referred to in a spell book.

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