Monday, April 05, 2010


An friend of mine was very upset at work. "I look at my bug list and I just want to cry," she said. Now, this was a person who was single-handedly developing and supporting a program used by millions of users. It was significant, important work, and she knew it. But in the face of this hugely negative feedback, even the most self-confident of us would falter.

I had just gotten my first fan-mail as a result of the book, and asked if she had gotten any? "No! Do you think I would be so pissed if I had fan mail?" Here's the thing: there was nowhere in that program that exposed who the developer was. No about box, no credits page nothing.

Compare this to a movie, where everyone from the Key Grip to the Best Boy gets named. Open Source software at least makes a step in the right direction: the Firefox about box gives credit to everyone involved.

This made me think about all the hype I've heard over the last few years about how few engineers there were in general, and how few women engineers there were in particular. One problem is that we hide away all the people behind the amazing products we use every day. Who was the chip-designer behind the iPod's touch technology? Do you know? I know, because I went to college with her. The main excuse most corporations give is that "if we exposed the engineers behind the products, we would be giving competitors a list of people they should poach from us."

I personally think that's a piss poor excuse. Chrome was promoted by a comic book. The comic listed names of many engineers who worked on that product. As far as I know RIM, who is in dire need of a useful browser on their phone, hasn't called any of those engineers asking if they could build one for them. For the engineers who were named, however, the delight of having their names, and faces enshrined in a comic book drawn by Scott McCloud, however, has got to be at least as good as the Founder's Award they got!

Personally, I think until engineers start demanding that they be credited for important software they contributed to, and corporations start recognizing and treating them as people who are deserving the credit rather than being hidden behind a corporate brand, I think we shouldn't be surprised that kids who grow up with iPods, iPads, Android Phones, and other products chose not to go into engineering. After all, those products weren't made by people (whom they could aspire to be), they were made by faceless corporations. And court orders aside, no kid aspires to grow up to be a corporation.
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