Who is a Programmer?

Sean Hinde <>
Thu Oct 12 16:21:49 CEST 2000

Hi all,

After my statement at the start of the EUC that I was "not a programmer"
I've been thinking some more about what I actually meant.. which I'd like to

I think what I mean is that I am not a programmer in the same way that an
accountant who writes clever macros in Excel is not a programmer. Before
Excel this person would have relied on a team of programmers to create a
monolithic accounting system which did everything, and used a desktop
calculator for local work.

After the invention of Excel the Accountant had a tool which he/she could
use locally to implement what had previously been the exclusive preserve of
professional programmers.

This tendency has lurched forwards (and sometimes backwards - C++) towards
reducing the skill level to the point where the end user can write their own
"programs" without being a programmer (Dept Administrator produces Web

This has also relied on the increase in processing power available - we used
to have an Excel macro to design a GSM traffic matrix which took 12 hours to
run on a 386 - we needed a programmer to turn this into a C program to make
it faster. I'm not sure this C program is used anymore - there is just an
800MHz Pentium in the corner running Excel

My job and core skill is as a designer of telecoms services, which basically
means I need to understand a whole bunch of signalling protocols and know
how they can be used to do new whizzy stuff in the GSM network.

My first step in designing a service is to work out what changes/new
systems/functionality are required to implement the service. In the past,
like the accountant I would have potentially needed to have a team of
professional programmers to deliver a new platform - normally outsourced to
some software house (maybe even Ericsson :-)).

I see Erlang/OTP as a step towards having the Excel of my trade - allowing
me to implement telecoms logic and databases in a safe and simple way as an
"end user".

In other words the difference between the spec and the Erlang program is so
small that it is easier and quicker to do it myself than to explain it and
get someone else to do it.

This doesn't mean I am a "non programmer" i.e. someone who doesn't and can't
program - The two things are not the same.

It also doesn't mean that I don't enormously value all the true programming
which has gone into OTP, and the contributions of others who are
professional programmers (e.g. locker - thanks Ulf).

I wonder where it will all end


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