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Feb 12

Why settle for great when you can be the world’s greatest?

Steve Yegge escalates the pompous programming punditry, telling us all exactly what you need to know to be one of the world’s best programmers.  And I bet you can guess how well those skills intersect with the Venn diagram of Steve’s own skills.
Now, applying the lessons of this article to punditry, I need to mention three things that Steve can do better than I can before I criticize him:

  • Steve clearly knows more about programming language internals and concepts than I do, even more than I knew when I wrote a few interpreters back in the day.
  • Steve has some great advice on recruiting and phone screening.
  • Steve works for Google, and I don’t

There’s no doubt that Steve knows his stuff.  And I would feel, if I were to ask him about a programming question, that if he answered swiftly and decisively, he would probably be right.

Now, having said all that, I think he’s developing into a Clooney-esque perfect storm of self-satisfaction.   There’s no way he can make this claim legitimately.

a) He’s not omniscient.  He can only apply his assertion to the domains that he has actually worked with in depth.
b) The definition of “best” is quite amorphous.  The best GUI programmers, the best O/S programmers, the best real-time systems programmers, the best customer-domain experts probably do not find that lexical programming is the lump of coal that gets them over the hump into the “world’s greatest” class.
c) These claims of absoluteness are risible when they are made by politicians about law and government.  They are typically risible when made by scientists, beyond some super-well-proven facts.   And about software… a field that is so young and raw that we still debate whether strong or weak typing is better?  Hah!
Don’t get me wrong.  Learning and knowing about programming language internals is valuable.  It was extremely enlightening in a number of ways.  But it is not, by any means the height of perfection that Steve would claim it to be, and it would be a disservice to the young people of the world if someone did not point out that Steve is conflating his opinion with absolute fact in an embarrassingly simplistic way that is unbecoming of his experience and intelligence.

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