Friday, January 20, 2017

Programming is so .. arid

Helena Cronin wrote:
"Women on average have a strong preference for working with people - hence the nurses and teachers; and, compared to men, they care more about family and relationships and have broader interests and priorities—hence little appeal in becoming CEOs. Men have far more interest in "things" - hence the engineers ... "
I'm sitting here looking at a short recursive function which returns a tree whose nodes are themselves a complicated data-type (Atom-list x Nat x Nat) and I'm trying to do minimax on it. The Lispworks 'Listener' has replaced the Atom lists with hash signs (why?) and the arithmetic min function complains it's getting something weird rather than Real - and has thrown me into the debugger.


The code looks good, although there are so many good-practice projector and constructor functions, cluttering the text.

I sit in frustration, trying to visualise the unwrapping of the computation as the nested mutually-recursive functions execute their combined paths to disaster. Part of me wants to chuck this code away; another part muses that this would mean I was getting even more stupid in my old age.

I review the psychological characteristics required for successful programming.
  • An ability to mentally visualise complex and abstract structures - (heavily g-loaded)
  • A minute attention to detail - the smallest typos kill you
  • Obsessional perseverance when nothing goes right and time-wasting options beckon.
If ever an occupation required what Simon Baron-Cohen calls the 'systemizing brain', this is it.


Update: (Twenty minutes later).

OK, so it was a type clash. I forgot to update a previous sub-function. Needed to add some projectors. So now I have a result.

Shame it's not the one I actually need ...


Some print-journalism stays with you. I regularly recall a right-on female commentator on The Times using her column to weigh in on gender equality in programming. After some shocking statistics she recounts how she asked her daughter if she had considered becoming a programmer. Her daughter looks at her as if she is mad: "Why would I want to do anything as boring as that?"

The daughter's mother is not of course a programmer. She's an opinion-piece journalist, a job where you get to meet and socialise with important people and then write lots of stuff of interest to your like-minded pals.



In case it isn't obvious, I know there are good female programmers. I know there are good female physicists (see here). It's just .. we're talking distributions here - you know, bell-shaped curves? - and the male-female means are noticeably different.

Strive for equality of opportunity; do not expect equality of outcome.

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