I was 17 years old when I decided to study software development. Most of my friends and the people around me knew what it was about, what this career subject meant. There are programmers in my family too, so the majority of the questions were about where I was going to study instead of what.
Naturally, as I was growing up, my social environment grew too. Some people were surprised about my career choice. “The career of the future”, some said. “It has really good job prospects”, others replied. Even more, to my surprise, there were people who didn’t even know what software development was and/or what did a programmer do.
And you... What are you studying?
In casual conversations, birthday parties and all kinds of meetings, the same question always pops up: “And you… what are you studying?”. Normally, the answers you get are always the same: Medicine, Law, Accounting, you know, all the classic and traditional careers. But when it’s my turn to answer, everyone seems really puzzled when they hear Software Development. Even when I answer “programming” instead, the feedback is always the same: a few know what such career involves, while maybe a couple more have a rough idea of it. But the rest of them doesn’t even know what I’m talking about. They look at each other and inevitably ask “What is that? What does a programmer do?”.
Over and over I do my best to explain it in detail. After a lot of failed attempts, I have figured out that trying to deeply understand it might require lots of previous concepts too long to include in a casual conversation. Due to this, I usually decide to reduce my answer to just “We create apps”, which is nowadays, thanks to the smartphones boom, a well known term by most people.
Anyway, all those situations have cast doubts in my mind: why do people have no idea of what a programmer does while we do know, in general terms, what other careers are about?
A not so… traditional career
A very usual answer to this question relates to the fact that it seems like a new career in our country. Surprisingly, it’s not. Needless to say, it’s not as old as medicine or law, but this perception originates in the close relationship that exists between software development and technology advancements. Actually, reality tells us that it was in the 50’s when the first students of the Systems Engineering career at the UTN (Universidad Tecnológica Nacional) were starting signing in. About 60 years ago!. In fact, there are other careers, like Marketing, even newer than the ones oriented to software development and computing theory. For this reason, I think that the time between the arrival of the software development careers to Argentina and the present day is completely irrelevant.
Fear of Technical Degrees
Although the amount of people studying software development is increasing, it’s still being a subject that most don't dare embark on. I’ve heard a lot of times that “You need to be a genius to be a software developer”. They couldn’t be more wrong. You don’t need to be a genius for studying software development, or any other career for that matter. I think people are afraid of the continuous technology advancements. They may not be entirely wrong about that. A software developer should always be prepared for technological changes, but it’s nothing you can’t get used to.
I graduated from a technical high school where, at the time, you could choose between computing or electronics specialization. From a total of 26 students, only 3 of us decided to pursue a technical career at college. Most of them thought they weren’t prepared for it. But, how prepared do you have to be for starting a technical career? Is getting prepared for a humanistic career different than doing it for a technical one?
Actually the opposite makes more sense to me. I feel like I’ll never be prepared for studying a non-technical career. I could never memorize all the bones, nerves, organs and muscles of the human body. Neither all the laws of the Argentine constitution. That’s why I think that the idea of a specific career being more difficult or needing more preparation is wrong. A person will make this decision depending on their perception of comfortability, likes and dislikes, expectations of their college experience and, above all, if they believe it’s a job they want to do for the rest of their lives.
Why do I think it’s important to encourage Software Development
It seems to me that when choosing a career people don’t raise awareness of the potential hidden behind the software development. It’s possible that they think we developers automate processes, only and exclusively, by the creation of algorithms. But as one of my 10Pines mentors once said: “Programming is art”. And for me, it really is. It’s the art of being able to create, model and modify anything virtually from scratch. It’s even more flexible than other arts, just for the fact that it’s not a physical one. Programming is not just effectiveness and efficiency of algorithms. When we program, we analyze, we think, we discuss, we debate, we implement, and above all, we share our ideas with others. It’s not only applications development. Through software development we accelerate and automate processes, we help people, we bring them a better life quality and we even save lives. We make the world a better place! Or at least, we make it an easier place to live in.
Trying to do our bit
As a result of all these things, I came to the conclusion that when people don’t know what our career is about, it's neither because it’s not an interesting career nor because it’s a “new” career. I really feel that the main problem is the spread of inaccurate information about what software development is and the scarce information about what great things can be reached through it.
I think it’s really important that we advise and instruct young people who are trying to decide which career to choose of the benefits that studying a technical career brings to the country economy and themselves. By doing that, I’m sure we’ll break down the wall of fear of studying to pursue a future in software development. We, as developers, should promote the pros of doing that to our friends and families in order to dispel some of the myths about programming. And so we get to be more and more in the path of creating this beautiful technological world!