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Zen and the art of application development


Udayakumar Nalinasekaren
Dec 21, 2010

ZenMost Indian software engineers value programming experience using a particular technology. Opportunities in latest technologies are always in great demand.

"Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" showed us the difference between viewing something in it's form or seeing what it meant. Form is about appearance and value. Meaning tends to dig deeper into components, relationships and many a times, the science of what the thing is made of.

A sizable number of software programmers in India are neither here nor there. Many of them have difficulty explaining how a program written in a high level language is structured for execution at the computer hardware level. That is the science of how it works. They also have difficulty explaining how an application they help program integrates into business and delivers enterprise business value, which is the form. These folks are somewhere inbetween.

We can't blame them solely. Our education system is the first defendant. It does not teach our youngsters to think. Scoring marks and therefore rote learning are of high priority here. Added to this is the lure of the supply and demand inequality driven job market. Both factors drive them jointly to think tristate - which is neither here nor there. There is intense entrepreneurial effort creating welcome social value for India - i.e., creation of the increasingly affluent middle class. Our entrepreneurs are probably thinking that market forces will help shape the workforce to desired form and meaning. Arguably, it is a slow process and is pulling back on the entrepreneural effort sharply.

From a different perspective, converting from one language to another language is the job of a translator. Even there, a better translator has to be aware of form and context while understanding meaning. Imagine how comical it could get if someone who understands two spoken languages attempts to literally translate some speech word by word. A better translator will be someone who translates cultural details, emotions and punch in that speech effectively for the target audience. Therefore deep understanding of both the form and the meaning of both languages becomes important. In IT industry we call it 'domain knowledge'.

While some Indian engineers understand this and keep focus on remaining as highly valued engineers, most others tend to become technicians adept at one specific technology. There are also others who try to become 'crude' translators and eventually fail.

In this industry, while awareness is increasing, it is still not possible to call 'a lesser horse' so because someone else is willing to call it a stallion and pay it a higher salary. One of my mentors said once -

if a sports trainer, raises the bar higher than the best of breed, the best of your champions will strive to achieve that challenge and the average performance will edge up. On the contrary, if the bar is set lower, even thr best performer will relax and  average performance will go down.

Well, I also think that this is a necessary struggle that we must go through in a developing economy.


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