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Do you think knowing Unix tools like sed, awk, LaTeX, Perl give you a great edge in the business world? (e.g. being a manager) From my short reflection, the only profession that needs those sort of (plain text) tools is programming. Because even when I do creative writing, I rarely ever need it.

I mean, do CEOs and executives of large corporations ever learn this kind of stuff if they were not CS major to begin with?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by GlenH7, gnat, MichaelT, Bart van Ingen Schenau, user61852 Feb 1 at 16:46

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

In the current business world, No. –  talonx Mar 22 '12 at 4:44
Not sure about the other tools, but I suspect that HR managers are all heavy users of grep. –  SK-logic Mar 27 '12 at 10:51
Could you please elaborate? I was under the impression that HR department tend to have business, finance, or psychology graduates. (Non-engineer, or non-programmer at very least) It is difficult to me to imagine them using terminal or UNIX OS, but I guess it could be a different case for a small to mid-sized tech company. –  Forethinker Apr 1 '12 at 7:17
I've been referring to their funny practice of a pure keyword-based CV selection. –  SK-logic Apr 1 '12 at 7:55

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I will take the other side of this question and say NO. If you're a manager, then you have developers to deal with programming tools. You rely on your experts to bring you the information when you start to get down to this level. If you want to be a programmer, then program. As a manager you have different responsibilities.

Now, learning excel... that's useful for a manager. Sed and awk? No.

A real world example. I'm working on a project right now that is performing massive data analysis. My manager relies on us to look into the data, perform queries, get counts, group data and distill information. She has no need to get into analyzing the .CSV files, or logging into oracle to perform queries against one of a few hundred tables (that she probably doesn't even know the name of). No, it's my job as the developer know the tools, analyze and distill this information.

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Thank you, if you could think of any other tools, please let me know. –  Forethinker Mar 22 '12 at 4:50
+1 If you are a manager, your tools are your coworkers. Unless your company is tiny you should delegate use of sed, awk, perl to a good employee. There are more important things you should be doing - getting obstacles out of the way so the workers can work. –  MarkJ Mar 22 '12 at 6:41
In my experience management either use excel for adhoc issue tracking or adhoc schedule planning, which then tend to end up with horrendous to manage workbooks that cause more problem than they cure. Get them to use a proper issue tracker or schedule management software instead. –  jk. Mar 22 '12 at 8:01

The tools you list can be quite useful for working with text and data, and it doesn't matter if you're a programmer or not if you want to use them. If there's parts of your work that could use them (eg. Latex could be used for formatting your creative writing), then use them. It doesn't matter whether or not you are a programmer, they're still tools. For example, there's lawyers who use Markdown and administrators who use Alpine. So it doesn't matter what your position is, CEO, programmer, whatever, use your tools and use them well.

These tools are very useful, so I think in a business-type environment where grep, sed, or even Ruby or Perl could be used to make work faster and easier and the user wants to use those tools, then the user should use those tools. At the end of the day, if the person gets the work done well and quickly and can collaborate well with the rest of the team, then it really shouldn't matter what tool they use.

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Sure, what are some examples? I was hoping to see some anecdotal accounts of their use. If I was to convince a businessperson to learn them, what would be my argument and pitch? –  Forethinker Mar 22 '12 at 4:43
The argument and pitch would be the same as any product: why? It's not a common thing so I can't think of any evidence besides the two I listed above. If you want a full rationale for why someone should use a certain tool, post that as a separate question. There are many tools and many uses for them, diving into specifics about why someone should use grep instead of Finder/Explorer's search capabilities, for example, is beyond the scope of this answer/comment. –  dirk Mar 22 '12 at 22:18

I think we should scale back a little on the subject. sed, awk, LaTeX, Perl? Most business people never even heard of them. Most of them business types get scared when you mention Linux to them (isn't it that illegal russian OS used for hacking?). They won't learn it simply because they'd have to firstly learn unix philosophy, working from command line, pipes, installing/compiling software on unix, programming etc. Although you can use all that stuff under Windows as well, I don't think that makes it any easier.

As for the technologies you mention:

  • sed, awk, Perl - for simple text processing, I suppose it wouldn't hurt for business people to learn regular expressions and be able to use them in some sane text editor (not in command line through pipes).

  • LaTeX - imagine CEO writing company memo in LaTeX (LOL). Even I, LaTeX fanboy, use open-source alternative to MS Word to quickly whip up letters, contracts and other throwaway documents. It's simply faster and no one really cares much about typesetting in these kinds of documents.

If I could name one technology used mostly by programmers that I think business types should learn, it would be version control. Anyone can benefit from it, anyone. I couldn't imagine working without version control. I use it for everything, from programs to blog posts, todo notes... I can hardly believe that most non-technical people apparently don't use it. (Not even academic types, while writing their thesis!)

When I say version control, I mean something else than the MS Word-style versioning (though it's better than nothing) - last time I checked, all revisions were stored within the file, so in short time you could get simple document in size of megabytes (#fail).

PS: I don't use LaTeX for most ordinary documents, but I always use it for my (however scarce) creative writing. Typesetting stories or poems in MS Word is like cooking a delicious meal and then serving it from a trash can lid :).

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