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Similar to my question about easily spotted warning signs in code I think sometimes comments programmers make can tell you quite a lot (of not good things) about them in a short period of time. The scariest I've heard recently (from a senior) is:

I could use source control, but it'd slow me down

Also, although not in the same category when I see something listed at the top of someone's CV and I ask them about it:

Oh, I didn't really use that but I was just in the same room as people using it.

Duh! Then why is it featured prominently on your CV???

Finally I quite often interview people with what looks like an excellent set of skills on paper. Sometimes these are excellent developers, but some of them when asked about a topic will rattle through a dictionary definition like a machine gun (and probably a better definition than I would be able to say if put on the spot like that). Then when asked to explain even really, really simple things to do with that topic are totally unable to (usually coming up with something totally wrong, followed by a repeat of the dictionary definition). I suspect that these are developers who have been in teams where they're not treated well and so have had no opportunity to act independently - which results in their learning being very superficial.

What other things have you heard that tell you that a programmer is, er, let's try and think of a nice way of saying this...still taking the first steps towards being great?

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closed as not constructive by Mark Trapp Oct 25 '11 at 21:01

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

what's with the stereotyping of Indian programmers? There are 1.5 billion people on the subcontinent and the subset you've encountered is a statistically insignificant sample. The "Indian background" comment is so irrelevant as to distract from the point you were trying to make in that paragraph. Going to vote this question down for that reason. And no, I am not Indian. – les2 Oct 25 '10 at 1:00
It seems that I don't have enough rep. to vote down. Oh well ... – les2 Oct 25 '10 at 1:02
@LES2: I would downvote for you, but I'm not in the business of downvoting. I do agree that that part of the post is irrelevant, regardless of how Indian programmers may actually behave. – Jon Purdy Oct 25 '10 at 4:44
@FinnNk - I'm Indian, based in India, and I interview people for my team. I've come across the kind of person you're referring to, but they are not representative of Indian programmers as a whole. I do come across a larger number of such specimens than is normal, but I think that's because of the sheer number of people who work in the software industry in India. Sadly, quantity trumps over quality here. – talonx Oct 25 '10 at 8:08
Look - I guess you missed the part where I wrote "Often these are excellent developers". In fact they are often some of the best developers. However, in my experience (and from what other people in similar roles tell me), there are a minority who have been drilled in giving canned answers. Don't get me wrong I see equally bad (and worse) programmers from different backgrounds - just not in the same way that's all. And I fully accept that my experience in this area is limited - to make the text a bit clearer I'll remove the country reference. – FinnNk Oct 25 '10 at 8:16

41 Answers 41

I shouldn't need to understand the database structure.

It was an urgent fix, so we fixed it directly on production. (Oh so glad, devs no longer have prod rights at our company anymore.)

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Damn right I shouldn't need to understand the DB structure. That's the DB admin's job. If the admin's made the structure so obscure that it's function is not apparent, I'm gonna be hacked off. – Matt Ellen Oct 26 '10 at 15:02
@Matt: Our database is part of our app. I need to understand its structure just as much as i need to understand the code, config files, and HTML. – Tom Anderson Oct 26 '10 at 16:51

I know Dreamweaver.


I'm an expert at Microsoft FrontPage.

Usually listed as top selling points by a web developer who really knows their stuff.

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"I knows" in general would be a warning, then, right? If they are proficient, they should be able to list specific skills, and besides, that language is unprofessional and immature. – Mark C Nov 6 '10 at 17:26

Oh that is a magic number, it maps the <foo> to <baz>

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I'll just whip something up. I don't need requirements. It should be ready for production in an hour.

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Sometimes the best way to get requirements is to whip something up and see why people hate it. Anybody who thinks it will be production ready has a weird sense of "production". – Mark Ransom Oct 27 '10 at 3:07

Senior programmer who asks how to make a text file with a "non keyboard" character. Basically not understanding ASCII encoding or how to write a file in binary mode.

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If you have a "Senior program" that asks questions, that's pretty advanced AI, even if they're dumb questions. – Dan Rosenstark Oct 25 '10 at 6:36
har har ... ok fixed it ;-p – cmcginty Oct 27 '10 at 1:10
"I'll just try this"

Usually indicating hasn't a clue but will go and fiddle about and see what happens.

This is a valid technique for learning, in some cases. As a means of fixing reported defects it indicates a lack of willingness to think.

"I don't like the source control system so I am not going to use it.

Oh dear.

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I now understand the attitude you mean with the first comment, but at first I saw it in the context of dealing with a hard-to-understand bug, where it would seem to be OK. – Mark C Nov 6 '10 at 17:28
+1 for "coding by coincidence" and +100 (if I could) for "I won't use source control" – Gary Rowe Nov 24 '10 at 16:02

"Because Linus Said .... [ statement ] ....."

While yes, Linus is a great programmer, I can't stand people who don't think for themselves. If you know it is broken and can't be convinced otherwise, you should endeavour to fix it. Then, and only then will you know if it is really broken :)

The other one is:

"That's too much of a corner case to even consider"

Then you sit back and watch as someone uses your app as a trampoline for privilege escalation and stand in the very same corner while patching.

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These came from a manager, but I'm including them because she claimed to be a programmer.

Shortly after her hire, I asked what development methodologies she was familiar with:

Well I know the Waterfall method, but I've heard about Agile.

When I complained that cramming all of our programmers (13 of them) into a single room with waist-height cubicle walls would create too much noise and distractions:

We'll just have to manage it by using headphones.

(Shortly after I left the firm, I heard from a co-worker that they were now spending $300 per person to buy noise-cancelling headphones for everyone.)

And when I noted that the huge deductible on the company's restructured health plan was causing dissent among the ranks, she said:

You don't know how much better it is here. At my last job, the coffee was awful!

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+1, but to be fair though it does depend on how bad the coffee was - are you sure she was exagerating? ;-) – FinnNk Nov 6 '10 at 21:35

Anything that makes me think the developer in question is technically ignorant or doesn't care about quality and craftsmanship.

Some examples:

  • What are unit tests?
  • We don't have time to use any fancy patterns, the boss wants this done now
  • [ORM] is too complicated, DataSets are just easier
  • Don't refactor anything because it might break the app
  • Don't spend too much time making the design good, you'll be fired if you take too long
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The bug occurred because [some value] wasn't high enough, so I increased the value.

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"We're going to skip the [screen design review with the users]. There's no time to fix any issues we might find."

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