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Often times, not-IT people has to deal with massive text data, clean it, filter it, modify it. Often times normal office tools like Excel lack the tools to make complex search and replace operations on text.

Could this people benefit from regexps ?

Can regexp be taught to them ?

Are regular expressions the exclusive domain of programmers and unix/linux technicians ?

Can they be learned by non-IT people, given regexps are not a programming language?

Is this a valid or achievable goal to make some users regexp-literate through appopriate training ?

Have you have any experiences on this issue? and if so, have it been successful ?

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Regular expressions are concise and difficult to read for most developers at the best of times. People who are not detail oriented and/or technical will have real problems with them. –  Oded Oct 20 '12 at 5:55
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closed as not constructive by gnat, Robert Harvey, Thomas Owens Oct 20 '12 at 9:44

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2 Answers

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In general, I think that it really depends on the aptitude of the non-IT people. Some will have it, others won't. (And my gut feeling is that most of them won't ... given the difficulty that a lot of IT-trained people seem to have with regexes.)

Is this a valid goal to make some users regexp-literate through appropriate training ?

Define a "valid goal".

A more relevant question is whether it is an achievable goal, and whether it would actually be a good thing for the business to have non-IT people using regexes more. (For instance, compare this case with the case of non-IT folks implementing business processes with feral spreadsheets that contain buggy logic and inadequate validation of inputs. Consider the problems that that can cause for a business.)

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Re-reading the answer I noticed "feral spreadsheets". Ha ha ha. –  user61852 Jul 23 '13 at 18:37
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Doubtful that it would be worthwhile. You'd be better off with some simpler tool, or just chaining grep calls.

Can they be learned by non-IT people, given regexps are not a programming language?

While regexs are not a true programming language, writing them still demands the ability to essentially think like a programmer. Writing regexs still requires someone to break down their problem and think logically through the state machine that is represented by the regex. If someone can do that well, they're probably already a programmer of some kind.

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I would add that it probably requires some aptitude with linguistics. –  greyfade Oct 20 '12 at 8:56
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