[thelist] OT - do programmers/designers know *everything*?

David Kaufman david at gigawatt.com
Tue Jul 23 18:45:01 CDT 2002

"Roger Harness" <magic32 at jps.net> asked...

> 1. Are most of the folks on this list (for example) actually making a
> living programming, coding, design etc? Whether it be free-lance, or
> for other companies etc?

can't speak for most.  i'd imagine the ones who are actively making a list
are doing the majority of *posting* and replying to the list, while the ones
who are "in training" (read: wannabe's) are primarily reading, lurking,
learning and amassing vast stores of knowledge.  i typically lurk the lists
of a new technology to "get a feel" for the community, and wait till i
actually have something to contribute (or at least specific answerable
questions) before posting.

personally i've done freelance/contract perl/cgi/mod_perl work for round 3
years, followed by two 18-month stints at different dot-coms as a full-time,
W-2, cog-in-the-wheel programmer, (each punctuated by the obligatory dot-com
layoff) and am currently back to contracting, again (but i prefer the term
"self un-employment").

> 2. For the folks that ARE doing well enough to not have to work a 'real'
> (you know...as in retail, services...etc etc,...anything NOT to do with
> their web passions)...do you folks actually know in your head most of the
> skills you need to perform?

most? yes.  when you do something eight hours a day for years you tend to
learn the vast majority of it by heart.  i can say that i do know all of the
core perl syntax (that i *use*, perhaps not ALL-all of it) and all of the
CGI.pm, DBI, CGI::Application and HTML::Template modules (again that i use.
each have obscure methods and features that i never use and therefore don't
know, but could cwertainly look up).  I also can put together SQL queries in
MySQL and Sybase/MSSQL (T-SQL) "off the top of my head"  but that's really
not much of a feat.  SQL has like a half dozen commands? :-)  once you know
the basics of SQL and have done a thousand or so different database apps, it
becomes second nature :-)

> ... For example, PERL/CGI programmers...can you
> actually, basically write working code that without having to rely on your
> notes, code snippets, manuals, etc?

not only can i write working perl code without notes, manuals, etc.  i
actually catch myself *dreaming* in perl, from time to time!  but does that
mean you can't make a living as a perl programmer till you dream in perl?
absolutely not!  it's actually the other way around.  you can hold a job,
fulfill contracts and make a living as a perl programmer as soon as you know
enough to get the job done (whatever that job might be).  as a web
developer, you're pretty much always going to have a web browser with
internet access handy... and therefore: google, CPAN (and certain mailing
lists).  if you know how to approach the problem, and where/how to *find*
what you need to do implement the solution, then that's genally all you

and i know 90% of the HTML and CSS that i ever use.  i'd say every couple of
months, i'll have the need to reach for an O'Reilly book (usually
JavaScript: The Definitive Guide, 3rd Ed).  but that's because i probably do
90% perl and 10% HTML, CSS and Javascript.  Days or weeks that i find myself
doing a lot of JS code it seems to "all come back to me" and i remember
things that i used to know, but buried for a time, and find I need the book
less and less often.

My wife says there's maybe only enough room for one technology in my brain
at any given time, so, to the extent that i'm doing more than one thing, i
have to refer to outside data streams :-)

> ...Or is that just silly? Do almost ALL
> hardcore designers/programmers use some sort of 'help' when working on
> projects?

i'd say no one can do ALL 100% of their work without using a crib sheet of
some kind from time to time.

> Does that question even make sense? Personally, I get a little nervous
> maybe I don't really have the "stuff" to make it in this business, as I
> really can't even do a basic JavaScript roll-over script without referring
> to either my books, or at least previous work.

well, to build up your memory, *and* your confidence, try to avoid literally
cutting and pasting code into what you;re doing, even if you wrote it
yourself!  simply re-type it.  this will help you re-understand it, and
understanding the thing is critical to remembering it.

> ... If they pulled me in for an
> interview, and told me to make a working CGI form, I'm pretty sure I'd
> totally embarass myself.

not to scare ya, but they *do* tend to do stuff like that.  i've had at
least three perl job interviews where they "tested" me.  in one case it was
a *verbal* quiz, too not a written one, which was stressful.  the written
tests were simple one-word-answer questions or multiple choice but they were
little trick questions, mostly designed to weed out the applicants who
couldn't understand the finer points, i.e. spot and explain the differences
between variables and references like $variable %{$variable} and @$variable,
or the difference between my() and local{}, BEGIN{} and END{} blocks, or
other language features that one programmer may tend to make use of every
day, while others may find confusing, avoid altoghether, or consider trivia.

i doubt an interwiewer would ask you to write a whole functioning *program*,
though, if thats any help :-)



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