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- Mar 1, 2012
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Here is a great article for novice programmers to read. It talks about "cargo-cult programmers", a term that has been around for some time, but usually the people who need to understand it the most do not. There are more than a few beginners around here who this applies to, and that's ok; you're learning. But if you would like to get ahead of the curve, reading this article can help.
Here is an excerpt:
Here is an excerpt:
During the Second World War, the Americans set up airstrips on various tiny islands in the Pacific. After the war was over and the Americans went home, the natives did a perfectly sensible thing -- they dressed themselves up as ground traffic controllers and waved those sticks around. They mistook cause and effect -- they assumed that the guys waving the sticks were the ones making the planes full of supplies appear, and that if only they could get it right, they could pull the same trick. From our perspective, we know that it's the other way around -- the guys with the sticks are there because the planes need them to land. No planes, no guys.
The cargo cultists had the unimportant surface elements right, but did not see enough of the whole picture to succeed. They understood the form but not the content. There are lots of cargo cult programmers -- programmers who understand what the code does, but not how it does it. Therefore, they cannot make meaningful changes to the program. They tend to proceed by making random changes, testing, and changing again until they manage to come up with something that works.
Beginner programmers: do not go there! Programming courses for beginners often concentrate heavily on getting the syntax right. By "syntax" I mean the actual letters and numbers that make up the program, as opposed to "semantics", which is the meaning of the program. As an analogy, "syntax" is the set of grammar and spelling rules of English, "semantics" is what the sentences mean. Now, obviously, you have to learn the syntax of the language -- unsyntactic programs simply do not run. But what they don't stress in these courses is that the syntax is the easy part. The cargo cultists had the syntax -- the formal outward appearance -- of an airstrip down cold, but they sure got the semantics wrong.
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