The 99% in the background

What does the average day in the life of a computer programmer look like?

Movies and popular culture promote the idea of a nerdy looking programmer typing rapidly on a screen to create features in real time. Also their code appears to rain into the screen like a torrent of neon green characters on a black background.

But here is what actually happens. As a programmer, you attend meetings for about 20% of the time. You then read lines and lines of code written by your peers – a programmer is estimated to read 10x as much code as they write themselves. You then have to test and debug code. In the ~10% of the time that remains, you write code.

Also, this code doesn’t pour into the screen as neatly formatted lines, straight from your imagination. For the most part, you’re tweaking one line here or there to get the code to function properly. You look up error messages, think of pitfalls and tug at your hair as the stubborn machine in front of you refuses to comply with your wishes. That furious torrent of typing from the movies happens in rare bursts that make up less than 1% of your total time.

We have the curious phenomenon where 99% of how a profession is popularly portrayed only represents about 1% of its reality.

This is true of most professions. To understand a profession, spend time shadowing people who perform it. The recipe for a mid-life career crisis is to sign up for the 1% of a profession that is advertised when you cannot stand the 99% that happens in the background.

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