Programmer's Life: Myths about Programmers (or Where Hollywood Went Wrong)

Hollywood loves to show programmers as geniuses who can repair computers, create websites, control traffic lights, and hack bank accounts, all at once. What could be wrong with this image?

So you are a coder ... can you fix my scanner? We’ve all seen the Hollywood films where programmers and hackers play significant roles. These are geniuses (though a little weirdos) who can repair your computer, create a website, control traffic lights, and get the latest balance from your ex’s bank account, all this just by using any computer or device available. It seems simple, right?

But when, in real life, you need a simple website, your computer breaks down, your account gets attacked and you need to get back the information, or you don’t like the way the traffic lights work on your crossroad, suddenly your friend who works as a programmer is of no use to you. So what went wrong? Don’t worry, there’s a simple explanation: programmers just aren’t capable of doing so many things as Hollywood likes to think they do.

Let’s take a doctor as an example. Let’s say you get an awful headache. After a while it’s unbearable, so you hurry to a hospital, where an ER doctor checks on you. A nurse takes your blood and sends it to a laboratory where a technician checks it and writes a report. Then a radiologist does an MRI, and a neurologist checks the results. If there’s a possibility of cancer, an oncologist is called in. No one wonders why so many doctors have to cooperate to find out what’s wrong with you. People understand that the information on every subject of medicine is excessive and no one person can operate an MRI, read the results, know how oncology and neurology works, and take and check your blood. Well, unless they’re a Hollywood doctor.

It’s similar with the IT world. There are various specializations in the field. Let’s say your IT friend is programming games. There are people who create graphics and make it work in the system (yes, these people are also part of the IT world, though they’re on the artistic part of the spectrum – in Pixel Federation we have more graphics than programmers or even game designers). Then there are those wonderful people who take your broken computer and (after you’re parted with a considerable amount of money) return a working one if you’re lucky.

So how does the IT world work? There are two main groups of IT people (and a black sheep). The first group creates, and the second one checks and maintains. The first group contains developers of all kinds who are designers, analysts, testers, security testers, and of course programmers. These are people who develop. There are software designers, web designers, and computer designers, each of whom include various types of people who together can create anything you need, starting with a computer and ending with the latest app you use. The more complex a request is the more people are needed.

Then there is the second basic group of people who maintain software and hardware. These include also programmers sometimes, but they are mostly system administrators and computer technicians. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the software or the hardware. Computers are complex and they require a lot of work. Unfortunately, a specialist can’t always predict the behaviour until the hardware or software is out in the field, used by thousands or even millions of users. That’s why these miracle workers step in and save anything from your accounts to your devices.

Part of the maintenance is trying to find out if the system is secure. You may not mind the security breach in a mobile game where an account is stolen which can be annoying but it doesn’t cause a lot of trouble. A stolen bank account, however, is another matter entirely. If a company wants to make sure they are well protected, they call in a special type of tester: security testers. The other names for these people are penetration testers and (yes, you guessed it) ethical hackers. These are people who try to find a hole in the system and use it to get inside. Once they find it, developers can repair the hole and strengthen the system. And of course, there are those who remove the word ethical and just hack systems. These are the black sheep of the IT world. I’ve been lucky to have met two ethical hackers who try to make the computer world more secure. Unfortunately, I’ve also met a boy who thought he could get away with illegal hacking. He blocked his neighbour’s Wi-Fi, and used it in his place. The only trouble was that the neighbour called in a technician who knew right away that the Wi-Fi was hacked, and he quickly found out by whom (I don’t know the details, but the boy was grounded and was forbidden to use computers and smart phones for nearly a year).

So the next time you ask your friend to deal with something, don’t be surprised if they recommend you to someone else. The IT world representatives are no geniuses or gods, no matter how many think that they are. It’s just another profession like a doctor or a lawyer. It requires a lot of work and not anyone can do it, but no one is prohibited from becoming a programmer, ethical hacker, tester, designer, administrator, or whatever they want to be. All you have to do is work hard for it, and take portraits of jobs in Hollywood films with a grain of salt. 

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