A programmer’s society replaces a lawyer’s society

A programmer’s society replaces a lawyer’s society

: Many of my contemporaries went to law school not to be lawyers but to learn the discipline of the craft and use it in their professions and lives. Before my time, people got classical educations instead. In the next generation, I think people will learn programming instead — and that will have a subtle but deep effect on society.

That occurred to me this morning as I dropped my son off at computer camp. He’s eagerly learning C++ now and he is already a PHP jockey. But he says he doesn’t want to program for a living (though he still has many years to decide). Still, he likes the discipline and logic and impact of programming. Many of his contemporaries are doing the same these days; we all know lots of “former programmers,” eh?

So I wondered what impact that will have on how the society thinks.

As a friend of mine — a law-trained businessman — said the other day, he comes to management as a process of questioning (read: interrogation): He keeps asking his people questions until they and he know what to do. The ex-lawyer across the table said she approaches business looking for what can go wrong and getting every contingency in writing.

Lawyers are necessarily a suspicious breed. They live by rules. They think in terms of us vs. them. They think contention. They argue for sport. They always think they can appeal to a higher authority. They aim for victory. They are patient.

All those traits have an impact on American society — many or most of them not good. The fact that lawyers run government is at the root of many of government’s problems: Government has become all about arguing, little about serving.

But now imagine if former programmers start rising to the heights of American business and government and cultural life.

Programmers are logical. They believe in cause and effect. They believe any problem can be solved if you just find the cause. When they do battle, it’s with a mistake, not a person. They live in the details. They believe in openness and transparency. They also believe in following rules but the rules of reality — what a machine can and can’t do — over the rules man made up. They believe in planning. They, too, are patient. What else?

The impact of former programmers on society will likely be good. Maybe they will help us operate more transparently. Maybe they will help us focus on solutions rather than problems.

: UPDATE: Rick Klau, a nonpracticing lawyer himself, posts a great and nicely feathered response to this post making lots of good points — more than I made — among them:

But I think the more important point is the underlying goal of law: to maintain the status quo, to be predictable. Programming, on the other hand, is built on a culture of innovation