Words by James Nash
It’s a fact of life that people will belittle what they don’t understand. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the ever-growing world of technology, specifically coding. To the layman, talk of object-oriented programming languages, APIs, or even debugging becomes incomprehensible – and perhaps mystical, as talk of ‘tech wizards’ would suggest. This isn’t due to any real difficulty level, but rather with how complicated and just plain hard coding is perceived to be. While developers provide a necessary skill set, few outside of the department are willing to take the time to form even a rudimentary understanding of it. Instead, we find that in the workplace the tech team is often near-ostracised yet somehow simultaneously revered. It becomes a peculiar burden: they are an absolute necessity in their company, but a group whose work relatively few attempt to grasp.
Cultural misappropriation is key to this. A false narrative has been created that mystifies coding, obfuscating its true nature. In reality, it’s an intensely logical practice that almost anyone could pick up should they put their mind to it. Television and film have created this distorted image in the public eye wherein those who code are incomprehensible technical ninjas, whose work could never be understood by the mere mortal. They’ve also contributed to the infantilism of the profession, through the creation of a stereotype.
This stereotype: a veritable man-child, incapable of social interaction, whose one and only virtue is his skill in the dark art of “hacking” or whatever other misrepresentation of the profession best fits the bill. There’s no care taken to represent the nuances or even the bare realities of the profession. Rarely if ever do you see an actual line of code. Instead, on the countless monitors, these “wizards” invariably have, we see strings of Matrix-esque symbols, as nonsensical to the layman as they would be to the most seasoned developer.
Significantly, this falsehood also works against those who don’t seem to conform to it. Women, people of colour, and anyone who doesn’t fit the stereotype is doomed to be looked down upon, for society has created the stigma that the best developers are pasty white men with no social skills, only adding to the already immense pressure felt by these marginalised groups in a workplace.
This false narrative bleeds into the real world. In workplaces, developers are often set impossible tasks, expected to work absurd hours, but treated like children with underdeveloped social skills. This oxymoron only further distances developers from realities of the workplace, turning them into a veritable “other”, incapable of grownup communication, as an excuse for its untenable absurdity. Perceived superhuman status is demonstrated in the reverent language with which those in tech are discussed by their colleagues in neighbouring departments, and the way in which they’re often expected to do more than anyone else, often with employers having little to no understanding of the scale or technical strata of a given task.
The justification? “They’re not like us.”
Not only do their employers often not know what it is they’re actually asking for, they lack a fundamental will to attempt to understand. Instead, developers are offered odd perks, which bespeak the childlike manner in which they’re treated. These come in the form of “playrooms” and the like, making clear that employers don’t understand developers are adults doing their work, much like the rest of us. Instead, they’re seen as savants, albeit replaceable ones. The worst part? This mentality is common in many tech giants, who despite being built by people who code, no longer understand what it is that modern developers want. They’re given scooters, brightly coloured offices and Lego sets to fill supposed spare time, and then expected to all but live in their offices. These employees aren’t expected to work their hours then go home, but given deadlines and the ability to ‘choose their hours’, resulting in an almost-abusive workload. People are expected to work as hard as their machines, with infantile distractions offered as a replacement for fair treatment. Until employers reconcile their understanding of coding with its reality, mistreatment is bound to follow misunderstanding.
But it’s not all bad news. Just as a snack station isn’t a bad thing when it’s used as a treat between actual meals, and having fun in the office isn’t a bad idea at all as long it’s understood that you’re also engaged in serious business, employee benefits for in-demand devs can come to balance the frivolous with the fundamental. Talented tech professionals can expect to become high earners relatively early in their careers, and if CEOs and HR teams work together to provide the work-life balance and essential benefits that employees call for, there’s a good chance that the lives of those building our collective futures can be pretty good ones. Ultimately, in any company listening to each other is key – so that the veil falls away in both media and reality, and that a better working world is created for those who code.