A Golden Cage

Twenty years ago, my first job was to assist visitors of the Computerette–something of an Internet café without the Internet. This small company had been started by someone who did freelance jobs coding some very obscure Cobol dialect. While he kept doing his well-paid job, he hired me to take care of the shop. Besides this rather dull work, he let me do small programming jobs on the side. For this, he introduced me to Clipper, the compiled variant of the then-popular dBASE III language. Himself, he would not dream of quitting his Cobol job for this; even though he loved Clipper and Clipper jobs were abundant at the time. “It’s not about the language,” he told me, “it’s about the problems you’re asked to solve.” While I was coding my first address book application for a start-up law firm, his software was controlling the oil refineries of Pernis (the Rotterdam harbour). I did not understand him back then. Who ever would want to keep coding in Cobol, the language of the past?

At yesterday’s RubyEnRails 2008 conference, a friend told me that I’m in a golden cage: getting paid more in my current job for coding Java, than I could get in another job for doing Ruby/Rails–preventing me from switching to Ruby/Rails. His remark reminded me of my old boss who did not want to switch to Clipper. Am I turning into him? Am I coding in the language of the past? Will I still be doing so 10 or 20 years from now?

No way. It’s not about the language.

2008-06-11. 2 responses.

Comments

  1. Please tell me, what is it about?! If it’s not the language or the golden cage.. The people? Java programmers are so much more fun! The applications? I guess you code is roaming mars right now..

    I am happy when I can do a decent job, have room to be creative in finding proper solutions and get credit for my work. Shifting to Ruby didn’t change much in those aspects although I do find it is easier to be creative using Ruby.

    But you are right. Building software is not about the language(s) your are using, just like painting isn’t about paint.

  2. Great blog, subscribed to your rss feed. Thanks.