Guest column: Where are the programmers of the 24th century?

Space -- where no programmers have gone. Ever. Thanks to all those sci-fi programs and movies, we have a plethora of biologists, physicists and chemists. Doctors are studying exobiology like mad. Our universities are filled with electrical and mechanical engineering wanna-bes practicing their Scottish accents. Where are the programmers? Nowhere.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation's Captain Picard logs on, he just looks up into the sky and speaks. The computer seems to program itself. Hey! That means 300 years from now, I'm out of a job! That's not fair!

This is disturbing. You know that they have computers in outer space, but they seem to have only aliens working on them. Frankly, I work too darn hard at my job to be put out of work by some alien.

Do they have an H-1B visa problem in the future? "Oh yes, we're having a terrible Y3K problem, but we need to get those guys from that other planet to fix it for us cheaper." These are things you just never hear of.

They have too many superusers who do too much work on their own, and I can't trust their results.

Watching the captain's science officer "reprogram" the ship's computer in just a few moments sounds off all sorts of alarm bells in me. I know from personal experience that users make the worst programmers. I don't care how logical they are because of selective breeding, there's always flaws in how they want to accomplish their tasks. Without following any human or alien top-down methodology, they start programming somewhere you couldn't find with a scanner. How illogical!

Just once, I'd like to hear someone hit their Starfleet emblem and shout, "Those Nausicans need the figures from astrophysics printed out in 30 minutes, or we'll be blown up." Or how about "Without a new screen for Commander Lefty, we won't be able to manoeuvre out of space dock."

These may sound too emotional, but, frankly, have you listened to some of the demands of our users? No matter what, it sounds like we'll still be blasted with phasers.

So where did the programmers go? Maybe they're hidden in a little room in the centre of the ship with no windows, locked to their terminals. Only authorised personnel with the highest clearance are allowed to enter. To ensure that nobody leaves the room, it's surrounded by powerful force fields. These people work 24 hours a day on all the unusual, impossible tasks. After completing their tasks, they send messages to the bridge letting the officers there know the status.

Hey -- I just described how I work today. I'm gonna be sick.

I'm going to start demanding that action-adventure movies be written about us computer nuts. Our lives are far more exciting than most people's. When I complete some of my programs, I'm Luke Skywalker, holding my light sabre over my head. When I figure out how to make some interface work, I'm Wile E. Coyote, super genius.

But when I arrive home late and my dinner has dried up like a raisin, my name is mud.

Because they don't have to reboot things in the future, maybe they use only AS/400s. If that's true, then the future is a bright one indeed.

Andrew Borts is a computer consultant and a Trekkie in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area. Contact him at andrewb@sysctl.com.

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