Jacob Kaplan-Moss’ keynote at PyCon 2015 has got to be one of the best keynotes I’ve watched in a very long time:

As you’ll learn when you watch the keynote (yes when, not if, go do it now!), he is a core contributor to Django and an ultra runner. You really should watch the keynote before reading my thoughts — they will seem even more like incoherent ramblings if you don’t. (I blame the whiskey I’ve had tonight, or possibly the 90s music playlist Spotify suggested for me.)

The main point of his presentation is that there is a perception problem in the programming industry. We deify this highly improbable rock star programmer, we expect everyone to be all-knowing yet specialised, we are too fixed on the idea of programming as a talent and that most programmers are either awesome or crap. Naturally, this leads to, or at least contributes to, a number of problems:

  • Difficulty attracting new people to the programming industry.
  • The entire industry is full of misogyny and discrimination of minorities.
  • It promotes unhealthy working habits and bad work life balance.
  • It promotes the image of a programmer as a young, white dude.

Pretty much all of what he said resonated with me, although I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms before I watched the keynote. I’ve had personal experience with the unhealthy working habits. The expectation that I should be available for work calls at 9PM on a Sunday evening bothers me immensely. Valuing free time highly should be okay.

Part of the problem is probably that programming is a very young industry, most of the people I know that work in older industries are not expected to work evenings or weekends. Being an okay employee is accepted, as long as you perform your duties.

The misogyny and discrimination problem deserves an article all on its own (and indeed I’m trying, and currently failing, to write one). I recently purchased the essay collection Your Startup is Broken from Model-View-Culture, which I decided tonight I’m going to read this weekend. It’s obviously a problem, the fact that my office has 3-4 women (not including secretaries) among 30-40 employees is a horrible disparity.


These are some quotes I particularly liked.

There’s a voice in the back of my head that’s telling me: “You don’t deserve to be here. Look at the amazing people you shared this stage with. Who are you? What did you do to get up on stage with them? You don’t belong in this company. You don’t deserve this success.”

This definitely felt familiar to me. It made me think about impostor syndrome, which I most definitely suffer from.

Because programming is something you are in this myth, not something you do. The truth is that programming isn’t a passion, it isn’t a talent. It’s just some things you can learn.

No doubt this is true, he points out that this is one of the few fields where this is the case. No one assumes that people are born with the ability to run a marathon – that’s what training is for. Why would we think it’s different for programming? It’s a set of skills to learn and improve.

If we embrace this idea that it’s cool to be okay at these skills, that being average is fine, it’ll be less intimidating for newcomers. If we set the bar for success at “okay” rather than at “exceptional”, that bar seems a lot easer to clear for people new to our community.

Wrap up

All of this is presented much more eloquently by Jacob Kaplan-Moss during the keynote, so really, watch it if you haven’t yet.

Without further ado, here’s the reason I started writing this post. I’m joining Jacob Kaplan-Moss’ call to action: I’m an average programmer. I’m okay at programming and that’s okay.