Tech companies’ greatest asset

This morning’s Observer column:

Arthur C Clarke’s adage that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” may or may not be true, but what is definitely true is that computer software has magical properties. It’s pure “thought stuff”: a programmer has an idea; they encapsulate it as a string of symbols that are then fed into an inanimate machine. And then the machine executes the instructions encoded in the symbols. And it obeys those instructions faithfully, unquestioningly and without tiring. Which is why being a programmer is a bit like being Napoleon – except that, unlike Bonaparte, the programmer doesn’t have to worry about victualling the troops.

As with any other line of work, there’s a spectrum of ability in programming that runs from barely competent to genius. At the top end are people who are not just 10 or 20 times better than the average, but a million times smarter. So to call them programmers is like calling Christian Dior a dressmaker…

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