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There is a 'quote of the day', currently on the front page of TechHui that states:

"Computer science education cannot make anybody an expert programmer any more than studying brushes and pigment can make somebody an expert painter. - Eric Raymond."

Which just goes to show how ignorant esr is...

First, note that esr does not have a computer science education. He proudly boasts that he's never taken a single CS course.

Nor is he an 'expert programmer'. The problems with his programming are well-understood.

ESR is not a ur-hacker, though he badly wants to wear the t-shirt. Eric is no match for Stallman, Torvalds, Tanenbaum, or a whole list of other folks who are similar in age, but who’s output far exceeds (both qnantity and quality) Eric’s that I won’t bother to name here.

Eric knows this, witness Eric many attempts to add legitimacy to his claim of being a “core linux contributor”. What remains is that Eric has not a single line in the kernel. Still, he keeps trying, and in public.

This same pattern is in-evidence elsewhere, including Eric’s writings. He claims things more grandiose than reality, and then backs it up with bluster and filibuster.

I don't care to see him quoted, so I offer rebuttal.

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You really messed-up my premise (and conclusion).

First, one does not learn to paint by studying paintbrushes. One learns to paint by studying the techniques of other painters, and painting. The process for learning to program is similar, one learns to program by studying the techniques of other programmers, and writing programs.

Second, "computer science" is "the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation, and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems." (Quoting wikipedia there.)

The concepts of computer science do not (often) deal directly with code, but with the math and logic behind it. The more typical concept of the computer programmer, who works on implementing ideas into software, is frequently described by the term "software engineer(ing)".

"Computer science" covers several theories having to do with the processing and handling of data, including algorithm analysis, computational sciences, data structures, parallel computing, artifical intelligence, etc.

I think many 'programmers' (including esr) have a disdainful view of computer science. These people often view latest release of OpenGNUFreeSomethingOrOther as more "cool" than incredible concepts such as Gödel's incompleteness theorem, or even something as simple as converting between recursive and iterative code.

Computer scientists invent things like CRCs.

Computer programers like esr often have trouble understanding the math behind such concepts. (the rest of the backstory there is that someone (me) mailed him an implementation.) He then claimed credit for himself:

My objection is seeing ESR quoted *at all*. He's worse than stupid, he's damaging. I'd like TechHui (and Hawaii) to be an esr-free zone.

Overall, if what Eric was attempting to say needs saying, I think Paul Graham said it better:
Hackers need to understand the theory of computation about as much as painters need to understand paint chemistry. You need to know how to calculate time and space complexity and about Turing completeness. You might also want to remember at least the concept of a state machine, in case you have to write a parser or a regular expression library. Painters in fact have to remember a good deal more about paint chemistry than that.

So, Paul Graham (who is a far better programmer than Eric Raymond, (and who has a PhD in CS from Harvard, and who studied painting at RISD and the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence)), understands that painters have to understand quite a bit of the chemistry of pigment in order to be 'expert'.
Brian Russo said:
Knowing that isn't going to make me an expert painter.

make you, no. But you're not going to be 'expert' without knowing same.

You don't *need* a CS degree to be an expert programmer, but its not going to hurt.

Peter Norvig has written Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years

: Here's my recipe for programming success:
Get interested in programming, and do some because it is fun. Make sure that it keeps being enough fun so that you will be willing to put in ten years.

Talk to other programmers; read other programs. This is more important than any book or training course.

Program. The best kind of learning is learning by doing. To put it more technically, "the maximal level of performance for individuals in a given domain is not attained automatically as a function of extended experience, but the level of performance can be increased even by highly experienced individuals as a result of deliberate efforts to improve." (p. 366) and "the most effective learning requires a well-defined task with an appropriate difficulty level for the particular individual, informative feedback, and opportunities for repetition and corrections of errors." (p. 20-21) The book Cognition in Practice: Mind, Mathematics, and Culture in Everyday Life is an interesting reference for this viewpoint.

If you want, put in four years at a college (or more at a graduate school). This will give you access to some jobs that require credentials, and it will give you a deeper understanding of the field, but if you don't enjoy school, you can (with some dedication) get similar experience on the job. In any case, book learning alone won't be enough.
Work on projects with other programmers. Be the best programmer on some projects; be the worst on some others.

When you're the best, you get to test your abilities to lead a project, and to inspire others with your vision. When you're the worst, you learn what the masters do, and you learn what they don't like to do (because they make you do it for them).

Work on projects after other programmers. Be involved in understanding a program written by someone else. See what it takes to understand and fix it when the original programmers are not around. Think about how to design your programs to make it easier for those who will maintain it after you.

Learn at least a half dozen programming languages. Include one language that supports class abstractions (like Java or C++), one that supports functional abstraction (like Lisp or ML), one that supports syntactic abstraction (like Lisp), one that supports declarative specifications (like Prolog or C++ templates), one that supports coroutines (like Icon or Scheme), and one that supports parallelism (like Sisal).

Remember that there is a "computer" in "computer science". Know how long it takes your computer to execute an instruction, fetch a word from memory (with and without a cache miss), read consecutive words from disk, and seek to a new location on disk.

Get involved in a language standardization effort. It could be the ANSI C++ committee, or it could be deciding if your local coding style will have 2 or 4 space indentation levels. Either way, you learn about what other people like in a language, how deeply they feel so, and perhaps even a little about why they feel so.

Have the good sense to get off the language standardization effort as quickly as possible.

"I don't disagree ESR has accomplished less than he's claimed to;"

So why quote him on TechHui?
Jim Thompson: "I don't care to see him quoted, so I offer rebuttal."

Great! If the quotes inspire even one conversation like this every 3-6 months it was worth adding the feature. :-) Note that TechHuians are invited to submit quotes to the database via

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