Open source is a restaurant where everyone is a chef

If someone has an interest in programming for open source, Terry said, they don't start with beta testing, reporting bugs, flagging usability problems, doing all the pre-programming things that lead to a disciplined approach later on.

Michael Terry, a usability professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, recently offered some quickly-misunderstood criticisms of the open source process to his fellow computing professionals.

(What's the logo of a cooking show doing here? I will explain.)

Terry's most cogent criticism was that students try to go right into writing code, and don't do the scut work that leads people gradually into the profession.

When my wife took her first programming job, almost 30 years ago, she didn't start right-off on programming. Her bosses had her learn the basics first. She read code, she tracked bugs, and she did design documents long before she wrote anything useful.

If someone has an interest in programming for open source, Terry said, they try to get right into it. They don't start with beta testing, reporting bugs, flagging usability problems,  doing all the pre-programming things that lead to a disciplined approach later on. Stuff that's boring but useful and educational.

Reading Mike Guzdial's recollections of Terry's talk, I began thinking of how people used to start out in restaurants. They washed dishes, they took out garbage, they peeled vegetables, they observed the pros at work before getting any opportunity.

Today they all go to culinary school and assume they should start on the line. They all think they can be on Iron Chef before they have the discipline needed to make a souffle. And as Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai once memorably demonstrated at the Culinary Institute of America, they can't peel an apple.

As with programming, cooking includes a lot of skills and attitudes that come long before service. Cooking is mostly cleaning and preparation. You maximize profit by breaking down food from its basic components, and then finding ways to use it all.

You can't blame America's undisciplined young cooks on open source, but it can amount to the same thing. There is a lot of scut work in creating a good program. There is a lot of process. Organization is required.

Just as a good chef must have their mise en place, a good programmer needs to learn quality assurance and the construction of design documents. It's not just about coding. A lot of people are impatient.

But is that the fault of open source, or a more general criticism of the culture?

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