A Thought on Data and an Orbituary

This NYT article has been on my reading list for a while (some might have noticed that I posted it accientially before two times). I wanted to share it because first (of course) as an orbituary, as a bow before one of the last centuries most inspiring teacher of programming and computing. But I also wanted to share it because it points us who are interested in the assemblage of contemporary infrastructure to a figure that STS seems to like to forget after getting rid of the myth of the genius inventor: the programmer.

For years, Mr. McCracken was the Stephen King of how-to programming books. His series on Fortran and Cobol, a computer language designed for use in business, were standards in the field. Mr. McCracken was the author or co-author of 25 books that sold more than 1.6 million copies and were translated into 15 languages.

Well, of course not the individual, creative and inventive programmer – I sure we would step into the same explanatory traps again that were connected with the inventor-myth. But programming – the core acivity of building, connecting and maintaining IT infrastructure – is a cutural practice on its own, a mixture of play, craft and learned or trained skill. And as any practice, it gaines stability and cultural significance by the network of activities and things surrounding it: trainings, courses, guidelines, how-to-books, textbooks, journals and so on. Maybe it is time that we spend some thoughts on how this particular practice was shaped – an idea that struck me after reading this: 

In the early days, computer professionals typically fell into one of two camps — scientists or craftsmen. The scientists sought breakthroughs in hardware and software research, and pursued ambitious long-range goals, like artificial intelligence. The craftsmen wanted to use computers to work more efficiently in corporations and government agencies. (…) But his books are not like the how-to computer books of more recent years written for consumers. His have been used as programming textbooks in universities around the world and as reference bibles by practicing professionals.