The Citizen Programmer, a piece at Simple Talk, really made me stop and think a bit. On one hand, the idea of building a platform that enables any end-user to perform rudimentary programming is a noble goal. If you can do that, then you can dramatically reduce the costs associated with waiting for developers to build applications.
On the other hand, the article praises the Visual Basic of the 90s, which allowed almost any one to build an application.
And that was a problem. Despite the tremendous number of applications built, far, far too many of them were poorly written, prone to crashing computers, unable to scale to more than a single user in many cases, and were almost un-maintainable over time. These applications removed people from their knowledge work, having them spend time programming instead of their regular job. That might be good in some cases, where people had talent and desire to build software. It certainly forced the person coding the system to better understand the idea behind the work that they were doing.
However in many cases, I think we might have ended up wasting lots of time. Certainly the people spending more and more time maintaining an application weren’t necessarily getting more work done. People dealing with buggy software might have been doing their job more slowly overall. There were also the problems with turning a VB application over to professional programmers who were loathe to work on it, and perhaps did little work to keep the application running. A lack of responsiveness from technology departments might restart the whole process with another poorly written VB application, each one a custom work of art that stumbled along inside of a business.
I do think that giving tools to enable end users to perform some of their own analysis and review of data is important. I like the idea of PowerPivot and other tools that let users query data and build their own reports. I don’t know if we need professional developers for every piece of software, though I am sure we need software to be written faster and in a more agile fashion. In all cases, however, I know we do need professional DBAs to manage data and ensure it’s protected and intact as the speed and scale of our systems continue to grow.
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