You ever have one of those days?
In college, my speech professor was fond of saying “communicating with each other is one of the most error-prone activities people can engage in.”
To illustrate, I’ve reproduced a short conversation I had several years ago with a college student friend of mine. She was lamenting the fact that she had to “write a program” for one of her classes. This struck me as somewhat odd. She was a humanities type of college student, pursuing a customized major centered around philosophy and far eastern studies. I couldn’t picture her taking any kind of computer programming class. Nevertheless, being the helpful computer nerd that I am, I inquired as to the nature of the program so I could offer some constructive advice. The conversation went something like this:
- Friend: I have to write a program.
- Me: Really? What language?
[She looks at me somewhat quizzically.]
- Friend: English.
[I’m thinking: “Uh oh. This isn’t going to be easy. I’d better try a different approach.”]
- Me: Umm… OK. What data does the program have to keep track of?
[The quizzical look continues.]
- Friend: The people. You know, the characters and so forth.
[Now I’m feeling a little progress has been made.]
- Me: OK. Where will that data be stored? On disk?
[She’s still looking at me quizzically.]
- Friend: Well, yeah, I guess. But of course I’ll have to print it out.
[More progress! I quickly deduce the program has to produce a printed report. Time to find out if she’ll be using a report writer or hand coding the report.]
- Me: Will you be using a report writer?
[The quizzical look is disappearing. It’s being replaced by something else…]
- Friend: No, I’ll type it myself.
[<sigh> Working with novice programmers can be a real exercise in patience.]
- Me: No. I mean how will the program produce the report?
[The quizzical look is gone. Now she’s looking at me as if I might be – as the English so quaintly put it – barking mad.]
- Friend: What in the heck are you talking about? I just have to write a program! I don’t have to hand in a separate report!
[OK, that didn’t work. Maybe if I know what class she has to write the program for…]
- Me: Uh… OK. What class is this for?
[She responds as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world.]
- Friend: Theater.
[<insert sound of screeching tires here>]
- Me: Theater?!?
[She continues looking at me as if my sanity is in question.]
- Friend: Yeah, theater. We’re putting on a play. I have to write a program to hand to the audience members that shows the characters in the play, the producer, things like that. What did you think I meant?
[Reality comes crashing back in. Quick! I have to say something witty so I don’t look like a complete moron!]
- Me: Oh… I… uhhhh… I thought you were talking about something else. Never mind.