How can we study programming?

When you don’t know very much about a subject, you don’t know in advance what to measure. So your early experiments are not what they might seem to be—they are not to measure things, but to determine what can be measured and what can be worth measuring. The difference here is well exemplified by the difference between the methodologists of anthropology and sociology. The sociologist is working in his own culture, about which he assumes that he is sufficiently knowledgeable to construct, say, a questionnaire as a measuring instrument. But the anthropologist cannot use a questionnaire because he does not know what questions will be meaningful in another culture. Roughly, then, we might say that the sociologist is looking for answers, and the anthropologist is looking for questions.

The social science that provides us with the most useful overall model for computer programming is anthropology. With a little artistic license and stretching of the imagination, we could imagine computer programmers as having a culture—a shared set of beliefs and activities which shape their day-to-day activities. In our study of programming, we shall first examine the “social structure” of that culture— the way programmers relate to one another and to other people who are not programmers. We shall find some surprising possibilities for improvement in this area over present practices, more even than in the second area of study—programming as an individual activity.

— Gerald Weinberg, The Psychology of Computer Programming, Chapter 3

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