Blog post

Keep Developers Out of Politics, Please

By Andrea Di Maio | July 21, 2010 | 41 Comments

web 2.0 in government

[NEW: Many readers have criticized this post, interpreting it as offensive or dismissive for the developer category. I wanted to assure readers that the tone of this post was not meant to be offensive but rather humorous. The tone was deliberately chosen to challenge the certainties expressed in Clay Johnson’s post, which sounded equally  dismissive of other categories that are better represented at the Congress. It is a pity it turned into a more ponderous discussion, although this has been useful and revealing of attitudes and stereotypes]

The day before yesterday I read a blog post from Clay Johnson encouraging software developers to run for Congress. He gives five reasons for his position.

First, developers are under-represented as a profession: there are more programmers than lawyers, but the latter hold over 40% of the seats. Clay admits that

one might make the case that Lawyers are better equipped at writing laws and programmers are better equipped at writing code

but also adds

I’m not so sure that the founders set up the House of Representatives to work that way. I think developers may write more rational public laws than lawyers do and developers are certainly better public communicators than lawyers are.

Developers would be better communicators? This is quite laughable. Good programmers are often shy, self centered, geeky. I can’t see how they could be particularly skilled to communicate complex political platforms.

Second, Government’s problems are becoming increasingly technical. Clay makes the example of ARRA and the stimulus package, which in his view would also be a specification for He says

A few developers in Congress could reign in the spending and help their peer representatives appropriate better. If a revitalization of Government technology is going to happen smartly and wisely, we need some developers inside Congress to help lead the way.

Well, I would have thought that developers might be needed to advise Congressmen, but not necessarily sit in the Congress to do so. I can hardly imagine a Congressional debate on whether to use .Net or Java to implement a mandate.

Third, great developers are systems fixers and systems hackers. Clay says:

There is no system more ripe for elegant process hacks than the United States House of Representatives. Put a developer in Congress, and they’ll start exposing data on their own. They’ll build systems to make it so they can hear from their constituents better. .. A developer in Congress will seek to use new technology to make their job easier. That’s what hackers do.

I can’s wait to see a congressman furiously typing on his laptop to hack the workflow management system or hacking into the text of a bill to change it at will.

Fourth, web-native developers hire other developers. This implies that

A developer who is elected a member of Congress that’s a true developer will likely be smart and hire a developer or two as staff. …  A few of them working inside Congress — with a Member of Congress who is also a developer — can start bridging the gap between citizens and their government in new ways.

Again, Clay seems to confuse the role of a Congressman who can use the expertise of developers, and the ability of a developer to act as a representative of a given constituency.

The last point that Clay makes is that

Developers are great digital communicators. They’re great at using the medium to connect directly with people in ways that others cannot. They can build their own tools to connect with people, too. With a Developer who understands the guts of the web in a leadership spot inside Congress, Congress can start communicating more effectively online.

I am not totally sure that a web developer is necessarily a great communicator. On the contrary, developers tend to (indeed) develop rather than use somebody else’s technology. Isn’t the not-invented-here-syndrome something that developers are usually affected from?

So my bottom line is that developers have the right to be elected to Congress, like pretty much anybody else, but I am no sure they are a better fit than anybody else for that role.

I do really hope that Clay’s post was meant to be humorous.  If not, we should start paying attention to a new breed of technocrats that has coalesced around the Obama administration, ill-advising about the unlimited power of web 2.0, fantasizing that government would be something else than an organization that develops and implements policies and provides services.

Championing transparency and participation and illustrating the endless possibilities of technology is a good thing. Believing that the ability to write an iPhone app or develop a web sites makes us better candidates than – say – lawyers or political scientists to represent a group of citizens in one of the most revered democratic institutions in the world is less so.

Comments are closed


  • HI Andrea,

    Whilst I agree with you, developers often aren’t suited to political communication, I think you could take something from Clay’s post.

    In my experience developers are often frustrated because they are overlooked in strategic decision making. What I hear from his post is that developers want to more involved and they have many insights to bring – sadly there often isn’t a space for them at the table.

    A political world run by developers may cause you shivers at night but they have much more to bring to the table than just technical skills.

    Kind regards,

  • Devereaux says:

    “I am not totally sure that a web developer is necessarily a great communicator. ”

    Andrea, I totally agree with you. I worked with some developers before and it’s hard to get a word out of them. The ones I now work with are much better that before but the same is true – They need to stick to developing.

    There are quite a select few (very rare though) that a great communicators simple because they were from a different life and had a change of career. What we call transferable skills. Developer can assist the politician by empowering his digital gear but that’s as far as he/she goes.

    Perhaps they can develop some program to help them master communication.

    SEO Mgr -Jump Media

  • Jim Gilliam says:

    If you find Andrew’s bigoted mocking of developers tiresome and counterproductive, you can sign this Twitter petition:

  • I got a series of rather negative comments through Twitter, as I clearly struck a chord with some passionate developers. Here is a selection.
    but there are a few more.

    Let me try and re-articulate my position. I am not saying that developers should not run for Congress. I believe that every American citizen can, and the same applies in any democracy. I am absolutely sure that there are developers who have the ability, the passion, the courage to undertake a challenging as well as rewarding career as representatives. It all depends on personal traits, experience, interest as well as circumstances in life.

    However as a person who is a trained engineer, has been a developer, has managed developers, has been in government and now deals with IT clients worldwide and happens to meet developers and their managers, I am not convinced that developers necessarily possess the characteristics that are required to be a politician. Politicians need to be able to balance positions, seek compromise, communicate effectively, being transparent but up to a point, not taking sides too strongly while being passionate about certain topics on their constituents’ behalf.
    Developers are smart, go for the best solution, are selfish even when they are good at collaborating, do not need to possess great communication skills, do not like to spend time in explaining their solutions or the reason why they do what they do, and mostly hate compromise.
    In one of my responses on Twitter I said that the very tone some tweets – suggesting that my post was offensive or dismissive or that I do not know what I am talking about – do not reveal a predisposition to discussion and compromise.

    Indeed I dismissed the specific arguments that Clay made in his post, and I stand by what I said. Nevertheless I fully agree that a greater degree of technology awareness would greatly benefit Congress as well as other institutions.
    One very clear area that I have discussed many times in the past is the ability for politicians to understand the IT impact of new laws and directives, and make an IT impact assessment part of the regulatory process. This is something that would be extremely useful these days, when resources are quite limited and budgets shrink. However one might argue that what is needed for this is not only a developer’s viewpoint, but primarily a project manager’s viewpoint.

    My sense is that all this web 2.0 and open government conversation is carrying some of us away from what the crux of the matter really is. Technology and developers are a means to support greater transparency and transformation, but they are not the end.

    So if developers get elected and make great Congressmen, I’m all for them. But it won’t be because we need developers: it will be because we need better politicians.

  • Eric Mill says:

    The stereotypes about developers as bad communicators is common and mistaken. I, too, have met and worked with some developers that have poor social skills; but they are the definite minority. Most of the developers I’ve met are some of the more versatile, gifted people I know.

    When I got involved in comedic theater and improv in Boston, a lot of the best performers and directors were developers – developers who were also thoughtful and hilarious. When I got involved in an intensive parkour gym here in Boston, a lot of the people who founded the gym and drove the awesome and intelligent culture were developers – who were also incredibly fit.

    The way in which mainstream society looks upon software developers is repugnant. People remember the few mega-nerds they met, remember that they were computer programmers, lock that image away and judge forevermore by it. Sometimes I feel like we live in a nation of jocks.

  • Vanessa Fox says:

    The issues congress deals with *are* increasingly technical. Developers and others who deeply understand these issues wouldn’t be sitting in congress debating Java and .Net, they would be looking at net neutrality. They would be discussing online privacy concerns from a position of understanding how cookies and IP tracking work. They would be talking through intellectual property and patents in light of creations being increasingly digital, digital copyright of media….

    Humorous cartoon graphics of a series of tubes aside, it would be useful to have a few members of congress who thoroughly understand our current technological world. Sure, congress can consult with experts and we always have lobbyists willing to lend a hand! But tech issues aren’t one off situations anymore. Increasingly, they are woven into the fabric of everything we do.

  • Arvind says:

    Well I am sorry to say this but that blog piece is perhaps one of the dumbest I have ever come across in recent days. Trust me, you have not even a slightest idea of how the developers are playing with you, your society & entire political structure already.

    Social media for example. No Government would be able to escape it. Not even the communists. If you block people on x website, they would flock elsewhere and still be able to communicate their point of view. Even decisions, frustrations and everything else.

    You think Larry Page & Sergey Brin are gonna be worthless in politics simply because they were developers in life? Or is it a kind of insecurity in your mind?

  • Pete says:

    Well if this blog post has proved anything, its that developers don’t have thick enough skins for politics.

  • Arvind says:

    No there are plenty of thick skinned developers trust me. And they won’t comment here, Pete. In fact it doesn’t matter coz ten years down the lane politics (or any other form of friction based decision-making is gonna fall apart.)

    The blog premises on the fact that the structure & dispersal of information will be as bad as it is today. Which is incorrect.

  • Thomas says:

    So let us consider your objections.

    “Good programmers are often shy, self centered, geeky. I can’t see how they could be particularly skilled to communicate complex political platforms.”

    Yet not all good developers need to communicate thus. You are generalizing fallaciously.

    “I can hardly imagine a Congressional debate on whether to use .Net or Java to implement a mandate.”

    On the other hand, engineers could debate the vital point of whether to use Matlab or Mathematica?

    “I can’s wait to see a congressman furiously typing on his laptop to hack the workflow management system or hacking into the text of a bill to change it at will.”

    et cetera.

    In summary, you seem to more or less consistently project developers as naively addressing irrelevant issues or engaging with issues at wildly inappropriate levels. If this, as I suspect, was done deliberately, well trolled. But let’s be generous — if it was not, I suggest you reexamine your assumptions.

  • Teknophyl says:

    \Well if this blog post has proved anything, its that developers don’t have thick enough skins for politics.\

    It also proves that Mr. Di Maio’s 20+ years spent in IT (as his bio states) were largely spent without working side by side with development teams.

    It also proves that Mr. Di Maio is so short-sighted in his assessment of software development in general that he completely missed the point of Mr. Johnson’s article, which is that the HUMAN factors that make great developers \great\ also would make them great politicians. Great developers innovate. They look for ways to use technology efficiently.

    And Mr. Johnson is right. Ask any of the new breed of developers who champion transparency, sharing, and team work. Prominent members of the community, such as Jeff Atwood, Scott Hanselman, Doug Seven, Steve McConnell, and countless others.

    No, this does not describe every developer – the majority still cling to their outdated tools and approaches. But this majority is no different than any other group, especially among politicians. And the ones that it does describe are the ones that make great politicians. These are people I emulate in my day to day work, because they are bright, outgoing, articulate, and open-minded. I can’t recall a current politician who I could describe the same way.

    This is the new developer, Mr. Di Maio. Deal with it.

  • I am posting a response as a separate post. However what many say – which is certainly correct – is that in any profession there are people who are more and people who are less inclined to be an effective politician. My point is that it is not a matter of what profession you do, but what traits and skills you have (or want to develop).

    Personally I believe that a teacher has (on average) superior skills than a developer to be a great politician. And they would be far more helpful in understanding how to face and manage change, which is going to be a much greater challenge than technology for any institution going forward. Actually the point on social media in one of the responses suggests that developers don’t get that this has nothing to do with technology and all to do with human nature.
    If this discussion has shown anything, beyond proving to somebody that I may be dumb, is that developers are ready to be great lobbyists. And some already are.

    Last observation: Google’s Page and Brin were developers but, let’s face it, not the average kind. However I wish most developers the best of luck in following their path rather than running for Congress.

  • Arvind says:

    @Dr. Maio, While I am sure you implied only as you clarify in your last comment, but then politics as it is today, is always about flame-baiting, responding and aggravating – exactly in the same manner as this post does. So probably you are talking about this very talent…:-)

    In some countries the process of shaking & hurting is even more ruthless. But all that will change, in due course of time.

  • John Doe says:

    I can hardly imagine someone with the face of a chimp like Andrea di Maio, having a brain larger than a peanut. This post certainly does live to those expectations.

  • brian says:

    This is how Andrea describes a good politician

    “Politicians need to be able to balance positions, seek compromise, communicate effectively, being transparent but up to a point, not taking sides too strongly while being passionate about certain topics on their constituents’ behalf.”

    Funny… that’s exactly how I would describe the ideal developer and I think that was pretty much clay’s point.

    “Developers need to be able to balance positions, seek compromise, communicate effectively, being transparent but up to a point, not taking sides too strongly while being passionate about certain topics on their products’ behalf.”

  • Jc says:


    I am a developer myself. And I have to tell you that deep down we are also humans. We do understand human nature etc, etc.

    Please stop with this load of stereotypes you are using here. There are developers that are shy, true. I also know lawyers that are shy. I know also developers who are very good communicators. As with any other group, there is every kind of people.

    You also seem to not understand quite well that we are all about change. We produce change, we encourage and we enjoy change. Some of the most amazing changes that have happen to society in the past decades have been brought to you by engineers and developers, don’t come and tell us we don’t understand change. quite the opposite.

    Please don’t talk about what you do not know, I would expect of you at least that simple decency.

  • @JohnDoe – You made me think, I may need to change my diet: too many vegetables and – indeed – bananas 🙂

  • @Brian – I am sure there are developers with those traits, just I’m not sure they are (in percentage) more than in any other profession and I could name a few professions where that percentage is likely to be higher

  • Good evening,

    I think the view/reply on the original post of C.Johnson is rather stereotypical, and rather short-sighted.

    Good programmers/developers are allegedly shy, self-centered, geeky. I must say I would be equally offended as I would be with Mr. Johnson’s view that all developers somehow possess traits that would make them excellent politicians who should stand up to the rest of the world’s expectations. We all know these things aren’t true; the ’70s stereotype never existed. What may be true is that people with generally higher intelligence are jerks and reclusive, and the world is not negatively predisposed to such views, which are essentially post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    The fact is, developers can assist politicians with the issues our systems of government face today in many ways, without the need to be present in the Senate/Parliament/etc. I would not be surprised to see some of them in it, however, as I believe I know more than a few who are extremely charismatic and popular, not only among developers and technical people, but also individuals of different backgrounds. I believe they would bring new ideas and fresh ways of thinking in such processes and affect the public deeply, because they are indeed more in touche (more now than before) technical issues that arise in our societies.

    Surely, we don’t expect a representative of the people to start hacking into law texts before they are being voted upon to change it at will; it’s not even a decent joke. Taking our outdated processes and laws and transforming them into something new; I’d go for that. “Traditional” politicians don’t like change. I do not know if developers are more resistant to corruption; we’ll find out eventually.

    Also, Mr. Di Maio, developers like to develop, but carry a disdain for reinventing the wheel. So many years around developers, you should’ve known. At any rate, I hope your post was humorous, because it is at best insensitive to discredit a whole group of people, based only on narrow-minded, stereotypical views of an era long gone.

    Good night.

  • @jc – Besides having been and managed developers I have been exposed through my entire career to the problem of technology transfer and how to make technology successfully contribute to transformation.

    You are absolutely right that engineers and developers have been instrumental to the development of technologies that have literally changed the face of the world. However the successful application of those technology has required the contribution of courageous managers and executives who have been willing to take risk and (indeed) ripe the rewards.

    Unfortunately not all developments have been a useful contribution to change. Today as well as ten or twenty years ago enterprise struggle with legacy applications (and now legacy web sites and legacy web application) that contribute to make IT perceived as a cost center rather than (as it should be) a value creator.

    Everything I have read in the many responses here is about change from the technology perspective. But the challenge with change is at the interface between IT and the business.

    Those developers who say that they can transform government thanks to technology often have very limited understanding of the complexity of the machinery of government, which is caused by the very nature of democracy.
    Government organizations are complex because of accountability and separation of powers: a great idea like – say – open government data, that technologists and developers love, carries several risks in terms of accountability (how is the data going to be transformed and used? how can data be trusted? what if a citizen gets hurt because of a malicious mashup, and so forth), but I have not seen any developer being particularly concerned. And that’s not their job.

    What I believe developers may lack most is the depth required to assess the human, political, cultural impact of a technology change. For instance, taking more classes in history rather than computer science may give a better perspective on change management, and so would sociology or psychology.

    All I am saying that assuming developers would make great Congressmen just because they are developers is not true.

  • Stefanni Templeton says:

    Good programmers are those who get the job the done and can communicate with their team.

    How dare you talk down to me and my team. You obviously have very little programming experience because you would’ve known that the non-communicators are not useful in the long run.

    On the other hand the govt continues to make laws about programming and software without knowing what it is. Try explaining to a politician that software once written can be interpretted in many different ways. They won’t and don’t understand this. They don’t understand that if you make a law against DRM breakers that by running compliant software in a different environment we might break DRM by accident due to assumptions made by the initial programmers.

    But you’re not interested in that are you? You just want to slander a profession.

    You could at least be good at suggesting why programmers should stay out of law, you could motivate it that judges are human interpreters of law and should be the interpreters. You could argue that context, mercy, judgement and justice are necessary for a judge, thus a judge must be human. You could also mention that the laws are not necessarily executable because they exist in multiple contexts and a mis-judgement could occur due to mis-encoding.

    But you didn’t try any of that. Instead you slander an entire profession.

    How about this: Analysts shouldn’t be law makers because they aren’t very thorough at their own jobs!

  • Mr Di Maio,

    Given your position as “VP Distinguished Analyst”, whatever the hell that is, I’m quite appalled that you could misinterpret a body of text so grossly and use your misinterpretation to slander an entire profession.

    I assume that given your title, you must have some grasp of the English language? If so, I suggest you re-read his post and make an effort to understand what it is that the term “hacker” means from a philosophical standpoint.

    There would be no need for congressmen to be hacking away at the workflow on their computers, nor would we care about the quite ridiculous notion of whether .NET or Java is more suitable for implementing mandates.

    Hacking is the art of understanding and manipulating things and situations to reach a suitable conclusion – *this* is what we do for a living, just as politicians, salesmen, lawyers and businessmen do. It just so happens that we normally apply our skills and knowledge to the manipulation of computer systems, instead of the poor manipulated voters that Congressmen take advantage of every election. Our skillsets could equally be applied in any environment we are required to work, whereas yours can only really be applied for social engineering. Bless.

    As for your portrayal that “good programmers are shy, self centered, geeky. I can’t see how they could be particularly skilled to communicate complex political platforms…”; this is ridiculous, naïve, and grossly misrepresentative of the developer and/or the hacker community. I suggest you get your research material from more credible sources than Big Bang Theory.

    Sure, there are a few people that fit the stereotype, just as there are in any other professional environment, I’m sure there really is a fat Italian plumber called Mario who rescues princesses with his faithful sidekick Yoshi in his spare time, just as I’m sure there are bone headed VP Distinguished Analysts who work for Gartner Research but not all of them should be tarnished with the same brush.

    I know hundreds of developers, most of whom are very social and outgoing, whom enjoy working with others and are quite extroverted. I’m equally happy behind a bar in a busy pub/club as I am behind my computer.

    Perhaps once in a while, you should get off your high horse and actually try and understand the people you are writing about before spouting off about them and casting them all with the same brush instead of just presuming you do.

    But then again, perhaps I could equally say “Why should we listen to VP Distinguished Analysts? They’re all idiots who thrive on propagating stereotypes without understanding anything about the subject matter for which they’re writing.”

    I suggest you talk to some real hackers and programmers and try to understand the implication of what it is we do instead of being distracted by the literal. Our art is manipulation, our skill is understanding, our target is computer systems and networks. If we run for congress, we replace the computer system with the system of government. Our art is still manipulation and our skill is still understanding… nothing’s changed.

  • @Stefanni – Let me pick on your point about communication. As I have said in prior responses, what I mean by “Developers would be better communicators? This is quite laughable. Good programmers are often shy, self centered, geeky. I can’t see how they could be particularly skilled to communicate complex political platforms” is that they tend to stay within their domain or team, but they are usually far from the “public speaking” attitudes that Clay say they would have more than lawyers. I did not laugh at developers. I laughed at that statement.

  • @Ben – I am not sure I have understood myself what the title mean, but you may well interpret it as “distinguished as a moron” if that suits you 🙂

    On a more serious tone, I would argue that hacking a computer system and hacking a human system are two fundamentally different tasks. Computer systems work deterministically, they follow strict rules and algorithms, which is why “cracking the code” or “hacking the system” are possible. Human systems and networks are something different: while I am sure that secret agents possess some of the skills of hackers that you so eloquently illustrate, I suspect they have other skills that allow them to “hack” into a human system.

    Also, I am not sure that “hacking” is either needed or beneficial to the system of government today. What is needed is to understand what government and parliament is about, go back to the root of why they exist and what they need to accomplish and, within the boundaries of our existing democratic system, try to reinvent or dramatically improve.
    While I am positive that technology has a fundamental role to play here, it is the use and the application of technology that make the difference.

    I know this does not sound good for those I refer to at the end of my controversial post, but developers are those who provide the tools. And, as an old friend of mine used to say, a fool with a tool is still a fool.

    That’s where I see the missing link. While all those who comment here feel outraged by my statement, have not yet heard anything the speak to the ability – and proven success record – of developers to change the way their users behave in a sustainable and repeatable way.

  • Karen Lopez says:

    I really wish that analysts had more exposure to professional development shops. The Hollywood stereotype of the lone, crazed, date-less, evil, fat, geek working in a basement surrounded by cans of Jolt Cola and Cheetos went the way of the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park”.

  • This would be a good example of why I don’t read most blogs.

    AdM – your point is lost in your rhetoric and you sound ignorant.

    Why Gartner allows you to post this sort of nonsense is beyond me.

    No sensible person would stereotype to the degree you seem to be reaching. Hence, you sound kind of like an ***hole and the more you post the worse you sound.

  • I understand your point of view, but I respectfully disagree. By the definition of democracy, the *U.S.* system of democracy and government is hopelessly broken. It is both driven and hindered by lobbyists and the senate are so busy trying to win votes with their smear campaigns and keep their jobs that they’re not actually doing their jobs.

    We *do* need that hacker mentality in the government, democracy as the U.S. knows it needs to change, it needs to be more effective, more efficient and become the advocate for the people that it’s supposed to be.

    I can’t agree that hacking isn’t beneficial to the system of government, because to be honest, it could only be worse if Chairman Mao got off the plane and ousted the current government.

    What you know as democracy in the U.S. is far from so, you’re all brainwashed to think you live in a free country, the greatest country in the world, and sure, you do – to a point. But when a large portion of the majority lives so far below the poverty line, they can’t afford that which under the Geneva convention should be granted as a basic human right – the right to proper medical care and treatment, that is not a free country. The fact that a bill needed to be passed – a broken bill at that, is disgraceful.

    Something needs to change, and I think that once you get past your Big Bang Theory stereotype of programmers and hackers, you might find that we actually have something of value to offer other than tools we can provide fools to use.

  • @TypicalReader – I am not sure there is much to respond to your point, but I guess that by the very fact of responding I prove your point, which should make you happy.
    The only serious point that I wanted to make is that – as the disclaimer at the end of the blog says – what I express here are my own and not Gartner’s opinions.

    @ben – I do sympathize with your passion about change. I do not live in the US but have many friends there as well as in other countries, and we all complain about how dysfunctional our democracies are, about the lack of transparency and the cost of government and so forth. I have no doubt that people with a passion – be developers, lawyers, teachers, doctors – can help change. I agree that technology can support change. But government – as I said elsewhere – is a system of people, and change management is something that, I’m afraid, developers are not necessarily good at.

  • Chui Tey says:

    Having developers, engineers in government would give the country a more technocratic focus. This can be a good thing – see Singapore for example.

    However, this is not the point of the discussion is it? The real question is what is holding back the most able in the country from participating in beyond political discourse. Is it because the country is already so badly run no one is willing to give up their quite life? Or is it because of the loss of privacy? Is it because of the lack of civility in political debates? Is it because of the first-past the post voting system, that makes it difficult for independents to secure seats?

  • Phillip Rhodes says:

    If our government was reigned in severely, and limited to it’s proper purpose(s), which are – at most – to protect private property rights, provide “rule of law”and (maybe) enforce contracts, then we wouldn’t be so worried about ones “qualifications” to sit in Congress, or to hold any other office.

    Check out government and downsize it to where it ought to be, and even the job of President becomes pretty damn simple. This stuff isn’t rocket science, folks. We don’t *need* political scientists and lawyers making complex laws that are so inscrutable that no one can understand them (and which the folks in Congress don’t read before they vote on anyway), patting themselves on the back for a “job well done” then heading to the bank to cash the check from BigCorp, before heading out to dinner with the CEO of MegaCorp.

    I’m pretty sure the Founders never envisioned our current model of “career politicians” and I think they would be abhorred by what our government has become. A good start on putting things back right would be to get rid of most – if not all – of the lawyers and political scientists in Congress. And in the Whitehouse. And pretty much every other government institution…

  • Tom Morris says:

    I’d much rather keep Gartner analysts and venture capitalists out of politics. Not to mention investment bankers. Suits have really screwed shit up in a way even the most novice of PHP-addicted simpletons couldn’t.

  • Hi Andrea,

    I have to admit feeling patronised by this article, not least because I work with many extremely proficient communicators who are also gifted coders, developers and human beings.

    I find generalising statements like: “Good programmers are often shy, self centered, geeky. I can’t see how they could be particularly skilled to communicate complex political platforms.” to be unhelpful and lacking in foundation.

    Is it true that developers are poor communicators? No, simply.

    Is it true that the stereotypical, basement-dwelling, binary-speaking, grunting, caffeine-guzzling, unclean and socially-underdeveloped coders exists somewhere? Probably.

    So, how does this generalisation fit with the role of representative? I’m not sure.

    I instinctively think that Congress would benefit from a higher proportion of professionals who are not trained in law and politics.

    I can absolutely see the necessity for Congressmen to be proficient communicators, and to be able to grasp the principles of governance. However, is it not also true that professional politicians would tend to hire professional politicians? If the system is made by people whose life’s work is the development of such systems, could this not be seen as a recursive governance loop? (A developer might spot such a bug.)

    Also, is a developer any less a good representative of your average citizen than a professional politician or lawyer?


  • Sean says:

    I think the gist of Clay’s article is that developers bring a type of logical thinking that lacks in the current process. Developers have to decide on a course of action that will affect their product in years to come, so they have the ability to think farther than the next week or next year or next 3 years. Many developers will put time an effort into making a product superior, rather than thinking whether the decision they make today will guarantee a job tomorrow. They are concerned with the quality of the product, knowing that if they do a good job they won’t have to worry about employment issues. Current congress people seem to put their re-election first and then the task at hand. Often crucial bills are voted on during election years, and lots of photo-ops are done instead of actually getting work done. How often have we heard in just the past couple years about one side blocking other side from getting their work done. Liberals and conservatives both are to blame for this. Developers don’t work this way. Getting a product shipped with best features is what concerns them. They aren’t afraid to get deep into the issues to work out the details either. You see this when they are given someone else’s code to work on. They expect to fix broken code that they inherited, where as the current senators/congress people only like to blame those that came before them.

    Sure, lots of developers/nerds are shy and like to keep to themselves. But you won’t see them running for a public office either. The call to action, that clay made, obviously applies to those that feel comfortable with this. In the past several years, we’ve had a lot of outspoken, blod, opinionated developers/engineers. They realized that if they are quite or shy, they can’t contribute to initial process, they’ll get stuck with someone else’s bad ideas.


  • @Sean – Good points. However I am not sure that an outspoken, opinionated engineer would still be better than a decent lawyer or a passionate teacher to face the problems ahead of us. I am often amazed at the naivety of some of these brilliant individuals when they face the nature of government. Simplistic views like “government as a platform” show that there is a limited appreciation of the complexity of government issues.
    I am pretty sure there are very good people who can be excellent congressmen: I do not care if they are CEOs, developers, pediatricians or plumbers, provided they have what it takes to help undertake change.
    The tone and mode that many chose to react to my post is definitely far from what is needed: also the way in which some (including pretty prominent representatives of the development community) have been posting on their blogs without opening for comment indicates that there is still a long way to go from shouting on a soapbox and coalescing a mob, to discussing openly and transparently.
    I am glad to see that your comment is very thorough and moderate: maybe there is hope, after all.

  • Yuji Kiriki says:

    Mr Andrea Di Maio:

    I can’t believe what you are answering. Are you really reading what the people is writing to you? You missed the train. I doubt you understand what software is and what a software developer is nowadays.

    Please, for the good of everyone close this blog and please never write/think/rationale again about the software world.

  • @Yuji – Do you? I can accept that some people have no sense of humor, although I would expect them to read carefully. But after all, isn’t coding mostly about writing and less about reading? (Note: this is also meant to be humorous).

  • I think it’s better for developers, engineers to keep themselves out of politics in it’s actual form, because it’s too old, ruled by alcoholics, drug users, and fraud makers … a bunch of people easy to manipulate by the real law makers, not lawyers, not politicians, but by the ones who own GOLD.

    So maybe our code is becoming GOLD nowadays, so we will just replace our predecessors and play with politicians ! but with a more “logical” way !

  • It looks not good to label a group of professional with some skills.
    Nowadays it’s so worng define people only about their roles on a specif kind of work.
    We need to stop labeling everybody.

  • Alex Lerman says:

    Both sides of this argument are ridiculous.
    1) Most lawyers don’t have the skills to work in congress.
    2) Most developers don’t have the skills to work in congress.

    But, and it’s a big but. I agree that more developers should get involved in politics, maybe we could start with our reputation. We need to educate people like Andrea Di Maio so he understands what a developer really is.

    To address the theme of the article, the people that I’d like to see running are developers turned lawyers. Neither the developers nor the lawyers are really equipped to handle the issues we’re having to deal with. Maybe someone who has exposure to both will be able to cut through it.

    (We’ll ignore the fact that the musicians we’ve had serve, such as Sonny Bono, did nothing but grab more power for the music labels.)

  • Owen Smith says:

    You may count me, Mr. Di Maio, as another well-spoken developer who is unimpressed by your bid as satirist. To address one of your retorts:

    \Developers are smart, go for the best solution\: These are qualities I wish a lot more congresspeople had.

    \Are selfish even when they are good at collaborating\: Now you’ve completely convinced me that developers are the match of any American politician!

    \Do not need to possess great communication skills\: But a great deal certainly do. In my line of work, it’s practically required of every senior engineer.

    \Do not like to spend time in explaining their solutions or the reason why they do what they do\: Speak for yourself! And then show me the politician who effectively did either or those things vis a vis the healthcare debate last summer–or enjoyed the \town hall\ meetings that resulted.

    \And mostly hate compromise\: Partisan rhetoric in the House shows that this too is a practical political universality.

    So: developers hold their own in four categories, and exceed expectations in one. Congratulations, you’ve just proved Mr. Johnson’s point.

    The difference between Mr. Johnson’s generalizations and yours are that Johnson strives to open up possibilities and encourge technologists to take a more active role as leaders of society, whereas yours fall flat and ungracious on any technologist’s ears. He may be a hopeless idealist, but you’re just a stooge. Now that’s comedy.

  • @Alex. I like your last line very much \We’ll ignore the fact that the musicians we’ve had serve, such as Sonny Bono, did nothing but grab more power for the music labels\. What IT folks have been doing with the new administration is to show that IT is key to most strategic objectives (indeed it is), so there is a need for more IT-savvy people in key posts. While this makes a lot of sense, it also suggests that developers-turned-Congressmen would actively lobby for more IT. But is IT what this (or FWIW any) country really need? Maybe your suggestion about developers turned lawyers or somebody blending those characteristics would be a great compromise.n