Education Programming

Software Engineers Aren’t Normal

Credit: Flickr / Cara

Techies often try and do design (I am also guilty of this), and typically they design for themselves. I don’t think this is uncommon – a lot of people think they would be a good product manager based on little or no evidence, for example.

However with techies, there are three common areas where they make mistakes when it comes to actual humans.

Fear of Technology.

Techies often have no empathy for people who fear technology, who are intimated by the computer, who worry they will break things, panic every time a dialog box pops up.

Manifests in: Poor UX. Not caring about poor UX because people should just “figure it out”.


The technology field is relatively well paid [interesting data for Ireland, although long hours mean the hourly rate isn’t as good comparatively to other industries, like education], this means that techies don’t have the struggles of say, a low end smart phone that is still working that they can’t really justify replacing. And can be less price sensitive: opt for the easiest option rather than the cheapest (yes, some techies are very into frugal living, but there is a big difference between choice and necessity, especially as when you buy large amounts of things up front they are far cheaper).

Manifests in: Many many products solving the problems over over-paid young men.

Math Literacy.

I know there’s been a big debate about math lately that I just don’t want to get in to. But techies are typically way more comfortable with math than your average person [mathematical literacy amongst US adults is amongst the lowest in the world]. They don’t get freaked out by basic arithmetic. Or graphs. (One techie once said to me that a graph wasn’t math. Ha).

Manifests in: Poor tools for making sense of data, which are intimidating because they require too much math to use.


Like most problems in the technology industry, the answer is empathy. We can ask ourselves questions – what if I was afraid? What if I was poor? What if I never finished high school math?

And if the answer you come up with is “well I would just figure it out”… try again. You’re wrong.

6 replies on “Software Engineers Aren’t Normal”

Software engineers usually are writing code for other fields. Finance, health care, media, etc. They get a narrow glimpse in and then, unfortunately, many think they know that entire field.

Amusingly one of those fields is math. You need to know some math to write code, but by no means do you need most math to write code.

Which is why this essay got written – because actually software engineers don’t know math as well as they think they do:

In the computing industry we get a peek at a lot of different things. We should work very hard to appreciate that opportunity and understand that “a peek” is a very different thing from “in depth knowledge.” It’s great to make use of those insights, but it’s important to know those insights have very large limits.

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