Perspective

Software Developers are Translators

What is a Software Developer? I know they ‘develop software’. But that is like saying water is wet. What is the fundamental action we train software Developers for? Could you use it to distinguish to excellent from the mediocre? I’d say you can. The fundamental task for Software developers is translation. Software Developers are in essence, translators.

Software Developers are individuals who can speak both to man and to machine. At a low level, they literally translate human sentences and ideas into instructions for computers. Ever used a poor translator app? Then you know proper translation takes some finesse. You have to understand the culture of the language you are translating to. You need to understand the idioms and the proper grammatical structure. Otherwise your translation won’t turn out well. It might sound like terrible high-school writing. Worse, it might be a hollow mechanical echo of the original work.

The difference between a ‘good’ developer and a mediocre one hinges on the mastery of the language. The good developer knows the right idiom to convey the fine details of a phrase, while the mediocre developer might be able to eventually explain the instruction. The good developer can instruct with elegance and in some cases even a flourish. This even extends to translating behaviors. In technical language this is the UX. A good developer accounts for the expectations and the wants of those using it. He elegantly handles the use case. The trouble comes when trying to quantify these differences. They are differences in quality rather than quantity. But that is for a different discussion.

A good developer also recognizes the short-comings of the medium. Some things can translate when in their original form, others need to be recast. The target language/culture may not be able to sustain the desired content. Vocal inflection is useful for in-person discussion. They do not translate well into text message. Instead they need to be recast to maintain their emphasis. Put in plain language, computers can only do so much. A good developer recognizes the limitations of the system. He then communicates these limits to the humans he is translating for.

In a proper environment, the software developer would act as a representative of the machine to man. The good developer would help him to understand the needs and abilities of the machine. At the same time, the developer would act as a representative of man to machine. He would ensure that behaviors would meet expectations of man. These two tasks would form a cycle. The developer brings the needs of man to the machine. Then he returns with the limitations and requirements of the machine. Over several cycles, and accommodations, we find a successful system. In spirit this cycle is like Agile software development, though without the extra trappings.

Now if a Software developer is a type of Translator, should we change how we measure them? We can or ought to borrow from the way the Translation business operates. Or adopt their performance measurements? A good software developer acts as a fluent translator between the worlds of man and of machine. Through clever use of language, they translate the desires and needs of men to the machines. And then they bring back the requirements and limitations of the machine. In a proper cycle, both can prosper from this feedback. The good software developer is like a good translator. He is aware of the idioms of his target language as well as the culture. Thus he can make an effective, compelling translation of the original.

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One thought on “Software Developers are Translators

  1. Pingback: For the love of the User | Daniel J Scheufler

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