Friday, November 21, 2008

Do you have to know English to be a Programmer?

This one comes from a large chain of events, and since I like continuity, I am posting about it. This question, “Do you have to know English to be a Programmer?” was a subject on a blog post, It was sppoted by me on Scott Hanselman’s blog. It is a big question, and a very important one at that.

As you should know (just by looking at my right sidebar), I am a Brazilian, which means my language is Portuguese (which should be called “brasilianese” or something), and I began learning English when I was only six years old. I have been interacting with the language ever since.

Therefore, my knowledge of English is prior to my knowledge of programming, which makes my opinion less relevant in the matter somehow. However, why did I learn English in the first place? I think it was about the same reason that would lead a programmer to learn it – I loved to play video games back in my childhood, and those only came in English. Programmers, I believe, also learned because of a similar fact, software usually come in English. There are exceptions – mainly for those who live in more developed countries or regions, like Europe. There are better efforts at software localization nowadays, and that means a lesser necessity in dealing with non-native language.

Nevertheless, I must come back to the phrase – “Do you have to know English to be a Programmer?” I think that such question is very gray, since we have not stated what is “know” and what is “Programmer”. If anyone who writes a hello world or a simple script is to be considered a programmer, then, in my opinion, the answer is no, you do not have to know English for that. But if I rephrase the question:

Do you have to be able to read some English to be a good programmer?

The answer is a very big YES! Why:

·         Main technologies researches that happen worldwide are conducted in English. Researches make this choice, because their product needs to have a reach as large as possible. Sure, you could wait for someone to translate a given book or article, but good programmers should know about newer technologies as soon as possible, to be ahead of competition.

·         Translations are, often, very poor (all your bases are belong to us) and small variances can lead to big mistakes.

·         As an engineer, I love standardization, and I’d choose English as the one. Some could argue about the fact that Spanish is one of the most widespread languages in the world, but I guess they’re missing the fact that many Spanish programmers already know English, while the inverse isn’t true.

·         Most computer languages are in English (actually, I don’t know of any in another language). 

Communication is very import in this age, and we need a language that enables a standard effective one. On computer-side, this one seems to be XML (which, by-the-way, is in English). The human counterpart is English.

However, I do not mean to say that there are not good programmers who cannot understand English. Every rule has exceptions, and this one is no exception (unless there is a exception… wait…).

What do you think?