The invisible programmer: A coder's domain is bigger than you might think

Developer at work

When you imagine the role of a coder there’s a good chance that what comes to mind are pop culture tropes; the eccentric loner, the rogue prodigy, or the cloistered IT guru who saves the company with a brilliant solution hatched from behind a stack of pizza boxes in some windowless basement office.

The reality is that coders represent a much more ubiquitous, everyday-problem-solving task force deployed throughout organizations and their skills are increasingly being utilized across many industries to address a variety of business challenges within their organizations.

The Reality Behind the Mythmaking

Let’s move beyond the stereotypes and assumptions to see how coders can actually fit in to organizational and business needs. As I mentioned, there’s certainly no shortage of articles, books and other pop culture references to the "coder as lone genius" myth.

But the real word of coding looks a bit different. Movie plots aside, programmers are found not just on heroic big projects, but also on routine tasks and in support of business users and their day-to-day technology needs. It’s a more realistic, nuanced -- and powerful -- reality of the coder as the everyday hero for business problems of all kinds.

There are Python coders on Wall Street nurturing continuous improvement on trading algorithms. There are electronic health records (EHR) specialists in the healthcare industry, building architectures and security around patient records and data transfer.  There are DBAs whose unseen efforts to reduce latency or downtime help the whole company work at the speed of business. And those are just a few examples.

In a nutshell, coders are everywhere -- peppered throughout any particular organization and replete across far-flung industries.  And the benefits of having them there go far beyond just the immediate job tasks.

Coders Bring Numerous Benefits to Business

Coders naturally bring critical thinking to their work and are trained to break down big problems into smaller, manageable ones. This mindset translates not just into cleaner code, but cleaner workflows and organizational strategies to drive team performance.

Business users are increasingly leveraging coders’ skill sets to perform qualitative analysis, identify pain points and handle other tasks to zero in on the business needs -- and then deliver the technology solutions tailored to those needs. In addition, many coders have had some amount of cybersecurity training. They know to be more security conscious and maintain better cyber hygiene -- even if their role is not explicitly that of a SOC analyst, penetration tester or of another cybersecurity function.

The more business users understand the role and value of a coder’s world, the more these benefits will propagate across the organization. But the understanding needs to go both ways.

"Wear a Suit"

Positioning coders optimally in the organization is a two-way street of understanding.  It’s not just the business users who need to unlearn the stereotypes, but the coders themselves.  The archetype of a coder as a rogue genius is a compelling one -- a tempting, ready-made identity that’s easy to get lost in and is sometimes used to justify downright anti-social, anti-corporate behavior.

It’s key to understand that allowing yourself to be bound by that identity is damaging both to the coder and their organization, and that it’s the coder’s job to look beyond the powerful mystique and realize that their role within the company is not something to view with irony or disdain.  In fact, my mantra to students often comes down to "wear a suit" -- shorthand for the need to adapt to and understand the corporate world, and not insist on standing apart as a company outlier.

Ultimately, the reality is much less about coders serving as rock stars on huge enterprise projects; the coder is much more of an everyday problem solver for business colleagues. While this may seem like a let-down at first, it’s actually a more realistic -- and more valuable -- picture of the coder’s valuable contribution to organizations.

Photo Credit: Oleg Ivanov IL/Shutterstock

Joe Perry is Director of Research at Cybrary. He is a cybersecurity researcher, software engineer, security analyst, and general jack-of-all trades. He has worked in Cybersecurity for most of a decade, fulfilling roles throughout the US Federal Government; primarily in the Department of Defense and Intelligence community.

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