Understanding coders via humor

Programmers and designers—and nerds in general, really—can be kind of difficult for non-nerdy people to understand. The reverse is also true. Programmer types can get the worst of it, though.

Generalizing broadly, the mental world they tend to live in is full of things that make sense because they follow specific rules. Those rules can get infinitely complex; but the basic principles of programming can get you past most of the problems you might encounter.

It was probably a misplaced semicolon, in any case.

Other people are more used to the random circumstance, arbitrary rules, and chaotic nature of life, the universe, and everything. Things are the way they are, and this must be accepted.

Mind you, the definition of “things” and “the way they are” can vary widely from person to person, based on their experiences and perspectives. But the basic idea is the same: Every sunset is different. People are unpredictable at the oddest of times. Doing a rain dance can fix the wi-fi.

A world where everything follows precise logical rules is as alien to them as the idea of wearing men’s high fashion is to…well most of us.

Still, one of almost every human’s basic emotional needs is to feel understood. We want others to know why we do the things we do. And the world is trying. Being a nerd (or better yet, a programmer-nerd) has, in many ways, become a good thing in popular culture.

But there have been some hiccups along the way:

Alright, we’re just gonna throw Freud out the window on this one.

Anna Sopova, a self-described PR & marketing comms pro [sic] decided that she wanted to understand programmers better in general, and so she made an examination of their humor. There are few things so nerdy as going uber-nerd on a collection of jokes, so we decided to feature her work here.

She wanted to find out what they care about, the things they struggle with, and how they see themselves. Obviously, every programmer is different. But, there are broad themes in programmer culture, and humor in particular.

I won’t talk much about her conclusions. They are best read in context. What interests me most is the study itself, and the effort put into it. You can read the two full articles here:

  1. What I learned about programmers by reading 200+ programming jokes (part 1)
  2. What (else) I learned about programmers by reading 200+ programming jokes (part 2)

Here’s the methodology she used, in her own words:

  1. I googled “programmer jokes” as well as “programming jokes” and read all the results one after another. I did stick to text, staying away from image and video search results.
  2. I stopped reading when I got to ten sites in a row that didn’t have a single joke I hadn’t already read.
  3. I threw out variations (when the same joke was told differently). As a result, I was left with 200 unique jokes.
  4. I threw out jokes about languages, platforms, and programming techniques (for instance: “Knock-knock.” “Who’s there?” …very long pause… “Java”), figuring that they have little to tell us about programmers themselves. I only left the ones looking at the different aspects of life as a programmer.

Some of the jokes are fairly original (or at least new to me), and others are rehashed versions of older jokes with programmers thrown in for a subject specific punchline.

For example, here’s a classic, with new details:

An engineer, a mathematician, and a computer programmer are driving down the road when the car they are in gets a flat tire.
The engineer says that they should buy a new car.
The mathematician says they should sell the old tire and buy a new one.
The computer programmer says they should drive the car around the block and see if the tire fixes itself.

And here’s one I’ve never heard any variation of before:

A programmer dies and finds himself in front of the Judgement Seat. God says to him:
“Well, my friend, you certainly aren’t getting into heaven.”
“Why not??”
“Just think about it,” answers God. “How many glitchy programs did you write? How stable were they? How hard did they make life for your users? How much pain did you cause?”
“But I tried my hardest!” says the programmer in an attempt to justify himself. “I released patches regularly, I made new releases. And how about this: did you make everything without glitches? Would you say the world you made is perfect? And you didn’t even release a single patch!”
“I would be happy to, but I can’t…” says God.
“All that time, and there wasn’t a single new version or update,” the programmer presses on.
“I would, but I can’t…” again says God.
The programmer looks closer into that heavenly face and suddenly exclaims, “You’re kidding me! You lost the source code!”

The whole thing is interesting, and pretty hilarious. I highly recommend scrolling back up, clicking through to the two articles, and having a look. And here ’s a bonus: all of the jokes in one document.

Ezequiel Bruni is a web/UX designer, blogger, and aspiring photographer living in Mexico. When he's not up to his finely-chiselled ears in wire-frames and front-end code, or ranting about the same, he indulges in beer, pizza, fantasy novels, and stand-up comedy. More articles by Ezequiel Bruni
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