FizzBuzz Is For ‘Real’ Programmers Too

In his follow-up to hist post on Coding Horror about the FizzBuzz problem (Why Can’t Programmers… Program? (February 26, 2007), Jeff Atwood says:

It certainly wasn’t my intention, but a large portion of the audience interpreted FizzBuzz as a challenge. I suppose it’s like walking into Guitar Center and yelling ‘most guitarists can’t play Stairway to Heaven!’* You might be shooting for a rational discussion of Stairway to Heaven as a way to measure minimum levels of guitar competence.

And then a paragraph or so later he says:

The whole point of the original article was to think about why we have to ask people to write FizzBuzz. The mechanical part of writing and solving FizzBuzz, however cleverly, is irrelevant. Any programmer who cares enough to read programming blogs is already far beyond such a simple problem. FizzBuzz isn’t meant for us. It’s the ones we can’t reach– the programmers who don’t read anything– that we’re forced to give the FizzBuzz test to.

What I believe Jeff has discovered is that programmers, all programmers (especially the ones who read programming blogs) are insecure about their ability to write code.

Programmers, when we first come into contact with a rudimentary problem that might call into question our competency, need to make sure we agree that the problem is in fact rudimentary because if we are not able to solve it then there can only be two possible conclusions, either the problem is not rudimentary after all, or we are not competent.

As I see it, upon encountering this post, most programmers went through four phases of competency validation as follows:

  1. Am I able to solve the problem at all?
  2. As a ‘senior’ programmer, am I able to solve it in under 10-15 minutes (remembering that a quote from Imran in the original post stated, “I’ve also seen self-proclaimed senior programmers take more than 10-15 minutes to write a solution.”)
  3. Now that I have solved it under that time, how long did it actually take me? In other words, where do I rank among true programmers?
  4. Now that I know I can do it in under 3 minutes, I must create the most cleverly written one-liner ever, ever!

In my mind, when Jeff says,

And instead of writing FizzBuzz code, they should be thinking about ways to prevent us from needing FizzBuzz code in the first place.

he’s missing what actually happened. When programmers saw the post, they said, “I’ve never had to solve that problem before and if some senior level (self-proclaimed or otherwise) programmers took 10-15 minutes to solve it, I had better check to see that I can do it in less time (or at all for that matter)”.

Dont’ you see what you’ve done Jeff?. Every programmer out there who considers himself competent just went and took a test to make sure he really is. Imagine that there was someone who should know how to solve the problem who currently holds a programming job who just failed the test miserably. Maybe he will come to his senses and stop wasting his company’s time and his own life. If this is truly a problem, that people get into positions because nobody asked them the FizzBuzz question when they were being interviewed, then the FizzBuzz post has just shown them the truth and maybe they will now ‘see the light’ and finally stop making their fellow programmers look bad and go away.

Then again, they probably won’t, but at least now they know. They can’t deceive themselves any longer. They are not competent. The jury is no longer out for them.

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