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Tool Dependence

My girlfriend really loves the Amazing Race Show, which of course means that I have to “love” it too. It’s a reality TV show where teams compete in contests all over the world with a one million dollar prize at the end. Anyway, in one episode of last season the contestants were in Dubai. The challenge was to weigh out the exactly $500,000 worth of gold and the value was constantly fluctuating. They were given the value of gold per ounce. The trick was to realize that 16 ounces are in a pound and for the sake of this example the price of gold is $1089.87 per ounce. If you divide $500,000 by the price per ounce you can figure out how many ounces you need. Then divide that number by 16 to determine how many pounds and ounces for the final weight. Simple right? Well, remember that the price of gold was changing every minute or so. Think you can do it in under a minute?

Go ahead and grab a piece of paper and try. I’ll wait.
::Humming the Jeopardy Theme::

What? You can’t do it? Everyone learns how to do it, it’s just simply long division.

You’ve forgotten how to do long division with decimals? I realized the same thing as my girlfriend and I were laughing at the contestants. I have forgotten how to do long division. This is ironic because I used to teach math. I am a SQL Programmer, which obviously involves math. I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually Googled how to do long division with decimals.

I can almost hear you saying, “Well stupid, use a calculator or the computer you are working on.” Well, some of the teams had calculators and got the answer. The teams that didn’t couldn’t keep up with the constantly changing price of gold and had to do an alternate challenge.

What is the point?

Why do we use calculators and computers? It’s simple, they are fast. What is the likelihood that a million dollars will be on the line for a long division problem? What is the likelihood that I will be without some kind of gadget that calculates?

In this case, it is a no-brainer. I may never have to do long division again. However, other technologies are not so clear-cut. Since moving to Dallas nearly two years ago I have used a Garmin Nuvi GPS and I love those things. I type in the address I’m looking for and it gives me turn by turn directions. It helps me find stores, restaurants, and I only use a small subset of the features of this device.

Here’s the problem. Since I use this thing everywhere I go, I have virtually no understanding of the geography here. Remember when you were a little kid and you were driven everywhere? Do you remember what it was like to start driving yourself? I actually had to “find” places that I had been to tons of times because I never had to know where they were before. In essence, this is my situation now. If someone asks me for directions to my place, I’m fairly clueless.

Can you still write cursive (besides your signature)? I really have to work at it and I hate filling out forms. Have you noticed that your spelling has degenerated since the advent of spell check? Mine has.

What the heck does this have to do with SQL?

How many of us could effectively program without intellisense? I learned Basic waaaay back in the day and really had to learn it. When discussing development tools I often hear veteran programmers laugh that you can code in notepad, but who would? We did. We learned more thoroughly too. When mistakes are painful, we make less of them. I truly think that people learning now, don’t learn as thoroughly because of intellisense.

Furthermore, as I’ve mentioned before, when I write T-SQL I do so using a program called TOAD. I really like the program and it greatly improves my productivity. However, if I open Query Analyzer or SQL Server Management Studio, I still have to Google many of the functions to get the syntax right. Is using TOAD, or another product doing myself a disservice in the long run?

What do you think?

1 comment to Tool Dependence

  • Jen

    You said, “When discussing development tools I often hear veteran programmers laugh that you can code in notepad, but who would? We did. We learned more thoroughly too. When mistakes are painful, we make less of them. I truly think that people learning now, don’t learn as thoroughly because of intellisense.”

    Amen to that. I started programming in notepad back in ’95, and using any sort of tool back then was a luxury. Once I graduated and didn’t have the means or access to much as a stay at home mom, I fell back on that prior knowledge of how to do it the hard way. Nowadays, it just depends on the project, but I’ve been known to get frustrated at whatever IDE I’m stuck in that day, and I’ll just go back to notepad.

    Gah, now I feel like I’m old enough to be in the “get off my lawn” age bracket, but I’m not, I swear.

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