What Does a Survey of Programming Languages Have to Do With Legal Project Management?

eWeek, an IT weekly, just released a survey of the most sought after (paid jobs) computer programming languages.

I was both surprised and intrigued to find that the top three were Java, C, and C++.

They have three things in common, one of which is a meaningful metaphor for LPM.

  1. The names all stem from obscure computer-programmer snide remarks or puns.
  2. They all have a very similar structure ("syntax" in programmer terms).
  3. All are relatively low-level, meaning that the programmer has to do a lot of work to create what we end users see as simple operations, such as figuring out how much width each character takes up on this line and thus where to wrap the text to the next line.

What do most people want to do with computers today? Use them, not program them! They want to put up a web page. They want to sum a column of numbers in Excel. They want to draw shapes in PowerPoint.

Of these, putting up a web page is the one most like "computer programming" at some level. But how many people who put up web pages actually use computer programming languages - even something as simple and limited as HTML, which is the core language of the web? Very few. Rather, we mostly use high-level tools that hide all the complexity. For example, I'm writing this article in an onscreen editor that looks and acts like a very, very inferior version of Word, but it's sufficient for my needs. It has a bunch of buttons that allow me to bold or italicize text, put up a numbered list like the one above, add some subsidiary information, and save and publish the page. I don't need to know HTML to make it work, let alone Java or C or C++.

Because I am not using these computer languages to create works on a computer, does that make my work inferior in any way?

It says nothing about my work; we've reached a level where the tools are independent of the tool user.

Let's bring that back to Legal Project Management.

The core tools of traditional project management are complex and unwieldy for those unschooled in them. That description applies to both "tools" tools, such as Microsoft Project, and to "technique" tools, such as developing a MECE WBS. Yet you can be a great project manager without using these tools.

And that's the point.

It's not about the tools.

It's not about the tools, but the tool user.

A Brief Flashback

About 35 years ago, my 55-year-old mother, having been told that computers were the coming thing and never able to operate my engineer-father's fancy calculator, decided to take a computer literacy course.

For some reason I still cannot fathom, the adult-extension unit decided that computer literacy equated to learning to program... in COBOL. That was a mistake; she learned nothing but frustration. Certainly she learned nothing about either using a computer or programming. When a few years later my father got a computer for his home office, I think she kept her distance until the day she shuffled off this mortal coil.

She certainly could have learned to use a computer. Were she alive, she might be surfing the web and writing holiday cards in Word, as does a 90-year-old friend of my wife's folks. But she might not, because she was so thrown by that misbegotten "computer literacy" course.

Read the rest on the Lexician Blog.