Programming is good prose?

Here’s a great post from the Harvard Business Review blog from a CEO who won’t hire job candidates with poor grammar, even if they are applying for a job in a seemingly unrelated field like computer programming.  Over the past few months I’ve been learning HTML and CSS, and am just starting on TEI -compliant XML, and I think Weins’s comment on the similarities between good prose and good programming are right on.*

Ooops, did I just  end that sentence with a preposition?  This mistake highlights one difference between good prose and good XML:  if I make a mistake in marking up a TEI document, it flat out won’t work, whereas I can choose to make a mistake in my prose as a matter of style.  I’d actually suggest that prose is more complicated than these mark up languages in that way–you need to know the rules and then think about deviating from them, whereas to mark up a document, at least on a basic level, you just need to play by the rules.  But maybe a programmer would have a different perspective?  (There I go again, starting a sentence with a conjunction.)

At any rate, I think any grammar-loving English major might find more to like in XML than he or she might initially think.  The structure can be as satisfying as a Petrarchan sonnet or a Spensarian stanza.  Here’s the passage from the blog:

“programmers who pay attention to how they construct written language also tend to pay a lot more attention to how they code. You see, at its core, code is prose. Great programmers are more than just code monkeys; according to Stanford programming legend Donald Knuth they are “essayists who work with traditional aesthetic and literary forms.” The point: programming should be easily understood by real human beings — not just computers.”

What a nice thought!

*Though HTML and XML are mark up languages rather than programming languages, I’m presuming the point carries!

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