I’ve been thinking about what the minimum requirement for a programmer is. It’s an interesting topic. No one talks about it, really. What’s the most basic skill a programmer must possess to call themselves a “professional programmer”?

I’d like to think that we could look at some other professions and see how they define it. Doctor’s have the saying “do no harm”, pretty good. Architects, I’d guess, have to be able to design a building that doesn’t implode. Plumbers have to build a system of pipes that doesn’t get backed up and doesn’t leak. Lawyers, at the most basic level, just need to know the laws. They just need to be correct.

If you try to fix your sink, and it starts spraying water all over your kitchen, you might proclaim “I’m no plumber!”. If you gave medical advice to someone, and they got sick, you’d say “I’m no doctor!”. Almost all statements prefaced with IANAL are wrong, because that person doesn’t actually know what the laws say.

I think we could sum this up by saying, the basis of most professions is the ability to not break anything, or be incorrect in what you say.

So, what can we say about programming? How do you define what makes someone a professional? Correctness? All software that I’ve ever used has been incorrect in one way or another, so we’re going to have to throw that one out. Let’s get even more basic.

The minimum attribute of being a profession programmer is that you deliver working programs. Your code works. It does not break. It does not make things worse.

How many programmers do you know that can say that?

I would like to hear more folks would talking about “this”. Software that works. The process of delivering software that doesn’t break, consistently.