Today I read We are Typists first, Programmers second by Jeff Atwood.

The man has a point but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the fact that the IT business seems to be centered around the English language. Don’t get me wrong, that is not bad, I think it is actually a good thing that we can speak the same language around the world. This also means that our relatively small world is much bigger than if we stuck to our own language.

In my case, that would be Dutch, on a global scale Dutch is a very small language, so the number of good Dutch speaking IT people is fairly small too. With the large number of different technologies and job descriptions in the IT world, it would be hard to find a lot of Senior VB.Net people that also happen to blog and use Structuremap at the same time ;-). There even seems to be a very small number of them around the world if you account for all the non-Dutch-speaking people.

And that’s why people tend to use English as a main language in IT. I think it all started because BASIC was so popular and based on the English language. Even Pascal was very English based and then came SQL and many other verbose programming-languages. And us non-English speaking people adapted and learned English to better understand.

I can tell you that Microsoft tried to change the syntax to make it more human language independent. I know that in Excel 5.0 you had the option to set the VBA syntax to Dutch and program in Dutch. And that just felt weird. I don’t know if they do that anymore but it was funny and very difficult to program basic in your own language when you are used to programming Basic in English, it just felt wrong. And that is weird ;-). It felt funny because they needed to translate English keywords to Dutch keywords and sometimes the correct translations just isn’t one word in another language.

So getting to know English is a must, and it can be quit a task when you have had no formal education in English. So like Jeff, who taught himself how to type, I taught myself English. Yes, I know I’m not a hundred percent, but like Ayende Rahien (Oren Eini) used to say “Correct spelling is optional”. And he too has made plenty of progress over the years, just look at his first blogposts and the last.

So we non-English speakers have a double challenge, learning how to program the correct way and learning a language to learn how to program.

You English speaking IT-ers have an edge on us but you don’t even seem to realize it. Not that we hold that against you.

So coming back to Jeff’s post. According to Type racer (which is big fun BTW) I do 39 wpm in English. which isn’t that bad. I’m pretty sure I do much better in Dutch since I have to think less about correct spelling (meaning I don’t have to read some words four times before I understand them).

And yes we now have built-in spellcheckers for everything. And all spellcheckers work for English (most variants) so use them.

So for us non-English speaking programmers, I would change Jeff’s quote:

So if you want to become a great programmer, start by becoming a great typist.


So if you want to become a great programmer, start by learning English and then becoming a great typist.

PS: Try Type Racer It’s big fun and seems to help me learn to spell better, so now I only have to learn how to write great stories like Jeff does ;-).