Greg Beeman’s Heroes blog had an interview with writer Chris Zatta called “Living the Dream.” Zatta has worked as a writers assistant on the show this season, and wound up getting a writing credit for episode 18 of the show, which is apparently quite unusual. He broke in, as many do in the television and film industry, as a production assistant. Here’s how he describes the work:
Photocopying. Getting lunches for the producers. Getting coffee. Getting breakfast for the cast. Delivering scripts to people’s homes at night.
And what does the writers assistant do?
There’s a big table. Eleven writers. And they all come in every day, around ten. And they stay in there all day until about six. They are just talking about the show. About the stories. About all the characters. Very fast, with lots of ideas coming and going and changing all the time. Basically, I’m a stenographer. I’m taking notes on everything. I take notes all day, and then at night I have to type them all up.
This is a common pattern in many professions. If you want to be a plumber, or a carpenter, or an electrician, you generally have to go through an apprenticeship where you do lots of mindless manual labor, get coffee, and generally pay your dues and learn by osmosis until you’ve gotten to a point where the experienced people want to teach you anything.
What I find interesting is how the software business breaks from this sort of approach. Most software developers start out at their first real job developing software. They may not get to do much design or work on the most interesting problems, but even that’s not always the case. There are other areas where entry level programmers start out (like quality assurance), but by and large from day one programmers are applying the skills of their profession to solve real problems. Certainly there’s no real concept of “dues paying” in software development.
I can’t help but wonder why that is. Is it that as a profession, software development isn’t interesting to enough people that we can afford to mistreat newcomers in hope of weeding out the people who aren’t really devoted?