Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Do Engineers Want to Be Lawyers?

We engineers tend to be well educated and often very confident in our own abilities in and outside of our area of expertise. We often straddle the fine line between confidence and arrogance. How often have we rolled our eyes at lawyers and judges requesting our source code thinking, "Do they really think that they can just pick it up, read it and understand?"

Computer source code is very precise. It has to be so that a computer can process it and do exactly what we instruct it to do. "a = 1" is precisely what it says. This should make computer code easier to understand then the english language which requires a lot of context. "It's cool" -- what does that mean?!? Those of us in software engineering know that code is not necessarily easy to read or understand because even if the language is precise the meaning can still be difficult to decipher.

Just like programming languages in software engineering, Legal and Politics have their own language. Legal language is especially difficult because even though it uses English its structure and sentences have a precision that doesn't necessarily match that of common vernacular.

Just like how we know that a lawyer can't just start an text editor, read the code and be able to understand, how come we feel that we can read proposals and half researched news articles and declare ourselves as experts?

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