Should People Learn To Code? Yes – If They Are Judges Ruling On Cases Involving Software
from the you-can't-fool-me dept
Recently Techdirt wrote about the heated debate on the subject of whether people should learn to code. We pointed out that some knowledge of that subject could be particularly useful in helping people understand why copyrighting APIs or patenting software is just crazy -- whatever the abstract legal arguments, in practice both make programming much, much harder.
An obvious situation where such practical knowledge could be crucially important is in court cases dealing with software. Rather neatly, the long-running court case between Oracle and Google, where the former is accusing the latter's Android of infringing on its code in various ways, has thrown up a perfect example of this.
It arose in an exchange between Judge Alsup and Oracle's main lawyer, the high-profile David Boies, best known for representing the US Justice Department in the United States v. Microsoft case. Boies claimed that the fact that the jury had decided Google's "rangeCheck" code had copied Oracle's implementation of the same function was evidence that Google was trying to save time. The argument of Boies was that Google consciously copied those few lines from Oracle in order to accelerate development -- and thus to start making money faster through daily activations of phones running its Android operating system.
But Judge Alsup was having none of it:
I have done, and still do, a significant amount of programming in other languages. I've written blocks of code like rangeCheck a hundred times before. I could do it, you could do it. The idea that someone would copy that when they could do it themselves just as fast, it was an accident. There's no way you could say that was speeding them along to the marketplace. You're one of the best lawyers in America, how could you even make that kind of argument?
This is a perfect example of a judge being able to draw on his personal experience of coding to dismiss what a clever lawyer probably thought was a clever argument.
Contrast this with another judge, talking this time about software patents, as recently reported on Techdirt:
Judge Michel seemed unaware of the depth of the software industry's dissatisfaction with the patent system. He suggested the patent system's critics were relatively marginal figures not representative of the views of the broader technology industry. And he didn't seem to understand the dynamics of the patent arms race currently affecting the software industry.
No one who has tried to code in any depth could dismiss the problems caused by software patents so glibly -- it would be hard, for example, to imagine Judge Alsup saying this.
"If software is less dependent on patents, fine then. Let software use patents less as they choose," Michel said. "If other industries are terribly dependent on patents, then let's not wreck the system just because software people are unhappy."
Learning to code certainly isn't a panacea, nor is it relevant for everyone. But for those professionals who must make important decisions about software -- judges, for example -- a basic programming literacy is indispensable. As it is, the tech industry must count itself lucky that the Oracle vs. Google case seems to have ended up in front of one of the few judges qualified to decide it.