Why Coders Should Be Nice Wizards

The other day, my co-founder, David, came up to me and asked me if I’d be willing to help someone fix their website. Immediately a thought flashed through my head along the lines of:

Ugh, not this again. Someone has some silly error and I’m going to take time out of working on my product to fix it

As an MIT CS major, I’ve seen hundreds of postings on our jobs list along the line of:

Business major with an amazing idea, $100 million in revenue guaranteed within a year. Major funding already received and board of directors is seated. All we need is a technical co-founder to start making the product

We get sick of being treated like code monkeys and people not appreciating how difficult it is to create a great product. So when this request came in, I rolled my eyes per usual, but since the request came from my co-founder and the company was a fellow Beehiver, I decided to help her out.

The website is http://glutenfreegluttons.com/ a site for those allergic to Gluten to find restaurant alternatives in the SF area. The founder, Shireen, was not technical and had a friend help her make the site. The website had been down since October 9th, 2012, and her friend couldn’t figure out how to fix it. She said she got at least 4-5 emails a week asking when the site would be back up.

Whenever you tried to search for anything on the site, it would pull up a page which said:

This website is under construction, come back soon

So, it was time to start digging. I got FTP access and pulled up the main page. As it turns out, that message would come up if the connection to the SQL database was refused.

Shireen used DreamHost as a hosting service, and on it, her friend had created an account and set up his password, which matched what I saw in the config file on the site. I quickly had an aha moment and went in to see what users had sql access (There are DreamHost users, i.e. those that get FTP/SSH access, and SQL users, those that can connect to the DB). Lo and behold, the password her friend had set to the DreamHost user didn’t match the SQL user. I quickly changed the DB config file to have the right password, and boom! Site was completely functional again.

The look on Shireen’s face was priceless, she was clearly overjoyed and thanked me incessantly and now owes me a gluten-free lunch in Cambridge. It dawned on me that coding was one of my only skills that I had that can evoke such a reaction from someone.

As Gabe Newell says:

The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future. You know you are going to look like you have magic powers compared to everybody else

I guess the moral of the story is, I hope coders realize their powers and the joy that they can bring into people’s lives, and I hope you use them for good. I took less than 5 minutes out of my day, and now those allergic to gluten have their resource back.

P.S. One of the classes that excites me most at MIT right now is 6.S194 Open Source Software Projects, where your entire coursework is contributing to a major open source software library, i.e. Ruby on Rails


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