December 6, 2010

Who is the elusive Ninja Programmer that all the tech companies want to hire?

Who is the elusive Ninja Programmer that all the tech companies want to hire?

If you’ve been browsing around programming-related websites like StackOverflow, you’ll occasionally see ads for companies looking to hire programmers, and quite often you’ll see them trying to entice you with graphics or mentions of Ninjas, Rockstars or Superheros.

Who is the elusive Ninja Programmer that all the tech companies want to hire?

But this isn’t just limited to flashy web ads. If you search job-posting websites like for ‘ninja’, you’ll find several such listings:

Who is the elusive Ninja Programmer that all the tech companies want to hire?

None of these jobs actually want real Ninjas (do they even exist anymore?), nor have anything to do with martial arts for that matter. Instead they are for programming jobs. But who is the target audience? At first glance it seems to be a lure for those wavering souls that have some unfulfilled childhood fantasies. But is there anything more to it than that? I posed the question to the Programmers – Stack Exchange community to get their opinions. The question has since been closed (update: and now un-closed…) – for good reason too: it was attracting a lot of negative comments which is not conducive to the type of community they are trying to build there. However, some good points were raised comparing the traits of a Ninja to the characteristics desired in software developers:

  • Mastery by experience: to be highly skilled due to intense training and practice. This also implies enlightenment (i.e. knowing both your enemies/competition and your friends/end-users)
  • Confidence in tackling the impossible: to have the initiative and determination to deal with problems that others don’t want to touch
  • Economy of effort: to find optimal solutions in the minimal amount of time and with the least amount of effort
  • Resourceful: to know what tools are available, how they can be used and when it is appropriate to use them
  • Stealth and unorthodox style: to be able to go in, under the radar (when required), and finish the job, sometimes by employing techniques that commoners are not familiar with (this one applies mostly to hackers)
  • Honor/Respect (this is probably more relevant to Samurai than Ninjas, but lets just go with the flow anyway): to be humble enough to respect the fact that some peer out there may be better than themselves

But this is not enough to convince me that this is more than a tacky marketing scheme by Human Resources Agents. As programmer Jon argues, there are experienced professionals in other industries too, but they don’t get referred to as Ninja Doctors, or Ninja Lawyers. However programmer Anna points out that this is most likely because the programming culture is closely tied to the gaming sub-culture, whereas the other professions aren’t. However, I still feel that the term is being grossly misused just for its coolness factor.

Anyhow, let me end this post by quoting programmer JB King‘s G.I. Joe analogy, which absolutely cracked me up:

If you ever saw the G.I. Joe cartoon from the 1980s you may remember the character of Storm Shadow. He had a sword and some throwing stars but with just the right sequences of punches and kicks managed to take apart a tank in an episode. In a similar manner, programmers can get called in to do some work that requires them to pull out weapons you may not have thought they had.

Comments (1)

  1. April 28, 2013
    burbujeante said...

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