coder or liar?
August 5, 2017 3:31 AM   Subscribe

I am talking online to someone I suspect may not be who they say they are. They claimed to be a software developer, but their description of what they do doesn't ring true. Please sense check it for me if you are a real developer.

This person told me they worked in 'computer development'. I asked what languages, they said 'SQ C#' and PHP. They said they don't code much, but they work in the department that assembles code written by other departments together to make the program work. This assembly of code is, they said, called 'scripting development'.

I am moderately techy, but I don't know a great deal about coding. However, I'm sure there's no such language as SQ - perhaps it was meant to be SQL, but isn't SQL, C# and PHP a slightly odd combination? And don't big projects work with a repository automatically makes a nightly build based on the code that each team has checked in? And is 'scripting development' a term anyone uses? In short, is this person full of it?
posted by anonymous to Computers & Internet (34 answers total)
That does sound a bit odd. I would assume that if they are being earnest, they are cargo-cult programmers at best (e.g. they go through the motions without understanding all the hows and whys). I certainly wouldn't have a high estimation of their skills.

SQL, C# and PHP isn't a typical combination, but I wouldn't call it unheard of either, especially if they are tasked with integrating disparate systems together. I'm currently working on a project that has a node.js front-end and a C#/Azure backend, as anecdata. Source code management and build processes can be pretty variable depending on the shop, and based on what you've described I wouldn't assume that he works at a shop that follows best-practices there.

TL,DR; I wouldn't be surprised if they were a developer, but I would be surprised if they were competent.
posted by Aleyn at 3:52 AM on August 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

When I worked in a department that used to have to send our code to India to be implemented (yes, really) with a 36-hour turnaround, it was not at all uncommon to have the code sent back with at least 30% missing off the end, accompanied by a blunt message of "your code doesn't work". To all appearances they were uploading the code snippets quite mindlessly. You would then explain that one reason it doesn't work is that it's not all there, re-send the original code, and the cycle would restart (now with bonus merge issues).

So it's consistent with that that this person thinks they work with "SQ". The "L" must have gotten lost along the way.

More seriously, I guess what they're saying could be true if English is not their first language and also if they're just not good at what they do, in a manner consistent with what I've experienced above.

As a coder I would be completely turned off by what they've said, especially if it's true.
posted by tel3path at 4:16 AM on August 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm not a developer but rub shoulders with them and have worked in corporate IT for close to 20 years. Nobody talks like this. It reads like word salad. For example, there is no such thing as a department that assembles code written by other people. And if there was it wouldn't be called 'scripting development'. I would be very skeptical. At the best, they are incompetent. At worst, they are lying.
posted by machinecraig at 4:18 AM on August 5, 2017 [6 favorites]

Beat to the punch by tel3path, but I was about to say that one thing to consider is if English is not their first language. SQL, C#, and PHP is an odd combination, but not outside the realm of possibility. A native English speaker saying something like 'scripting development' though is on balance probably full of crap.

I do take issue with "there is no such thing as a department that assembles code written by other people"...isn't that (clumsily described, perhaps) what systems integration is?
posted by juv3nal at 4:29 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I agree that this only makes sense if they do not speak English as a first language and/or that either their company is non-English-speaking, or they are trying to 'translate' their company's titles into 'easier' language while being a predominantly foreign language speaker. If that's the case, I could see 'scripting development' as being some sort of lost-in-translation explanation of the concept of a build team (who try to integrate code written by different sub-teams into one release-candidate build at some very large companies).

But if the person is a native English speaker working for an English-predominant company? No, because "scripting development" makes no sense with how he explained it. (I'm ignoring 'SQ' as a simple typo.)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:46 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have been/am a developer. This sounds like someone putting the best possible gloss on scant knowledge or someone who doesn't have a decent grasp of technical English. Regardless, I don't think I'd take this any further.
posted by epo at 4:53 AM on August 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

In one place you say he claimed to be a computer developer, in another you say he claimed he worked "in computer development." I think these are two different things. If he said the first, ignoring, if the latter ...

I used to tell people I worked "in IT," which was true - I worked in an IT department, and my boss was an IT guy. I stopped telling people that because something they would then think I knew something about IT, and I didn't. I was focused on a very specific task that had been assigned to the IT group but perhaps didn't belong there but also didn't belong anywhere else in the company.

I wonder if this guy made the same mistake. To me, saying he works "in" computer development means he works in a company or department which is primarily focused on development, but his actual job title probably doesn't contain the work "developer," and coding is not his primary job focus. I'd guess he has a vague title, like "widget coordinator" and he mostly performs tasks that are either supportive or adjacent to coding, but not actually coding.
posted by bunderful at 5:59 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Assembles code written by other people" might, from my years of working as a support person in IT (QA/configuration management/technical writing), mean configuration management in the sense of creating a software delivery packet. But the wording that was used sounds odd to me.
posted by apartment dweller at 6:02 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with the above -- not a completely implausible combination but definitely not typical.

If you're still talking to this person, just ask them what the differences are between C# and PHP. Then come back here (or just me-mail me) and it should be much easier to call bullshit or not. It's a googable answer for sure, but this is definitely a case where you want to ask a few more questions.
posted by cgg at 6:18 AM on August 5, 2017

From the OP:
Thanks everyone for the useful answers. To clarify, this person claims to be a North American living in North America and in all my other interactions with them, they have the English of a native speaker. They also claim to have previously interned at Adobe. They said they do program a little, but mostly assemble other people's code.

I'm not concerned with whether they're a good programmer, rather the likelihood that they're making this up. I'm not considering hiring them, instead this is the latest of a series of claims about their life which don't quite ring true. This particular claim is useful because I can check it with other people.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:21 AM on August 5, 2017

You're clearly skeptical and you want you to prove you're right, I'd say just go with your gut.

I work in IT operations. We are the ones who make sure all the things work together in the end, but in no way like that technobabble.
posted by advicepig at 6:29 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am here to reassure you that your red flags about this person are 99% likely to be correct, simply because I've noticed that any time someone feels the need to fact-check a fishy statement another person has given them, it later turns out that person is fishy as hell. Internet stranger gives you permission to trust your gut.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:30 AM on August 5, 2017 [12 favorites]

These are the 2 most generous interpretations of that jumble that I can come up with...

(1) Their organization is structured in such a way that has many reconfigurable modules that do the heavy lifting, but they can be orchestrated by a scripting language like PHP. This may be related to Service Oriented Architecture, or just based on a similar principle.

So, this person might do "scripting development" in that they write PHP code that ties together more substantial modules written by other departments. In this sense they might be said to "assemble code written by other departments together to make the program work"

(2) Another possibility that you allude to is that they are on the team that manages the nightly builds, which CAN be a set of scripts developed internally, rather than an off the shelf product. I don't know why that would be true in this day and age, but I've seen it in the past.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 6:37 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's oddly worded, but there have definitely been projects I've had that consisted mainly of assembling other people's code in the sense of, say, using an open source PHP library or web service to create a Magento plugin or using a set of Django apps and Python libraries to build a website. It's a reasonable nontechnical description of one (usually) very small part of my job. (I usually go with "handy man," but describing the process as literally assembling other people's code into something new isn't wrong as long as the term assemble is used in the casual sense meaning closer to "mash up" rather than the technical meaning of the word)

That said, if you have other reasons for being suspicious of this person, you probably aren't entirely wrong. It's too clever by half, if you know what I mean.
posted by wierdo at 6:43 AM on August 5, 2017

Their organization is structured in such a way that has many reconfigurable modules that do the heavy lifting, but they can be orchestrated by a scripting language like PHP. This may be related to Service Oriented Architecture, or just based on a similar principle.

I used to work for a research facility and this was part of my job - write scripts to create a data pipeline through applications written by others. So the data may start in process1 with a set of parameters, then get validated, and run through process2 with a set of parameters, and then through process3 with a set of parameters and so on. Then I would run the data again, and tweak the parameters slightly. And so on, again and again.

I wasn't a developer, though. I was just automating tedium that the undergrads had to do, and frequently made mistakes doing.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:45 AM on August 5, 2017

To give an example of how muddled these terms sometimes get: my immediate reaction to the first comment on this question was "Node.js frontend? That doesn't make any sense. The whole point of Node is to run javascript on the backend!" Which isn't to say that I think that that poster is lying, they just happen to work somewhere where either the term "frontend" gets used a little differently, or they're using Node.js in some novel and unexpected way. All of which is to say: "Scripting development" isn't a standard term I've ever come across, but it's a generic enough term that it certainly could be used for some sort of Dev/Ops type work somewhere. On the other hand, it's also vague enough that it could easily be bullshit. Similarly, C# and PHP isn't a standard stack, but there are lots of companies that use weird cobbled-together stacks for all sorts of reasons. It's certainly not a combination that would raise my eyebrows.

The one thing that does feel weird, at least to me, is that they claim they don't code much, they mostly assemble other's code. There certainly are jobs that mostly involve integrating code written by others, but the way you integrate that code is by writing more code. Sometimes you run into the attitude that that stuff like deployment scripts and other types of "glue code" isn't "real" code, but usually not from the people who spend all day writing it. In the context of someone who's already made a bunch of unverifiable but unlikely assertions, it feels a little bit like a way to give themselves an out should anyone try to call their bluff.
posted by firechicago at 6:59 AM on August 5, 2017

I would add that a true developer usually has a love/hate relationship with their job, and so doesn't so much talk about their responsibilities as the cool stuff they are working on, or the obstacles their management is imposing on them, or how excited they are about learning something new. Also, speaking of learning, good coders are constantly having to "drink from the fire hose" because there is so much to know and it keeps changing and then you make progress only to discover that you need to know more. All of the above colors the personality of an average developer (not that there aren't exceptions) to one of alternating cynicism and humility. If I was talking to someone at a party that is what I'd look for (though I agree that SQ instead of SQL and the combo of C++ in the .Net Windows stack vs. PHP in the Web server stack sounds unlikely though possible). Oh, and by the way, whenever I do any Bash at work one of the bosses playfully refers to me as a "script kiddy".
posted by forthright at 7:06 AM on August 5, 2017

The one thing that does feel weird, at least to me, is that they claim they don't code much, they mostly assemble other's code. There certainly are jobs that mostly involve integrating code written by others, but the way you integrate that code is by writing more code.
This. An integrator of other people's code needs to understand it's nuts and bolts as an editor needs to understand grammar. They would not be somebody who would leave the "L" off SQL.

"Worked for Adobe" also rings mild alarm bells for me - simply because it is a sufficiently high profile company for a bullshitter to know about and expect you to know about. Statistically it is very much more likely that a developer would have worked for a company that you have not heard of.
posted by rongorongo at 7:31 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

So I am a fairly incompetent coder who works in an IT-adjacent role, and if I were trying to present myself as more of a developer than I am, I'd probably sound close to this weird.

I have a not-especially coherent set of languages I (semi-)know, precisely because most of what I do in the software-manipulation realm (I don't want to call it development, exactly), involves tweaking programs other people have written, rather than writing things from scratch. So if I find something open source out there that can already do 90% of what I need, you can be sure I'm going to try to teach myself enough of whatever it is written in to play with it, rather than working with something only 20% of the way there that's in a language I'm more familiar with. But that means I have a LONG list of semi-known languages, not just three. (And, yes, I'm quite likely to screw up the names of the ones I am least familiar with when referring to them in conversation. But then again, SQL is so well-known that I don't really understand how you'd get it wrong unless this was an email and it's just a simple typo).

And sometimes tweaking something that's most of the way there does involve cobbling together a pipeline with some other piece of code (or multiple other pieces of code) written by various people. (But then again, that's something I do personally, and it strikes me as unlikely that a company would have a whole department of people doing it.)

Finally, like many semi-incompetent coders, I first got into programming through light scripting of e.g. html, css, R, etc. So I'd be more comfortable saying I can script than that I can develop software. So again, it kind of makes sense that he's trying to frame himself as someone who works in scripting here too.

So the thing is, though, I wouldn't describe myself as working as a developer. Working 'in computer development' sounds to me like this person is maybe trying to avoid doing so, too, so that's congruent with the other things.

The only thing that's really off to me is that this person is presenting this stuff as though it's the only part of their job. The reason I can get away with incompetent cobbling-together of other people's code, etc, is because writing software is only a very tiny part of my job. I am vastly more competent at all the rest of my responsibilities, and my boss would be more than happy for me to outsource the coding to someone else if it wasn't that I enjoy it and want to learn more. If he's as crap at software dev as I am, I would assume the vast majority of his work is something else, that he's maybe not very proud of, and is hiding from you. OR that he was hired by a company that didn't know any better and he's not likely to stay employed very long.

In my experience, people who lie about big things like their work tend to do so by exaggeration and omission rather than straight-up invention, so I'd guess that's what's going on here.

(Also, can I mention the eponystericality of the answer above "posted by He Is Only The Imposter".)
posted by lollusc at 7:58 AM on August 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

I earned my living for a decade with C# and SQL. I don't know anything about PHP, but its hard to rule out anything in a mixed web development situation.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:13 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

PHP, C# and SQL aren't a super common combination, but I've used all three on the same project (Unity client talking to a php framework backed by MySQL).

If you're suspicious trust your instincts but what you've written doesn't sound like some kind of devious impostor. It sounds like someone who is trying to describe their job that's related to programming (but isn't programming) to someone who isn't a programmer. I've also made typos when chatting online, so dropping a letter seems totally plausible.
posted by justkevin at 8:14 AM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

My intuition is that this is a dating question that's being answered like it's a job interview question
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:04 AM on August 5, 2017 [14 favorites]

Your question made me cringe really hard because that sounds almost like something I might say trying to describe my job to someone I didn't know well, and I'm pretty sure that people sometimes think I'm full of shit, especially people who don't work in the industry and think that everyone is either a programmer or in some sort of administrative role. The kind of work I do, I sometimes need to work with a bunch of weird and disparate technologies, so I can code in a bunch of different languages, sort of. Just not very well, and I almost always need cheat sheets and I'm really slow and probably sloppy in ways I'm not even aware of. But if it's important to me that someone understand I'm not, like, a secretary, I might throw out some awkward sounding stuff like that, but still try to avoid giving people the impression I'm a "programmer."

So maybe that's what's making me a little sympathetic to this person, but is there some reason you need to render a judgment about them? Are you thinking about marrying them or investing in them somehow? Because, yeah, probably don't do that, just because you're obviously kind of uncomfortable with them. But I don't think you have enough to decide that they're a deceptive person or anything.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:17 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

You aren't considering hiring them, so they don't have motivation to lie for material gain, and it's just some variety of acquaintance? Go with your gut, it sounds like what someone who has only heard other people talking about development would say, repurposing what they understand to be the terminology. I would think this person is a bullshitter.
posted by rhizome at 10:19 AM on August 5, 2017

2nd trust your gut. It doesn't pass the smell test.
posted by 41swans at 12:13 PM on August 5, 2017

The thing about scammers is that they often talk exactly like this, saying things that could be true in theory.

I guess it wasn't clear from my answer above: even if this person is on the level, they may be crap at their job.

They are talking in a manner consistent with not being on the level, though. *Every* time I've had these kinds of weird, could-be-true-but-sounds-off statements from people they've been tricksters, often ones whose motives are unclear (no obvious path to profit, for example).
posted by tel3path at 2:20 PM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

They are speaking gibberish, but once upon a time I would have told you I did scripting because I did a lot of what programmers call glue (the standard UNIX-y approach: take output from one thing, do something to it, and pass it to some other thing). But I did that scripting in Perl, not PHP, and PHP is an inconvenient language for the sort of scripting I think of when I think of scripting because it's not great on the command line.

Nowadays the cool kids call that sort of scripting automation.

Anyway, this person is incompetent or dishonest, maybe both.
posted by fedward at 2:25 PM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's not an utter obvious lie, but it seems improbable. And it's the kind of thing someone who knows nothing about coding would say if they're trying to sound smart. I'd move on.
posted by miyabo at 2:51 PM on August 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sounds like a junior person too young to have heard of "integration developer" (eg, the people who would glue the various front to back end code together with templates etc) or "release manager" (person who puts code together from others to ship at various times etc) and or someone who works under a release manager at a larger company with bad onboarding and education.

It is not weird at all to mostly know c# php and SQL and have a bad phone connection...
posted by love2potato at 5:09 PM on August 5, 2017

A generous interpretation would be that this person writes functions, stored procedures, and the like to transform data from one business application's shape to another. Consider also that all three languages were used at some point, likely never together.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:12 PM on August 5, 2017

nthing that this person is (generously) a cargo-cult developer (i.e., someone who doesn't actually know WTF they're doing), or (possibly) full of shit.

I've been a professional developer for almost two decades, and I've never heard the terms "computer development" or "scripting development".
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:55 PM on August 5, 2017

From the OP:
Many thanks again to everyone who answered my question - both the developers who thought the description was highly improbable and those who suggested ways it might just be plausible.

I appreciate that I left out a lot of the background, but that was deliberate because (a) my last attempt to briefly summarise the situation for a friend was 1300 words and it's got more complex since then (b) the thread would have been thoroughly derailed by human-relationships-type answers advising me to trust my gut. As a final clarification, all of my contact with this person has been via text chat and we are not involved sexually or romantically.

FWIW, yes I am trusting my gut and have done from the start, I do believe this person is lying to me - and may not even exist. However, I am then forced to conclude someone I've never met has over several months spent up to an hour a day maintaining 4-5 fake identities for no obvious gain other than to mess with me. So far they have not tried to scam me, blackmail me, steal my identity, send me to dodgy websites etc. I've been waiting this out to see if there's an end game, also hoping for a smoking gun of something unambiguously untrue. Thus this question with the very useful answers I received from various developers. Thank you again.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:04 AM on August 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Further followup from the OP:
This story has ended. I assembled further evidence that this person was a fake and confronted them. After an initial attempt at bluffing, they admitted that not only was the coder an invented character, but so were two other people I'd been talking to online. I never got a convincing answer as to why they had done this.

Although I'd listened to my gut feeling from the outset, the answers I received to this question really helped me feel confident that I was't overly wary and that my suspicion was appropriately calibrated, giving me the confidence to move forward in bringing this to a close. Thank you once again.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:19 PM on August 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

People do weird shit like this for no reason. I've seen a couple of internet communities visited by multiple-personalities like these, with no discernible profit motive (though avenues for future exploitation may have been opened, they hadn't gone far down them at the point of being discovered).

It's definitely sinister, and I would like to figure out why someone would do this as well. But in my experience it can be essentially motiveless.
posted by tel3path at 3:28 PM on August 30, 2017

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