Computer programmers at work.The Programmer’s Stone is a theory and training course on how to think as an effective and adaptable computer programmer. Alan Carter and Colston Sanger wrote the guide with the aim to explore, recapture and celebrate the programming art form.

The reader is positioned to become a better programmer, understand the struggles confronting inexperienced programmers, and communicate well with experienced programmers.

Here is a summary of themes.

Mapping versus Packing

Mappers apply the cognitive strategy of populating and integrating mental maps, then reading off the solution to any specific problem. They find methods for achieving objectives by consulting internal mental maps.

Packers are practised at retaining large numbers of knowledge packets. They aim to perform the ‘correct’ action in any given situation. Their strategies for dealing with ambiguous circumstances, where there is no satisfactory correct action, are ad hoc.

Mappers experience learning as an internal process which adapts to external and self-generated stimuli. Packers experience learning as a task to be performed using appropriate methods. Efficient mapper learning uses intuition to explore conceptual relationships and recognize truth. Efficient packer learning relies on memorization of knowledge packets, such as standard programming techniques.

Differences and Conflict

A trait of packer thinking that frustrates mappers is that packers appear to have no interest in finding the flaws in their own logic. Worse still, they may be happy to accept flaws when they are pointed out to them on the basis of convenience – so what? The evidence that is tangibly before them is less important than behavior ingrained through repetition.

This is one example of problems arising from the different approaches. To summarize further deviations and points of conflict:

  • Packing is the social norm and the world is set up for packers
  • The results of mapping are called `common sense’, which isn’t so common
  • Mappers think packers are cynical or intellectually lazy
  • Packers think mappers are unfocused and irrational
  • Packers spend much of their time playing politics, where reason matters little
  • Packer psychology is usually understood by packers but less so by mappers
  • Mapper psychology is often understood by mappers but never understood by packers
  • Mappers are guides by reason rather than culture
  • Mappers teach themselves, which packers struggle with, but also learn from others.