Original question from Quora:

What are some common illogical scenes that occur in films?

I’m not talking about medical conditions that don’t exist or physics-defying stunts but just common, illogical things that don’t really happen in real life.

My Answer:

Every time there is a scene with some kind of whiz computer programmer creating screens of code in just a few keystrokes at lightning speed, every computer programmer laughs hysterically, then weeps softly to themselves as it doesn’t remotely resemble reality.

Here is what a day in the life of computer programming is really like…

Wake up. Drive to work. Get coffee. Sit down…

Review the code that other team members wrote the day before. Make comments and offer suggestions on how to make it better.

Meet with your team for 30 minutes to discuss the day’s work. Spend an hour or two trying to fix the stupid bug found in testing the day before. Maybe write a few lines of code. Go to lunch.

Spend two hours staring at the screen wondering why things are broken and where the bug is. Write some tests. Keep having things fail. Bang head against computer screen. Get coffee.

Stare at the screen some more. Ask a coworker if they have any ideas. They say something that sparks an idea. That doesn’t work. Despair sets in.

Randomly, you or a coworker discover you misspelled the variable shopping_cart as shoping_cart. You fix that and everything works. You clean up your mess.

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon. You pick up a new feature and spend the rest of the say trying to figure out what you need to build and where it needs to go. 5:00 rolls around and you’ve spent the whole day fixing a typo.

You go home. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Go to bed.

That is what life for a computer programmer looks like. The better you are, the stickier the problems are and often the less code you write.

The same thing applies to computer hackers who break into computer systems in seconds in movies. Most hackers are doing really boring stuff like writing scripts to poke at open network ports or to look for vulnerabilities.

There isn’t a lot of ninja hacking into the CIA network with secret backdoors and cracking encrypted passwords with stolen identities. It’s a lot of sitting, staring at the computer screen, and wondering why the code isn’t working.

I realize that in a movie you have to use the visual medium to tell the story of what happens, but when it comes to computers, reality isn’t very compelling.

-Brian

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