A Java Primer of Ant Colony Algorithms

The Ants in the Garden

Ants always find a way: I used to found them on the garden of my house marching on ordered lines while carrying food to their nest. And they were indeed ordered: all the ants seemed to be following some paths that my eyes weren’t able to see. Later, I found these paths weren’t only invisible: They were also optimal. Which is kind of surprising since ants have very limited sight and a very small brain.

The colony mechanism is as simple as it is surprising. When the ants traverse a terrain looking for food, they drop a chemical called pheromone. This means that the ants that by chance have found shorter paths have also deposited more pheromone on them. Because the path are shorter -i.e optimal- they can traverse it more times in the same amount of time.

Pheromone is special for Ants for two reasons: They have senses to detect it and they feel attracted to it. This translate that Ants will have a tendency to traverse paths that have stronger pheromone trails on them. The technical term for this is stigmergy, and is the mechanism that allows this amazing behavior:

  1. All Ants of the colony go after a food. They traverse randomly the garden looking for a way to reach it.
  2. A very lucky ant gets there first, before any other fellow ant. He grabs the food, and returns it to the nest.
  3. New ants are assigned the mission to get food to the nest. These new ants found the pheromone deposited in 2, so they follow that lead.
  4. While the Ant in 2 keeps going from the Food to the Nest, the other unlucky ants are still trying to find their way.
  5. Now the path discovered in 2 is very pheromone intensive, because is being traversed several times by several ants. Even the Ants that take inefficient paths in 1 are now taken the path discovered in 2 since is so attractive now (i.e pheromone intensive).
  6. Now all the colony follows the optimal path.

That means that the Colony won’t starve, and that the system has converged to optimality.

The Ants in Code

But this is a Programming article, not a Biology one. On 1992, Marco Dorigo applied the strategy of the Ants to the solution of optimization problems. There are problems in Computer Science where the search space is so vast that it is impossible to traverse it completely to find the optimal solution. So, what Dorigo proposed was to build Software-Ants that will traverse this search space and look for an optimal solution, like the real ants do. This artificial ants don’t guarantee us that they will find the best solution, but they will find as a solution that is good-enough for our needs. The algorithms of this kind are called heuristics.

The optimization problems that can be solved in this fashion are vast: I can mention now the Travelling Salesman Problem, the Knapsack Problem and even Image Processing tasks like Image Segmentation and Clustering. And since Dorigo’s proposal on 1992 several algorithms have appeared that follow the principle of using Artificial Ants, like Ant System, Ant Colony System, Max-Min Ant System and many others. These algorithms have being grouped in a meta-heuristic which is now known as Ant Colony Optimization (ACO).

The Ants in Java

So, with Ant Colony Optimization you can solve several problems, using several algorithms. In order to save myself some lines of code, I have developed a little framework that allows an easy implementation of ACO algorithms in Java, called Isula (available for free here). I will use some snippets from Isula to demonstrate how to implement Ant Algorithms in Java.

This is a portion of the solveProblem() method of the AcoProblemSolver class:

        while (iteration < numberOfIterations) {

          antColony.buildSolutions(environment, configurationProvider);



That’s a snippet from an Isula-based Java Program available here.

This is the main loop of any Ant Colony Algorithm. We need to establish a stop condition for our program, so we define a parameter to set the maximum number of iterations our Ants will be traversing the problem space, which in the ACO domain is usually a graph. On each iteration, these things happen:

  1. Our Ants prepare themselves to build a solution: This can be a route, a cluster or any other entity which our problem requires us to find.
  2. The colony will traverse the problem graph and every ant of them will built a solution. Some of them will be good, some of them will be bad.
  3. There are some global actions that can be required in our algorithm. For example, we can rank our ants and only allow some of them to deposit pheromone. Those procedures are called Daemon Actions in ACO terminology.
  4. We store the best solution built so far. When we reach the maximum number of iterations, that will be the output of our program.

Now let’s take a deeper look into how the colony builds solutions. This is a snippet from the buildSolution() method of the AntColony class:

        for (Ant<C, E> ant : hive) {

          while (!ant.isSolutionReady(environment)) {
            ant.selectNextNode(environment, configurationProvider);

          ant.doAfterSolutionIsReady(environment, configurationProvider);

Some things to note there:

  1. The AntColony class administer a number of ants which are stored in the hive attribute. It depends on your algorithm characteristics or a parameter how many ants you want to use.
  2. Each ant of the colony will add components to their solution until it is considered finished. For example, if we’re tyring to cluster an image we will continue adding pixels to the cluster until we have covered every pixel in our image.
  3. The selection of the next component is stochastic: the ant will choose according some probabilities. One key factor in their decision is the amount of pheromone related to a solution component, but several others will be considered depending on the algorithm you are using.
  4. Once an Ant has finished its solution, some things might happen. You can improve the generated solution with a local search procedure, for example, or you can start depositing pheromone. Once again, that depends on the nature of your algorithm.

And, the more important class if you are working on an Ant algorithm is the Ant itself. Here’s a snippet of the Ant class taken from Isula:

public abstract class Ant<C, E extends Environment> {

  private int currentIndex = 0;
  private List<AntPolicy<C, E>> policies = new ArrayList<AntPolicy<C, E>>();
  private C[] solution;
  private List<C> visitedComponents = new ArrayList<C>();

Notice this:

  1. This is parametrized class. The class Parameter C represents a component in our solution: In the image clustering example, this class would represent a pixel and the assigned cluster.
  2. The solution is an array of these components. This Java Ant controls how the solution is built by keeping the current component index in the array.
  3. The Ant behavior is also determined by the algorithm you are using or proposing. For example, the specific rule for selecting a component vary greatly from algorithm to algorithm. This specific ant behavior is modeled as an AntPolicy in the Isula Framework.

The Ants in Action

Let’s put our colony to work in order to solve a specific optimization problem. The Flow Shop Scheduling optimization problem tries to find an optimal ordering of a number of jobs, given each job needs to be processed on some machines, requiring a specific amount of time on each machine depending on the job nature.

We will try to find an ordering of jobs -permutation in combinatorial terms- so we finish processing all the jobs in the minimum amount of time. Depending on the number of jobs and machines, solving this problem precisely can take considerable time, so we rely on our Isula-based ants to find a good-enough solution:

      FlowShopProblemSolver problemSolver;

      ProblemConfiguration configurationProvider = new ProblemConfiguration();
      problemSolver = new FlowShopProblemSolver(graph, configurationProvider);

          new StartPheromoneMatrixForMaxMin<Integer, FlowShopEnvironment>(),
          new FlowShopUpdatePheromoneMatrix());
          new PseudoRandomNodeSelection<Integer, FlowShopEnvironment>(),
          new ApplyLocalSearch());

      showSolution(graph, problemSolver);

That’s a snippet from an Isula-based Java Program available here , which is an adaptation of the algorithm proposed by Thomas Stutzle in the paper “An ant approach to the flow shop problem”. Take a look at the following:

  1. The FlowShopProblemSolver is an extension of the AcoProblemSolver class we reviewed before, with some minor modifications to suit the Flow-Shop problem. We call the solveProblem() method in order to trigger the generation of the solution.
  2. The paper proposes an adaptation of the well-known algorithm Max-Min Ant System, so we are reusing some code already available for that algorithm, like the Daemon Action for initializing the pheromone matrix. The Update Pheromone Matrix policy was also reused but some adaptations were required.
  3. A very popular node-selection rule was proposed by Dorigo in its Ant Colony System algorithm. Stutzle used the same in its paper, so we can reuse it directly from the implementation available in Isula code.
  4. The author proposes a Local Search procedure after an Ant finishes building its solution. We developed a custom Ant Policy for that task.

We will try our algorithm with a problem instance of 20 jobs and 5 machines (dataset available here). Here’s a visual representation of the solution found:


I hope this article helps you get a feeling on what you can accomplish through Ant Colony algorithms, and how to do it in the Java Programming language. I also invite you to take a look at the Isula Framework and try to use the code already available. I’d like to finish with some Java Projects that use ACO algorithms to solve optimization problems:

  1. The Flow Shop Scheduling Problem, using Max-Min Ant System
  2. Image Binary Thresholding, with Ant System
  3. Image Clustering using Max-Min Ant System

Removing duplicates in an unsorted Linked List

I started reviewing Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann, since my last coding interview doesn’t come as good as I expected. The book is very well written and the problems contained there come from the very basic to some advanced stuff, and it represent a good choice if you want to refresh your rusty algorithms knowledge from college.

Another rusty skill I’m in urgent need to update is my blogging, so I thought reading and reviewing that book would be an excellent opportunity to also retake my long forgotten English blog. What I will  try to do is post here my very first attempts of  resolution for some problems contained in the book, share my code with the community and -hopefully- get some feedback from the readers. These are not the responses contained in the book (I believe in some cases they might coincide) but my personal (and maybe naive) approach for solutions in the Java Programming Language.

I also hope to don’t get in some copyright trouble posting the problems contained in the book. If that’s the case Gayle and you’re reading this, please let me know xD.

Well, saying that, what I’m trying to do in this post is to remove duplicates from an unsorted Linked List. The first step is to define the classes that will represent that data structure, so I used two simple classes to represent the Head of the List and another one for every Node in it, using generics to make them flexible. This might seem overkill -specially the Head class- but I’m more comfortable with that approach,  having a clear separation between the List and the elements contained within it.

So, here’s the Node:

package coding.problems.linkedlists;

 * A node in a Linked List.
 * @author Carlos G. Gavidia (cgavidia@acm.org)
 * @param <E>
 *            Data type of the node's data.
public class LinkedListNode<E> {

	private LinkedListNode<E> nextNode;
	private E data;

	public LinkedListNode(E data) {
		this.data = data;

	public LinkedListNode<E> getNextNode() {
		return nextNode;

	public void setNextNode(LinkedListNode<E> nextNode) {
		this.nextNode = nextNode;

	public E getData() {
		return data;

And here’s the List. The getElementCount method will prove useful in testing:

package coding.problems.linkedlists;

 * A Linked-List representation.
 * @author Carlos G. Gavidia (cgavidia@acm.org)
 * @param <E>
 *            Data type of the node's data.
public class LinkedList<E> {

	private LinkedListNode<E> head;

	public LinkedListNode<E> getHead() {
		return head;

	public void setHead(LinkedListNode<E> head) {
		this.head = head;

	 * Gets the number of nodes that have a particular data value.
	 * @param elementToCount
	 *            Data value to count.
	 * @return
	public int getElementCount(E elementToCount) {
		int elementCount = 0;
		LinkedListNode<E> currentNode = this.getHead();
		while (currentNode != null) {
			if (currentNode.getData().equals(elementToCount)) {
			currentNode = currentNode.getNextNode();
		return elementCount;

Then there comes the fun part: How do I remove duplicates? My plan was quite simple:

  • Per every node in the list, I will traverse the rest of the list -excluding the current node- to search if there are other nodes that have the same value. To traverse the Linked List, I use a simple loop in the removeDuplicates method.
  • Then I need a method that will do the dirty work, that is, search and remove every node in the list that has the same data value as the current node and remove it from the list. All that is done in the removeFrom method.
  • In removeFrom everything is pretty straightforward: What I do is break the “next” references of the nodes I need to remove so they will be garbage-collected later. There’s a special edge case when I’m in the need to remove the last item of the list, so I will keep a reference of the previous reference of the current node that will allow me to remove the last node if I’m in the need of it.

The advantages of that approach is that I don’t require additional memory to perform the operation, and that the search and removal will require less computing power through iterations since the list will become shorter after the removals were made. Saying that, the solutions is 50 lines long, including comments:

package coding.problems.linkedlists;

 * Class for remove duplicate elements from an unsorted linked list. Problem
 * taken from Cracking the Coding Interview from Gayle Laakmann.
 * @author Carlos G. Gavidia (cgavidia@acm.org)
 * @param <E>
 *            Data type of the Linked List Node's data.
public class DuplicatesRemover<E> {

	public void removeDuplicates(LinkedList<E> linkedList) {
		LinkedListNode<E> currentNode = linkedList.getHead();
		while (currentNode != null) {
			removeFrom(currentNode.getData(), currentNode);
			currentNode = currentNode.getNextNode();

	 * Removes elements that have a particular data value, excluding the node
	 * that starts the traversal.
	 * @param elementToRemove
	 *            Element to remove.
	 * @param nodeToStart
	 *            Node that starts the list traversal.
	private void removeFrom(E elementToRemove, LinkedListNode<E> nodeToStart) {
		LinkedListNode<E> currentNode = nodeToStart;
		LinkedListNode<E> nextNode = null;
		LinkedListNode<E> previousNode = null;

		while (currentNode != null) {
			nextNode = currentNode.getNextNode();
			if (nextNode != null && elementToRemove.equals(nextNode.getData())) {
			} else if (nextNode == null
					&& elementToRemove.equals(currentNode.getData())) {
			previousNode = currentNode;
			currentNode = currentNode.getNextNode();

And here’s a Unit Test to verify that everything is working as expected.

package coding.problems.linkedlists;

import static org.junit.Assert.*;

import org.junit.Before;
import org.junit.Test;

public class DuplicatesRemoverTest {

	private LinkedList<Integer> listWithDuplicates;
	private DuplicatesRemover<Integer> duplicatesRemover;

	public void setUp() throws Exception {
		listWithDuplicates = new LinkedList<Integer>();
		duplicatesRemover = new DuplicatesRemover<Integer>();

		LinkedListNode<Integer> firstNode = new LinkedListNode<Integer>(1);
		LinkedListNode<Integer> secondNode = new LinkedListNode<Integer>(2);
		LinkedListNode<Integer> thirdNode = new LinkedListNode<Integer>(3);
		LinkedListNode<Integer> fourthNode = new LinkedListNode<Integer>(2);
		LinkedListNode<Integer> fifthNode = new LinkedListNode<Integer>(4);
		LinkedListNode<Integer> sixthNode = new LinkedListNode<Integer>(4);
		LinkedListNode<Integer> seventhNode = new LinkedListNode<Integer>(4);




	public void testRemoveDuplicates() {
		assertEquals(1, listWithDuplicates.getElementCount(1));
		assertEquals(1, listWithDuplicates.getElementCount(2));
		assertEquals(1, listWithDuplicates.getElementCount(3));
		assertEquals(1, listWithDuplicates.getElementCount(4));

The books solution makes a smart use of a Hash Table to keep track of the existing items, with that the solution is way simpler (12 lines length) but additional memory is required. In the book there’s also a solution without a buffer that makes use of two “pointers” to detect duplicates while traversing the list. Quite smart also.

I will be keeping my solutions and the corresponding tests in a Github repository. All criticism is welcome.

On Programming

Programming, it turns out, is hard. The fundamental rules are typically simple and clear -but programs, while built on top of these basic rules, tend to become complex enough to introduce their own rules and complexity. Because of this, programming is rarely simple or predictable. As Donald Knuth, who is something of a founding father of the field, says, it is an art rather than a science.

Marijn Haverbeje, in Eloquent JavaScript.

A Recipe for building RESTful Services

For a small project in my Master program I was in charge of building some RestFUL services for a fictional –an minimal- College Library. The clients we’re supposed to be a Mobile .NET Application and a Web Application built in PHP, being the only requirement that the data payload should be XML documents. Building that small piece of software teach me some things about building RESTful Services , and I like to share some of them in this post.

You need to select an environment

So I needed a hosting that has Java Support (because I’m a Java guy) and that also has no cost (because I’m poor), so I selected Google App Engine because it fulfills all this requirements. Then, the natural IDE Selection was Eclipse with the Google Plugin because it included some features that ease the deployment and development of software for that environment.

You need to select a Persistence Framework

Using Google App Engine, a relational database wouldn’t be available for free. so you so with that you can discard every  popular ORM Framework in the Java World (like Hibernate and friends). Google App Engine works with a Non-SQL repository called App Engine DataStore, and the SDK offers you the possibility to access it through JPA or JDO. Personally, I found that accessing the DataStore through JPA added artificial complexity to the code, complexity proper of a RDBMS solution that’s not necessary in a Schemaless product like the DataStore. So my choose was using Objectify, a simple-to-use framework based on the Low-Level API to access the DataStore. With the DAO implementation suggested by David Chandler, my data access layer was composed by only this class:

package pe.edu.pucp.dao;

import java.util.ArrayList;
import java.util.List;
import java.util.logging.Logger;

import pe.edu.pucp.model.Book;
import pe.edu.pucp.model.BookReservation;
import pe.edu.pucp.model.Student;

import com.google.appengine.api.datastore.QueryResultIterable;
import com.googlecode.objectify.Key;
import com.googlecode.objectify.NotFoundException;
import com.googlecode.objectify.ObjectifyService;
import com.googlecode.objectify.Query;
import com.googlecode.objectify.util.DAOBase;

 * @author cgavidia
public class LibraryServiceDAO extends DAOBase {

	public static final Logger LOG = Logger.getLogger(LibraryServiceDAO.class

	static {

	protected Class clazz;

	public LibraryServiceDAO(Class clazz) {
		this.clazz = clazz;

	public Key add(T book) {
		Key key = ofy().put(book);
		return key;

	public void delete(Key key) {

	public T get(Long id) throws NotFoundException {
		return ofy().get(clazz, id);

	public T get(Key key) {
		return ofy().get(key);

	public List listByProperty(String propertyName, String propertyValue) {
		Query query = ofy().query(clazz);
		if (propertyName != null && propertyValue != null) {
			query.filter(propertyName, propertyValue);

		return asList(query.fetch());

	private List asList(QueryResultIterable fetch) {
		ArrayList list = new ArrayList();
		for (T t : fetch) {
		return list;


You need to select a RESTful framework

Handling HTTP requests using Servlets was never in my plans  because of deadlines and because I’m lazy. I have to make sure that the framework I choose has support Google App Engine because it is not an standards-compliant Servlet container and has several limitations and restrictions.  A Google search led me to  the Restlet Framework, and easy and simple REST framework fully compliant with the REST architectural style that also has support to Google App Engine. Using Restlet abstractions, all the resources of my application are exposed trough this class:

package pe.edu.pucp.library;

import org.restlet.Application;
import org.restlet.Restlet;
import org.restlet.routing.Router;

import pe.edu.pucp.resource.BookReservationResource;
import pe.edu.pucp.resource.BookReservationSerializer;
import pe.edu.pucp.resource.BookReservationsResource;
import pe.edu.pucp.resource.BookResource;
import pe.edu.pucp.resource.BookSerializer;
import pe.edu.pucp.resource.BooksResource;
import pe.edu.pucp.resource.StudentResource;
import pe.edu.pucp.resource.StudentSerializer;
import pe.edu.pucp.resource.StudentsResource;

 * @author cgavidia
public class LibraryApplication extends Application {

	public Restlet createInboundRoot() {
		Router router = new Router(getContext());
		router.attach("/books", BooksResource.class);
		router.attach("/books/{" + BookSerializer.CODE_ELEMENT + "}",
		router.attach("/students", StudentsResource.class);
		router.attach("/students/{" + StudentSerializer.CODE_ELEMENT + "}",
		router.attach("/reservations", BookReservationsResource.class);
				+ BookReservationSerializer.CODE_ELEMENT + "}",
		return router;


The RESTful Service code is now available in my Github account, so if you need some extra reference you can find it there.

The Java Sorting Algorithm Playground

Algorithms and I have a love-hate history. I met them in college in a course in fifth semester, and I was pretty excited about it because it was the first course of the Software Development track of my major. Systems Engineering (that’s what Computing Professionals study in Pery) in my university has a very peculiar curricula, and to start coding you have to first pass several hard and heavy math and science courses. So after two years of suffering with engineering fundamentals I finally get to what I really expect from College education: to learn how to code.

But bad luck is always after me, and I got the worst teacher from the entire faculty. It was and old school guy that teaches algorithms with pseudo-code and diagrams and never –I mean NEVER- showed us a running program or a software demonstration. And also the syllabus of the course was very light and superficial (I don’t remember even a mention of Binary Search Trees). The semester ended, I got a nice grade and I forgot about algorithms for a very long time.

A few years ago my interest for algorithms was renewed when I discovered that all Computer Science dream Jobs –like Google or Facebook- have an algorithm-based interview in their hiring process, so I decided to get ready when the moment comes and start to learn by myself all the topics that I was supposed to learn at college. I did a light forum-research for recommendations of good algorithm books and started my training with Skienna and his Algorithm Design Manual. It’s a very theoretical book and while reading I needed a lot of Wikipedia searching to get some notions. Reading was hard and slow –but very instructive- and the coding part was written all in C, a Programming Language that I’m not very familiar with (I know, shame on me!). So learning algorithm concepts was hard and getting C syntax made it harder, so I decided to get a Java-Based Algorithm Book and speed up my learning process.

The selected book was Data Structures and Algorithms in Java by Robert Lafore and was more beginner-friendly than the academically-oriented Skienna book. Reading was lots of fun, until I found code like this:

// insertSort.java
// demonstrates insertion sort
// to run this program: C>java InsertSortApp
class ArrayIns
	private long[] a; // ref to array a
	private int nElems; // number of data items
	public ArrayIns(int max) // constructor
		a = new long[max]; // create the array
		nElems = 0; // no items yet
	public void insert(long value) // put element into array
		a[nElems] = value; // insert it
		nElems++; // increment size
	public void display() // displays array contents
		for(int j=0; j<nElems; j++) // for each element,
		System.out.print(a[j] + “ “); // display it
	public void insertionSort()
		int in, out;
		for(out=1; out<nElems; out++) // out is dividing line
			long temp = a[out]; // remove marked item
			in = out; // start shifts at out
			while(in>0 && a[in-1] >= temp) // until one is smaller,
				a[in] = a[in-1]; // shift item to right
				--in; // go left one position
			a[in] = temp; // insert marked item
			} // end for
		} // end insertionSort()
} // end class ArrayIns

That code violated almost all the coding conventions that Sun established and that almost every Java Programmer in the world know. Just to mention some of them:

  • The method-separator comment lines are a really weird convention .
  • There are several patterns for bracket usage (or not using them when they should) and indentation.
  • All the variables/attributes had non descriptive names like “a”, “temp”, “in” and “out”.

Maybe I’m just been too picky, but I think those issues -at least for me – really make the code less readable and more hard to understand. And it’s not a problem only in Lafore book, many other books that I consulted have the same problem: Coding style that doesn’t follow industry-accepted practices. So when I got the assignment in my Algorithm Course to write a Sorting Algorithm Demonstration program I decided the improve the way Java algorithms are presented and rewrite them in a more Convention-Based way, that’s also a more less intimidating way of presenting algorithms to the students (like myself). And that project is now finished and available to everyone interested in my Github account.

For example, let’s see now Insertion Sort:

package pe.edu.pucp.algorithms.sorting.algs.impl;

import pe.edu.pucp.algorithms.sorting.algs.BaseSorter;

 * Implementation of Insertion Sort algorithm. Based on the implementation
 * described in Robert Sedgewick's Algorithm book.
 * @author Carlos Gavidia (cgavidia@acm.org)
 * @param <T>
 *            Type of the array to be sorted
public class InsertionSorter<T extends Comparable<T>> extends BaseSorter<T> {

    public InsertionSorter(Class<T> clazz, T[] data) {
        super(clazz, data);

     * (non-Javadoc)
     * @see pe.edu.pucp.algorithms.sorting.algs.BaseSorter#sortData()
    public void sortData() {
        for (int currentIndex = 0; currentIndex < getLength(); currentIndex++) {
            T currentItem = getDataAtIndex(currentIndex);
            int auxIndex = currentIndex;
            while (auxIndex > 0
                    && getDataAtIndex(auxIndex - 1).compareTo(currentItem) >= 0) {
                setDataAtIndex(auxIndex, getDataAtIndex(auxIndex - 1));
            setDataAtIndex(auxIndex, currentItem);


I got some ideas from the Sedgewick book to build an Algorithm Framework that allow the sorting of any Type –that implement Comparable- and to extract the common logic to a Base Class to get the Algorithm Class the cleaner possible, with the only responsibility of implementing the algorithm logic. Also, the access to the array to sort is encapsulated by some methods to makes easier the Observer Pattern implementation required to implement the Sorting process animation. And that animation looks like this (captions in Spanish):

Algorithm Demo

Top-Down merge while executing

As professor requests, I included in the program implementations of Bubble Sort, Merge Sort, Insertion Sort, Quick Sort and some bonus algorithms like Several Unique Sort and Odd-Even Transposition (as you can see in the SortingAlgorithm enumeration). Building the software required a lot of time but I entertained myself doing it, and I really hope that the code can help some other Algorithm Expert wannabe to learn sorting algorithms a little faster (and easier).

A Programmer? So you’re like a bricklayer

I’m not sure if my parents know exactly what I do for a living. For several years they thought I do something like technical support, so they call me every time that they need to replace the printer cartridge or get scared with some Windows blue-screen error message. I did the work gladly, but the idea that they don’t understand the skills that I get with the college education that they pay makes me uncomfortable.  So one day, I told them both:

I can fix your computer any time you want but that’s not what I do for a living. I’m a Web Programmer, so I use programming languages to build applications that work on the Internet.

My Dad -he’s a writer- wanted to know if he can write poems in that programming language that I know so well and my mom thought the Internet was some sort of gadget included in the PC. I tried to explain them each notion carefully but I get interrupted by my brother and his cool hospital histories. Doctors always get all the attention.

I’m pretty sure that my girlfriend doesn’t get my job either. She has an administration degree, and when I started talking about Java, IDE’s and Servers she stopped me right away and said:

In conclussion, you can build stuff like Facebook. Right?

This is a pretty close approximation of what a Web Programmer does, so I said “Yes” and she get that she wanted. At least, that’s what I thought.

It results that my girlfriend has a friend from high school that’s now in college trying to get a degree in Information Systems. When my girlfriend asks her what exactly a Web Programmer does, this friend elaborated this metaphor:

Imagine that Software is like a house, and you want to build a house.

First, you need an Architect that translates your needs into a design. In Software, the Architect is an Analyst. When I finished college, I want to be one of those.

With the Architect design, you need to hire a Civil Engineer that makes a Blueprint based on the Architect conception. In Software, that guy is a Software Architect.

Finally, there’s a need also of some Bricklayers that gets the building done. Those low-skill craftsmen in Software are called Programmers. That’s what your beloved Carlos does.

My girlfriend told me that and that day she offered to pay the dinner. And the movie tickets.

I don’t know why IT community looks downwards on programmers, like we were Second-Class citizens in the software world. Maybe it’s only a Peruvian thing, but almost every programmer that I know wants to quit programming in some years in advance. In fact, I know almost no programmer whose age is more than 35, because many of them have turned into Analysts or Project Managers.

Myself, I’m very proud of having the skill to turn ideas into working software. I enjoy writing elegant code and reading high-quality code from fellow programmers, and I feel I have a lot to learn to become really skillful in coding. I don’t want to become an Analyst (whose talent is to put requirements in a Word file) or a Project Manager (who is hired to play with MS Project). At least not yet.

Maybe I’m just being romantic. Or stupid.

PS: This is my first post in English, so any spell corrections will be welcome.