Me no talk English? Me no good programmer.

Our company, Farata Systems, hires lots of offshore developers who work for us and our clients from the Eastern Europe, which has plenty of good developers. Ten years ago, Indian developers were more competitive comparing to Russian-speaking programmers for only reason: their English was better. You may not believe me, but not only they could read, but all of them could even speak English!

The situation is slowly changing and more and more developers working from behind the iron curtain (btw, is the cold war over yet?) can speak English. While interviewing developers living in the Warsaw Pact countries, I speak Russian for the most part, but always switch to English for five minutes or so.

Why do I want them to speak English? Of course, some projects require direct communication with our clients from the USA. But we also run internal projects where no communication in English is needed – the entire team can speak Russian. We still want them to know English, and for a different reason. In today’s IT world, almost 100% of the latest and greatest information is being published in English: books, blogs, screencasts, videos, conferences, Stack Overflow, and other forums. Sure, some of the books will be translated into other languages… in several years. It’s a bit too late. Google Translate might somewhat help, but it’s a stretch.

If a software developer does not know English – s/he doesn’t belong to our profession. S/he doesn’t care to master the latest and techniques and technologies fresh from the oven. Your English doesn’t have to be perfect (I’m sure some of the native speakers will find poor grammar in this blog too), but you must know and use English to be better programmer.

Last year, someone asked Douglas Crockford, a JavaScript guru, if junior developers have something in common. He gave a very good answer, “Lack of curiosity”. I’d add, ” and poor English”.

8 thoughts on “Me no talk English? Me no good programmer.

  1. I personally, hardly see a lot of programmers who really needs to know about newest stuff as soon as it appears on Internets, but documentation about it, when needed, is indeed much more comprehensive in English.

    Higher education in post soviet countries (well, it’s only Ukraine I really care of) better be switched to English, like they did in India ( one of the reasons they know English so well ). It would at least allow students to study using reprints of recent western academic books. And it will get rid of localized terminology, which is a big pain in the A.

      1. Well, with an exception of last paragraph, your post makes accent on being able get newest and latest knowledge in the field. It isn’t the same thing as being eager to learn, and In my humble opinion, for a junior developer – waste of time (or hobby).

  2. Yes I totally agree with this point of view. Because it is very important for international cooperation with different people all over the world, and of course for self education.
    As for me, I’m working for one Danish company, they also hiring people from Eastern Europe. And sometimes it happend they speak Danish or for example use some documenation on Danish, then it is little bit hard, so they help for us, translate it to English, to make our work more comfortable. Anyway I’m thinking to invest some time on Danish language too =)

  3. I work for one medium java shop (~120 programmers) here in Guatemala (FWIW we talk Spanish) and 80% of our developers don’t talk English and something like 50% can’t at least read English!

    Apart from the language problem I have a worst one: Programmers (“Programmer” != “Developer”) don’t read documentation.

    Just a couple of day a programmer came to me asking for support. I give some guidance and told her to use HttpURLConnection to post to some SOAP WS which was returning status 307 (causing an axis fault exception) so she can see to where was redirecting the request. She spend a day and a half “fighting” because she got “some error” (sounds like user, isn’t?) so she came back to me again (btw I asked for the stack trace but she never sent to me). Problem was that HttpURLConnection follow redirects by default. I found that just reading the freaking API (take me less than a minute) but she didn’t, she just copied some chunk of code she found in the net! Worst of all, she is a “senior” programmer!

    So what Douglas Crockford said is, sadly, very truthful.

    Well, thanks to let me take out my frustration…


  4. I also speak Russian but when I hire devs from RU I make sure that they understand that ALL the work/business communication(verbal and nonverbal) should be done in English. Period.

    If they’d like to hang out on Skype and chat they are free to do so after the hours and speak whatever language they want.

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