5 Functions of Programming Jokes


There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary and those who don’t. This is one of my favorite programming jokes. I’ve always enjoyed good jokes. You probably have, too. But did you know that besides tickling your funny bone, programming jokes can also provide a lot of practical value? In this post, I will share with you 5 uses I have found for programming humor.

1. Pique your interest

Every once in a while you come across an incomprehensible programming joke. Sometimes it’s about something you are familiar with, sometimes it is about something you’ve heard about but have no experience with. Sometimes, it is about something completely new. Regardless, nobody likes to miss a joke. So you’ll normally fire up your search engine in your quest to get it. And that leads to one article, then another, then another. In the end, you are so much the wiser not only about the joke but also about its subject in general. If it fascinates you enough, you might make a note to read some more later on – maybe even code something up as a result!

2. Evaluate your skill level

This might sound far fetched, but the proportion of programming jokes that you actually understand does say something about your skill and experience as a programmer. The more jokes you don’t get the less skilled and experienced you likely are. And that’s okay, but it should also serve as a challenge that there’s so much more out there that you need to learn and experience. If you find that you understand nearly every joke you are reading, broaden your humor catchment. Maybe you are just looking at jokes from the one technical area that you are really good at. How about you see what jokes they have for Unix, if you are a Windows developer, for example?

3. Learn a new technology

Maybe you want to start learning C, or Java. And yes of course, you want to start by looking at how they write their classic “Hello world” program – it’s often an excellent way to get a “feel” of any new programming language. But jokes are a great way too. If you already have a strong programming background, a lot of the language-specific jokes will easily make sense to you. They’ll also tend to humorously highlight the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the language – which is just what you need to know before latching onto a new technology.

4. Discover new tricks

Many jokes derive from some of the more obscure elements of a programming language, style or paradigm. So even though they might relate to a technology you are familiar with, they typically raise interesting perspectives from which you may examine the same things. This effectively leads to new knowledge and renewed interest in the possibilities of the subject at hand. “You mean you can do that?”.

5. Unwind

Every programmer will tell you that they consider their career a highly rewarding labor of love. But even passion and enthusiasm run out – eventually, or fatigue just gets the better of you. Which is just as well because we need an excuse for that late afternoon beer. Sometimes, though, it’s 10 in the morning and you can’t seem to get your head to think. A trip to the bar at that hour has the very real potential to be turn the day into your last one at your company. Yet you need an instant escape route from the drudgery of algorithms, data structures and overly complicated programmer tools. No problem. Just head over to your favorite programming jokes website and a laugh your sorrows away.

What other benefits do you derive from programming humor?

PS: This is probably true of all kinds of “professional humor”. As a bonus, here’s a link to some of my most favorite programming jokes on the internet.