CIO Magazine Trolls for Publicity

07 Feb 2008

All publicity is good publicity, right? I'm not so sure.

Last week, CIO Magazine published an article on the advantages and disadvantages of the PHP programming language that can only be described as a blunder. With a target audience of C-level technical executives, you might expect a fairly professional, in-depth treatment of the topic, but the title (You Used PHP to Write WHAT?!) quickly challenges such an assumption.

Not surprisingly, the quality of the article itself matches the quality of the title; technical imprecision is just one of the recurrent problems:

In fact, its full name is PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor (one of those famous Unix recursive acronyms), which means that it understands hypertext (HTML) without any special API or modifications.

Yes, PHP is an acronym for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor, but HTML is an acronym for Hypertext Markup Language. Pedantry aside, understanding HTML is certainly not something a PHP subject matter expert typically mentions as a strength of the language. In fact, without a very distorted interpretation of what "understands HTML" means, it's not even true.

Strike one.

The comments provide more entertainment than the article, particularly the defensive posture of the author (Ken Hess) and editor (Esther Schindler). (The favicon is sure to make you chuckle as well.) Ken manages to lower the bar of professionalism even further with his remarks:

OMG, I am sure that was THE reason he got fired LOL. OMG. This is too entertaining! CIO should hire me as a full-time writer just to illicit more responses like that. I deserve my own TV show.

But, wait! There's more! Esther Schindler tries to defend the article again in a new post that continues the theme she began in the comments: defending the article by positioning those who disagree with it as fans who think PHP is the best solution for any problem:

I knew that these articles would attract attention from fans who believed their favorite language is sacrosanct and appropriate for every possible use.

When trying to defend your position against an audience that is particularly adept at logic, it's probably best to avoid using a logical fallacy as the basis of your attack. I've written about the Straw Man Argument before:

This is often described as putting words in someone's mouth, but more specifically, it's when you misrepresent someone else's position in order to make it seem as if your position is superior.

Strike two.

She does offer an interview question that a manager with no technical background can ask to vet the technical depth of a candidate. Simply ask the candidate to list the strengths and weaknesses of a particular technology:

It almost doesn't matter what the developer's answer is, as long as there's something on the "... and here's what I don't like about it" side. On the other hand, someone who insists that C# is great for everything immediately shows that's he's just a beginner, no matter what "senior" tag he puts on his résumé.

Pretty clever, right? All those who insist upon having someone "in the know" conduct the interview are just wasting resources.

There's just one small problem. Didn't a supposed PHP subject matter expert recently write an article about the strengths and weaknesses of PHP?

Strike three.