Contrary to what Atwood says, however, programmers aren't all that exclusive in this regard. English is rapidly becoming the language of global commerce, no matter what your profession. It's not uncommon to hear English spoken in offices throughout Europe and India, and its use in Asia is growing. Increasingly, what matters is not just that you can put together the mechanics of the language -- to document code, for example -- but that you can communicate effectively in it.
Mechanical proficiency did matter, once. Forty years ago, I would have dictated this post to a secretary, rather than keying it in myself. That secretary would have been a master of the mechanics of writing: grammar, vocabulary, spelling, punctuation, and presentation, to say nothing of being able to work a typewriter accurately at breakneck speed. In turn, my secretary might have forwarded the post to a typing pool to have copies made: one for my editor, two or three for the copy desk, and one for the editor-in-chief.
Those typing and secretarial jobs put food on American tables for decades. Today they're all gone. As it turns out, it's much more efficient for me to put my own ideas to the page myself -- with the aid of modern technology -- than to communicate my ideas through a series of intermediaries. By the same token, I couldn't get hired for an editorial job today if I didn't know how to type.
Unfortunately, however, too many software development teams are still staffed like secretarial pools. Ideas are generated at the top and then passed downward through general managers, product managers, technical leads, and team leads. Objectives are carved up into deliverables, which are parceled off to coders, often overseas. Those deliverables are then reviewed, tested, revised, and parceled off again. The idea that this structure can be sustainable, when the U.S. private sector shed three-quarters of a million jobs in March 2009 alone, is simple foolishness.
Smarter developers, leaner enterprises
Fred Brooks said it years ago, in his seminal book "The Mythical Man-Month." Just as nine women can't make a baby in a month, throwing more bodies at a programming project doesn't make the team more efficient. It makes it less so.