Cardboard programmers play a valuable role in any small development team. There are many different kinds of programmers; purists, hackers, work horses, surgeons. But they can all benefit from the skillset of cardboard programmers.


There are as many different kinds of cardboard programmer as there are teams, but some of the many defining groups are:

  • Disanthropomorphic: pot plants, desk tidies, etc.
  • Jerry rigged: usually of vaguely humanoid shape, easily spotted from the rough torn edges and extensive use of dry wipe pens.
  • Manakin: three dimensional, sometimes a bust, occasionally torso, frequently full body.
  • Celebrity: ex Blockbuster cardboard marketing material, often Star Trek related.
  • Narcissistic: blown up and mounted representation of team member. NB: There are many ways of being blown up and mounted, not all of them make a compelling cardboard programmer.

Role within the team

Often "real living" programmers will arrive at a problem that they cannot come to terms with fully. At moments like this, they can explain the problem to the cardboard programmer. The cardboard programmers do not usually answer back, but act as a management facilitator for the programmer to arrive at their own solution.


  • Cheap.
  • Conscientious.
  • Punctual.
  • Consistent.

Potential down sides

Cardboard programmers tend to have a somewhat low line of code per day average, however this is a discredited measure of performance and is generally not used in modern projects.

On several occasions, large corporations have downsized their organisations leaving only cardboard programmers. Cardboard programmers do not usually make effective project managers, and are not naturally self motivated. The corporations often see large initial cost savings, but then experience delayed releases of new code. Having said this, some cardboard programmers can appear quite high up in the management structure of many IT organisations.


Small teams benefit greatly from the inclusion of cardboard programmers, but they need careful management and should not make up more than 50% of any team.

Many thanks to IWhoSawTheFace for pointing out that cardboard programmers will typically not produce any bugs during their career, leading to an easier to manager, more stable production application.

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