Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Lonely Programmer (Hacker)

I've been noticing books on the market (and some blogs too) that speak of our newly emerging "Maker" culture -- a culture where people fed up with intangible abstract work (do you sit in a cubicle pushing numbers?) are turning to the gratification of hands on creation. They say that working on physical things can give you a deep sense of accomplishment that nurtures our primordial tool building minds.

I put forth that some programmers can get this feeling from the intangible and abstract.  I grew up working with my hands (art, electronics, and just generally building stuff).  Programming became an extension of that. It my mind, my code held the same sense of accomplishment and gratification as building something with my hands.  I became enamored with virtual worlds!

Nowadays, however, I find that a lot off programmers spend significant time worrying about languages, syntax, test coverage and code re-use. These are topics of varying importance, but they are just about honing your skills.  At some point you have to produce something. Hopefully it is beautiful (not just on the outside but inside too).  How you managed to create it (the language, test approach, etc) is secondary to the thing itself. And, oh, if it is malleable and can be adapted to do new exciting things, is that proof enough you used good coding techniques?

We spend so much time talking about the tools, we forget that it is the result that matters. We forget about the joy and awe of working code.  We instead tend to form language advocacy groups, cult-like methodologies and obsess over software licensing.

Really, if someone were to create a fully aware artificial being capable of not only passing the Turing test but able to engage us in deep conversation, would we (the programmers) nitpick over how poorly the code is structured, the lack of test coverage and how terrible it is that it was implemented in a crappy programing language?

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