Perform: Programming

Music, films, acting, painting… art of any kind.  People always have an opinion.  It is a completely open-access system.  No special skills are required to understand and enjoy art… what would be the point in music that was only interesting to skilled musicians?

A display of great skill earns great praise and respect, possibly fame.  No one wants to know how a given tune was dreamed up, the tedious months of refining the composition, the 100 failed songs that preceded this one.  The art in a work of art is all in the interpretation, the mind of the observer.

Programming, coding, the process of making software.  Call it what you will.  I will go out on limb here and suggest that, for MEDCs at lest, software is more ubiquitous that art.  Indeed all films, music, games are themselves dependent on software.  As important as paint is to an artist.

But when an artist creates a great painting, where is the credit to the chemist who create the paint?  Paint is commodity.  The beauty in any technique is its easy of repetition.  A paint only has to be created once to benefit many artists.  But the paint is too easy to obtain.  In perfecting a manufacturing process the chemist has, ironically, removed their name from the world.  No fame or praise is afforded to them.

A job done too well is never acknowledged as having ever existed.

What drives an artist?  What do they seek?  Material gain, certainly, but I suspect that is not all.  To want to show off is to be alive.  To have your existence acknowledged and counted.  To prove that you are not just like everyone else.  That there is something that only you can do.  To a musician performing live in front of a large audience there must be such a sense of acknowledgement.

My fate now is writing software.  It has become a reflex – something not requiring exerted effort.  Thought and planning, yes.  But like the musician playing from memory, the code just flows.

I never planned to be a software engineer.  In a way, I tried quite hard not to be.  The default choice, the easy and obvious choice, is usually the wrong one.  Always taking the easy path leads to a dead end.  No, worse than that.  It leads to a straight path of more of the same.

There is no performance in programming.  With a life time of experience and honed skill and craft there is still no grand display, no art.  No fame, no praise.  The great enablers of technology so often unknown, lost in history.

In a world of billions, strive to set yourself apart and assert your existence.  Be noticed, be remembered.  In software, is this possible?  Will more remain than unfixed bugs and sarcastic commit comments?

How many are remembered for their code?  Ideas yes, but the art of coding?  If code is incomprehensible to non-coders, then can such even be possible?

A common theme in the Earthsea books is that it takes power to know power.  You can not comprehend someone’s skill without first possessing a near level of skill yourself.  People have always mistrusted magic.

This is a blog entry that I have been thinking about writing for years.  It has then been hastily written and sat on for several weeks.  Apologies for the D&D reference in the title.

2 Responses to “Perform: Programming”

  1. Ian says:

    Part of the problem is that it’s the *application* that’s accessible to the public, not the code itself. Though people may not be remembered for good code, there are many who are remembered for good applications — Bill Gates, Steve Jobs etc. The reason it’s a problem is that a Mozart symphony or a van Gogh painting are essentially the work of one person who rightly gets credit. Very few applications are written by one person — it’s the architect of the app that gets the credit, when a horde of programmers, UX people, testers, documentation-writers and others may have contributed to it.

    On the other hand, programming is definitely a better choice than painting or music for people who *don’t* turn out to be the great Masters of their art. The world is full of “just good” programmers who make a decent living compared to the hardship of the mediocre painter.

  2. Rosco says:

    I have, for a long time, admired and respected elegance and fluidity in programming, of all kinds, and abhorred poor, sloppy programming.

    To much these days is a terrible mess, and too hastily done. Gone are the days when you HAD to make it as efficient as possible because otherwise it just wouldn’t run.
    Only a very few software developers still build to those standards, rather than what appears on the surface to be a rushed job, where cost is prioritized over a good job.

    It seems a shame, but is, unfortunately, necessary it seems to compete.

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