Software is an Art

Today a blogger named Damon Poole wrote a short post titled, “Designing Software is the same as Predicting the Future.” It resonates with my post from a while back on whether “software engineering” is the right metaphor for writing code.

The essential problem of coding is to deal with the unknown as best you can. Software is made to solve a problem, but the more unique the problem, the more difficult it is to draw upon existing knowledge to create good solutions. Unknowns force you to make guesses. Educated guesses, hopefully, but guesses nonetheless.

This is why I’m in the camp of those who believe that creating software is an art. It’s an endeavor that wrestles with the unknown. This artistry is highest when you find yourself asking, “How do I do X?” and there don’t seem to be any pre-packaged answers you can look up in a textbook or simply google.

Paradoxically, once the software is written and refined, the unknowns are removed from the picture. Art largely disappears once the pure functionalism of operational software emerges. I think this is why many good programmers have short attention spans, get bored, and tend to jump from project to project. They crave the excitement and gratification of facing the unknown. But this is always ultimately ephemeral.

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