In and Out

I’ve taken a hiatus from programming work the last few months in order to do some other things, both paying and non-paying. I did some teaching, spent a lot of time at the bicycle co-op, published some articles in a local periodical, and started a few side projects. It has felt very gratifying and healthy.

My erratic life nowadays makes me think back to the starry-eyed aspirations to be a professional programmer that I had, say, ten years ago. I have a much more casual relationship to computers these days. Gone is the anxiety of having to prove, both to myself and to the world (including employers), that I am skilled and capable. I don’t care much anymore for the company of obsessive coders who enjoy religious debates about languages, tools, and best practices. They don’t seem to realize that in their pursuit of mastery and professionalism, technology is actually controlling them, and not the other way around.

Technology has become truly “technical” for me, in the fundamental sense of being a means to an end. I’ve been writing and tweaking Javascript and PHP recently. I don’t like them much, but they are decent tools for the specific tasks I am trying to accomplish. And so it goes. Getting back into code has been a Zen-like experience: when I am doing it, I am fully engaged in all the particularities. But when I’m finished with it, that’s it. Programming, and software more generally, is instrumental. I dive into it; then I come out. And there is nothing more to it than that.

It is silly to fetishize a hammer when you should be focusing on building the house, but that’s exactly what a lot of the culture of coding often feels like on blogs, message forums, mailing lists, conference agendas, etc. How silly and ridiculous. One should, of course, be thoughtful about tools, when and how to best use them, and how they can be improved. I do appreciate and value that. But at the end of the day, code is simply code. There is just so much more to life. Remembering that helps us keep sight of the things that code is for in the first place.

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