TweetFollow Us on Twitter

March 94 - THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

THE VETERAN NEOPHYTE

WHY WE DO IT

DAVE JOHNSON

[IMAGE 048-050_Veteran_Neophyte1.GIF]



In the interest of pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge in my own small way, I decided to conduct a little survey via e-mail. I asked only one question:

What's so interesting about programming computers, anyway?

I sent out 87 letters and received 37 direct responses, a 43% return rate! This is a fantastic return rate for a survey. As one respondent wrote:What an interesting survey! Getting hackers to talk about themselves should be easy!

It was.

To alleviate your suspense, here are the top two reasons programmers program, according to my survey:
1. Programmers like solving problems and puzzles. (49%)
2. Programming is a creative outlet. (36%)

In the survey itself I included some hypothetical answers to my own question, as follows:

Do you just like doing puzzles? Is it the money? Was it a horrible accident, and you were supposed to be a doctor when you grew up? Is it because you're really an artist, and computers are the best medium around? Is it because it's the only profession where you don't need to wear shoes to meetings? Is it because you get to hang out with smart people?

Unfortunately, while this accurately conveyed my enthusiasm for the subject, it also completely shredded any objectivity my survey might have had, and skewed the results sharply toward the tight, square little box of my preconceptions. Note that the top reason appears in this list, and furthermore it appears first. Coincidence? I think not. As one alert respondent pointed out, I even blurred the important distinction between what makes programming interesting and what makes it a nice business to be in. Sheesh.

Abandoning rigor and embracing whimsy, I decided to dump all the responses into one big text file and do a word frequency analysis of the whole thing, logging how many times each word appeared. Ignoring the common words likethe and the expected words likeprogram , the winner was problem, at 12 occurrences. Game came in a close second, at 11 appearances. Three words tied for third place, at 8 occurrences:fun, interesting, and think. Nowthis is a satisfying analysis!

Other frequently appearing words were these:puzzle, art, control, creation, enjoy, paid, challenge, complex, efficient, god, high, hooked, money, music, play,and solving. Taken together, they make astrangely accurate mantra about what programming is like, and probably describe in a more complete way than any individual answer why people program.

But let's look again at those top two reasons. In second place we have "Programming is a creative outlet." That fact was mentioned over and over again, but creativity comes in many varieties, and it's interesting to look at the metaphors people chose to describe the act of writing software. Interestingly, they fell into three very distinct categories: programmer as mechanic, programmer as artist, and programmer as God.

The similarities between computer programming and mechanical engineering may be deeper than it seems at first glance:

I got hooked on erector sets when I was young.
-- John Powers

But if programmers are just frustrated machinists, then why don't they get up from their computers and build real machines? Here's why:

On a computer, I can build an amazingly fantastic and elegant gadget, with thousands of working parts all cooperating pleasantly with one another, and I never have to get my hands dirty.
-- Jeremy Nguyen

If you're willing to build your machines behind the glass of a computer monitor, to build them out of logical stuff instead of real stuff, then suddenly the landscape of possible machines becomes effectively infinite. You can build any machine you canthink of, and all those pesky, annoying details like friction and inertia and tensile strength just fall away. For people who like to design machines, and especially for those who aren't so keen on the grease and skinned knuckles, this is a powerful attraction.

Other people chose to compare programming with creating art:

I'm not very good at art, but when I write something that works well I feel like an artist creating a piece of artwork.
-- Kevin Mellander

My father is a painter, and I grew up watching him continually producing new artwork . . . Software is just another medium, less messy, easier to change.
-- Fred Huxham

Programming is definitely a means of expression, and unlike other media software can simulate everyother medium; in Alan Kay's words it's ameta-medium. For those with an artistic leaning this is rich ground, indeed: you can create your artandyou can create new ways of creating art.

My own favorite creation metaphor is programmer as God:

I like it because you can play God, albeit on a microscopic scale. It's hard to explain, but writing code is like creating new life.
-- Dave Hersey

It is the closest I can get to being God (without lifetimes of sadhana). I get to sculpt a little "life-form" that, while admittedly unsophisticated, has a satisfying degree of autonomy.
-- Corey Vian

Since software is something that's dynamic in time and semi-autonomous, it can fairly convincingly imitate living things, in much the same way that machinery often can. But since the software "machines" that computers allow us to construct can be orders of magnitude more complex thanmachines in the real world, their resemblance to life can be much more compelling, much more striking.

The joy of solving problems (or thecompulsion to solve them, as the case may be) seems to be the major reason people program. My favorite survey response of all sums this up nicely:

The reason I program is because I'm a compulsive problem solver and my computer is a never-ending source of problems.
-- Craig Prouse

It's the twin meaning of "never-ending" that I love so much here. The fact that the problems never end is one of those "both blessing and curse" features that computers seem to overflow with. On the one hand, it means that we have an inexhaustible source of puzzles and problems to slake our thirsts, but on the other hand it means that we can never really be finished, and like Sisyphus rolling his stone up the hill, we are doomed to repetitive toil, solving the same kinds of puzzles over and over again.

Here are some of the other reasons people gave, which didn't fall neatly into any category:

It's basically because I have all these ideas in my head, and a computer is the best way to get them OUT of my head . . .
-- Jeff Barbose

Solving the problems is fun, but I must admit that I enjoy the company of the machine -- it's not every day you meet somebody who will associate with you unconditionally.
-- Steve Beitzel

I program to get back at my senior year English teacher. I once got a bad grade on an English paper, and she couldn't give me any concrete reasons why. She just didn't like it. The computer, on the other hand, always gives me a reason why I'm incorrect. It's a game I play with my Mac . . . There are a bunch of rules and it tells me (usually via a bus error) that I broke one.
-- Konstantin Othmer

It's the one thing in my life that is easy to debug.
-- Michael Weingartner

These last two hint at something else that I think might be important. In sharp contrast to the real world, the world of the computer is reassuringly knowable. What this means is thatcomputer problems always have answers. There is always a discoverable reason behind a computer's behavior, and I can't help wondering whether this is one of the major reasons people get such satisfaction from programming.

Most questions we ask about the real world turn out to be hopelessly complicated. How can we improve the economy? No neat and tidy answer to that one. Why does your child love those particular red plastic boots so much? That's not really answerable in any complete way. Why is ice slippery? Why is the sky blue? How do birds know when it's time to fly south? None of these questions have clean answers.

Ironically, though, there seems to be a basic human need tofindanswers. Look at the huge amount of time and energy we spend trying to discover and proclaim truths about our world. Religion, art, and science are all manifestations of the human desire to understand. So it's no surprise that computers, with their fantastically complex but ultimately knowable behavior, are extremely satisfying artifacts to spend time grappling with. Finding the answers can be enormously challenging, but there's always an answer to be found:

It gives me one thing I *know* I can boss around.
-- Jim Luther

Amen.

RECOMMENDED READING

  • Dreams of Reason by Heinz R. Pagels (Simon and Schuster, 1988).
  • The Hidden Life of Dogs by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (Houghton Mifflin, 1993).
  • Tuesday by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, 1991).

DAVE JOHNSON's favorite book between the ages of 5 and 11 was the World Book Encyclopedia. Sometimes in the early mornings, before anyone else was awake, he'd sneak out of bed, creep quietly through the dark and silent house to the living room, and slip a volume from the shelf. ("M" is fondly remembered to this day: matches, monsters, motors . . . ) Stopping off in the kitchen for a stack of cookies, he'd make his way back to his bed, and stay there reading and generating crumbs as the sun came up.*

Thanks to all the survey respondents and to Jeff Barbose, Michael Greenspon, Bill Guschwan, Mark ("The Red") Harlan, Bo3b Johnson, Lisa Jongewaard, and Ned van Alstyne for their always enlightening review comments. *

Dave welcomes feedback on his musings. He can be reached at JOHNSON.DK on AppleLink, dkj@apple.com on the Internet, or 75300,715 on CompuServe.*

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Amazon Chime 4.0.5528 - Amazon-based com...
Amazon Chime is a communications service that transforms online meetings with a secure, easy-to-use application that you can trust. Amazon Chime works seamlessly across your devices so that you can... Read more
Sparkle 2.1.0 - $79.99
Sparkle will change your mind if you thought building websites wasn't for you. Sparkle is the intuitive site builder that lets you create sites for your online portfolio, team or band pages, or... Read more
Bookends 12.7.9 - Reference management a...
Bookends is a full-featured bibliography/reference and information-management system for students and professionals. Bookends uses the cloud to sync reference libraries on all the Macs you use.... Read more
Dash 4.0.0 - Instant search and offline...
Dash is an API documentation browser and code snippet manager. Dash helps you store snippets of code, as well as instantly search and browse documentation for almost any API you might use (for a full... Read more
TrailRunner 3.8.834 - Route planning for...
TrailRunner is the perfect companion for runners, bikers, hikers, and all people wandering under the sky. Plan routes on a geographical map. Import GPS or workout recordings and journalize your... Read more
Dash 4.0.0 - Instant search and offline...
Dash is an API documentation browser and code snippet manager. Dash helps you store snippets of code, as well as instantly search and browse documentation for almost any API you might use (for a full... Read more
Bookends 12.7.9 - Reference management a...
Bookends is a full-featured bibliography/reference and information-management system for students and professionals. Bookends uses the cloud to sync reference libraries on all the Macs you use.... Read more
TrailRunner 3.8.834 - Route planning for...
TrailRunner is the perfect companion for runners, bikers, hikers, and all people wandering under the sky. Plan routes on a geographical map. Import GPS or workout recordings and journalize your... Read more
iFFmpeg 6.2.5 - Convert multimedia files...
iFFmpeg is a comprehensive media tool to convert movie, audio and media files between formats. The FFmpeg command line instructions can be very hard to master/understand, so iFFmpeg does all the hard... Read more
DaisyDisk 4.4 - $9.99
DaisyDisk allows you to visualize your disk usage and free up disk space by quickly finding and deleting big unused files. The program scans your disk and displays its content as a sector diagram... Read more

RPG Djinn Caster (Games)
RPG Djinn Caster 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: SPECIAL PRICE 38% OFF(USD 7.99 -> USD 4.99)!!!A Fantasy Action RPG of far foreign lands! Summon the Djinns and rise to... | Read more »
Alto's Odyssey gets its first trail...
There's finally video evidence of Alto's Odyssey, the follow up to the 2015 App Store hit, Alto's Adventure. It looks just as soothing and atmospheric as Alto's last outing, but this time players will be journeying to the desert. Whereas Alto's... | Read more »
Last week on Pocket Gamer
What’s going on in the wider world of portable gaming? Each week we ask that question of our sister website Pocket Gamer. The PG team covers iOS gaming, just like 148Apps, but it also strays into the world of Android games and handheld consoles... | Read more »
Pokémon GO Generation 2 evolution guide
At long last, Niantic Labs finally unleashed the Generation 2 Pokémon into the wild. Pokémon GO trainers are scrambling to grab up this new set of 80 Pokémon. There are some special new tricks required to catch all of these new beasties, though.... | Read more »
The best new games we played this week
It feels as though the New Year got off to a creaking start as far as mobile games go, but that's changed over the past few weeks. The last few days alone have seen the debut of a number of wonderful games, so we thought we'd take the time to... | Read more »
Recruit more scallywags and discover new...
Get ready to show off your sea legs all over again in Oceans & Empires’ new grand update, which aims to make the act of rising to the role of seven seas ruler even more fresh and appealing, thanks to a richness of new content on both iOS and... | Read more »
Mage the Ascension: Refuge (Games)
Mage the Ascension: Refuge 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The groundbreaking roleplaying game Mage: The Ascension manifests in our turbulent present with Refuge, an... | Read more »
Vampire: Prelude (Games)
Vampire: Prelude 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: The classic roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade returns to digital games with a Prelude of things to come. Experience a... | Read more »
Digby Forever Guide: How to dig to the d...
Digby Forever is a sparkling homage to arcade classics, and while you may be tiring of the number of arcade games being thrown at you, this endless digger finds many ways to stand out from the rest of the pack. The game manages to be challenging... | Read more »
The best sales on the App Store this wee...
It's been quite the week in mobile games, but if the latest releases(there were some pretty darn good ones, in case you missed out) aren't really doing the trick, perhaps some of these discounted games will. Many of these premium games had their... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available f...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are available: - 21″ 3.... Read more
Apple offering Certified Refurbished Series 1...
Apple is now offering Certified Refurbished Series 1 and Series 2 Apple Watches for 14-16% off MSRP, starting at $229. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each watch. Shipping is free: Series... Read more
1.4GHz Mac mini on sale for $449, save $50
B&H Photo has the 1.4GHz Mac mini on sale for $50 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $449 $50 off MSRP Read more
12-inch Retina MacBooks on sale for $200-$250...
Newegg has the 12″ 1.2GHz Space Gray Retina MacBook (sku MLH82LL/A) on sale for $1349.99 including free shipping. Their price is $250 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model.... Read more
13-inch 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro on sale...
Adorama has the non-Touch Bar 13″ 2.0GHz Space Gray MacBook Pro in stock today for $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and Adorama charges NY & NJ sales tax only: - 13″ 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Space Gray... Read more
13-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for $1...
B&H Photo has select 2016 Apple 13″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and up to $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 13″ 2.9GHz/512GB Touch Bar MacBook... Read more
KSI-1802R SX Disinfect-able Keyboard With Wav...
KSI has unveiled a new, innovative medical keyboard, the KSI-1802R SX, at HIMSS 2017, running February 19-22 in Orlando, Florida. KSI-1802R SX is the only keyboard that combines dual factor... Read more
15-inch Touch Bar MacBook Pros on sale for up...
Amazon has 15″ Touch Bar MacBook Pros in stock today and on sale for up to $150 off MSRP including free shipping: - 15″ 2.7GHz Touch Bar MacBook Pro Space Gray: $2720.38 $79 off MSRP - 15″ 2.7GHz... Read more
Apple’s Education discount saves up to $300 o...
Purchase a new Mac or iPad using Apple’s Education Store and take up to $300 off MSRP. All teachers, students, and staff of any educational institution qualify for the discount. Shipping is free: -... Read more
13-inch 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air on sale for...
Newegg has the 13″ 1.6GHz/256GB MacBook Air (MMGG2LL/A) on sale for $1029.99 including free shipping. Their price is $170 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Choose Newegg... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
*Apple* Technician - nfrastructure (United S...
Let’s Work Together Apple Technician This position is based in Portland, ME Life at nfrastructure At nfrastructure, we understand that our success results from our Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
Manager *Apple* Systems Administration - Pu...
Req ID 3315BR Position Title Manager, Apple Systems Administration Job Description The Manager of Apple Systems Administration oversees the administration and Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.