But there are still vanishingly few places where you can learn what it feels like to code.
Okay, so one counterargument might go: Why read about what it feels like to code when you can just learn to code and feel it yourself? But come on. We cook, and we also consume great writing about cooking. We watch movies, but we also read movie reviews. A great rendering of an experience makes the experience better; it drives it deeper. It helps us (see things, feel things) we wouldn’t otherwise have (seen, felt).
Here’s Ellen Ullman, for instance, on messy programmers:
Requirements muddle up; changes are needed immediately. Meanwhile, no one has changed the system deadline. The programmer, who needs clarity, who must talk all day to a machine that demands declarations, hunkers down into a low-grade annoyance. It is here that the stereotype of the programmer, sitting in a dim room, growling from behind Coke cans, has its origins. The disorder of the desk, the floor; the yellow Post-it notes everywhere; the whiteboards covered with scrawl: all this is the outward manifestation of the messiness of human thought. The messiness cannot go into the program; it piles up around the programmer.
I look across my desk and I say: Ohhh.
Ellen Ullman won’t hold this throne forever. There’s a wave of dual citizens rolling in, a whole generation of liberal artsy writer/programmers, and certainly a few of them will pause in their labors long enough to render the experience in words. It might take a while. I myself tried to put a bit of the feeling of code into my novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore — but I’m only a so-so programmer, only a citizen and a half. The extremes of these new feelings are not accessible or really even comprehensible to me.
So for now, I’m waiting, and while I’m waiting, I’m rereading Close to the Machine.
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