Computers are stupid. They take massive lists of instructions and mindlessly process them one by one. That’s purely mechanical, the result of billions of nearly invisible gates flip-flopping in a sea of electrons. A consequence set in motion by these sets of instructions.
-- when it is written well -- can be quite intelligent. It can remember
things for you, help you organize them, control devices and even assist
you in interacting with other people. Where does this intelligence come
act of ‘programming’ a computer is the rather long and often painful
process of assembling larger and larger lists of instructions. To get
intelligence embedded into these lists it must come from the programmer.
Some of these ‘smarts’ are just derived from long understood ways to
combine the instructions. Some of them come from the programmer’s
intuitive sense of how the world works. Some of them come from the
knowledge passed onto the programmer other people who are familiar with
the source of any intelligence in the software is the thinking done by a
programmer on the vast amount of knowledge acquired in relation to the
solution. Programming -- often shorted to ‘coding’ is thinking, and the
by-product of this thought is code.
code requires deep intensive thought. The programmer needs to visualize
the interactions of the data in their mind, in order to linearize it
down into reliable instructions. They need to explore all of the dark
corners that get implied by the computer’s behavior.
experience, most code is pretty light thinking, the mental equivalent
of ‘jogging’ for the mind. It’s just smaller collections of conditionals
and loops that solve very specific sub-problems. When the number of
these types of pieces explodes, the heavy thinking shifts towards ways
of reining in their organization and consistency. Solutions to the
micro-problems in coding are most often black and white, they have
definitive answers. While solutions to the larger organizational and
context issues tend to revolve around difficult trade-offs, where no
answer is completely satisfactory.
of the main consequences of programming just being thoughts is that
muddled or distracted thinking directly determines the quality of the
code produced. If someone is rushing through a sub-problem, their answer
may be fragile or they may have actually solved the wrong problem. When
elegance is achieved in software development -- an increasingly rare
occurrence -- it is a consequence of a well-thought out approach and a
consistent implementation. The programmer understood a problem so well,
that they were able to express it in its most simplest terms, and their
own self-discipline was so strong that they dotted all of the ‘i’s and
crossed all of the ‘t’s. The details were attended to, no matter how
course loud environments, excess stress, long hours and rampant
disorganization are all easy disruptors for the ability to think
clearly. So is rushing through the work as quickly as possible.
any coding veteran, they can immediately see the underlying quality of
thought that has gone into the work, whether it was an interface, API or
code-base. The poor quality of workmanship almost ‘glows’ if you know
what you are looking for. An interface with endless out-of-place
functionality tacked all over its design speaks of disorganization and
coders that don’t work well together. Inconsistent primitives for an API
cry out the pain of wave after wave of quick hacks to slap on poorly
thought-out extensions. A tangled mess of repetitive code sings a sad
song of confusion or a rush to just get it barely working. These
existing examples of other people’s work not only instruct the computer,
but also tell the tales of how they were constructed and how much care
and effort went into that process. They reveal far more than just
is thinking. Poor quality thinking results in poor quality code. Rushed
thinking results in poor quality code. Distractions result in poor
quality code. Bad morale results in poor quality code. Ultimately the
utility of a piece of software is dependent on how intelligent it is,
and that comes directly from the efforts of the people that built it.
Crap quickly tossed together in a hyperactive sweatshop is, well, crap.
If you really want to help people solve their problems, you have to
spend a lot of time thinking very deeply about a solution that works.
There is no other way.