An English Major Grasps at Understanding Coding

March 19, 2013

Art Vs. Science

Working for Volano forces me to use a profoundly malnourished section of my brain (think Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons and what his heart looks like). This is the part of the brain that thinks in mechanical, linear terms where problems have solutions. It connects related items logically and utilizes facts and principles to construct solutions to problems. I live on the touchy-feely side of life. Metaphors, symbols, characters, emotions and of course, irony. For example, my keen awareness of the irony of writing about coding software. I’ll explain….

What is the Purpose of Good Software?

Before I tackle what has become an interesting metaphor for me in coding as a representation of the self, we should put coding in the context of software’s intent. Great software behaves the way a user thinks it should. You know what will happen if you do X. It’s intuitive, easy to use and simplifies processes and procedures. If you have an iPad and a 2 year old, you witness great software. My three year old can navigate Netflix on my smart phone, dial up Power Rangers and exempt me from the responsibility of raising him for yet another blissful afternoon. Behind this software is some pretty good code. What particularly interests me in good code are the adjectives people use to describe it. Elegant. Robust. Efficient. Complex. Defensive. Reusable. Correct. Intuitive. These words are both definitive and subjective. With some we could be describing wine or a painting. It made me wonder how coding to achieve an end could differ by programmer. How much does theory factor in and the personalities of software developers? See… English major BS.

Mona Lisa

What is Coding?

Coding, in computer systems, is the process of writing, assembling, and compiling computer code. It is the instructions for hardware and software. I asked my co-workers for their take on the degree to which coding has flexibility for personal touches, signatures. The responses varied, some of them unprintable lest Volano appear in an on-line search to the great disappointment of some amorous teenager. But we got some serious answers and analogies too.

“Making a lean-to of branches, building a skyscraper, writing software, and making a baby are similarly on a spectrum of expression of some pure form.” (Yikes… How does testing go for all of these?)

Others described writing code tailored to the client need. A developer we interviewed described the integrity of his code being known only to him because it did not break, but that it followed such a consistent structure that if someone did have to fix a system her built in the middle of the night, they could read his code, understand it and fix the problem in 5-10 minutes.

What Do You Think?

So I come back to square one. The developers at Volano are craftsman that delight in learning new tricks as much as they do in building disparate systems for our clients. They put something of themselves into their work to achieve an outcome for customers that renders their work invisible. It simply works as it was intended and is easy to use. Like the iPad and the 2 year old. What did these craftsmen/artists do 60 years ago? Design houses? Fix cars? Are we able to put our own signatures into our daily work?