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Being a Programmer is Like Being a Writer

Posted June 28th, 2014 at 12:22 PM by Oryx

Over the past few weeks, I've figured out that programming is the technical equivalent of writing. Here's why!

1. Everyone's a programmer/Everyone's a writer - In my web design class, my teacher had every person open Notepad, write some words, and then save it as an HTML file. He then had us open it in a browser, and all the Design majors oohed and ahhed over the fact that they put words on their browser! He said "now everyone in here is a coder!" Basically, that's how a ton of people feel about programming - you write a few lines of code and you feel qualified to call yourself a programmer, thus the word becomes meaningless. Playing around with code once in a while and planning to eventually do something with computers does not a programmer make.

Writer is the same way; anyone can write down a few words. If you define writer as "person who writes," we're all writers. Yet then the word becomes meaningless. Okay, you're a writer - have you ever had anything published? Has anyone else ever seen your work? Have you ever gone through a draft process? Or did you write one short story in eighth grade?

2. "Have I seen any of your work?" - This is common to many creative professions. People will hear you do something creative and ask if they've seen any of your work, which is strange because both the arena of programs and the arena of writing are so big that even if you're published and somewhat popular, people may not know of you at all. In programming, there's also so much internally-facing software that very few people ever see, but of course the 'glory' goes to the front-facing software, the applications that everyone uses. Everyone looks excited when you tell them that you designed a feature for Microsoft Word, but no one lights up when you mention you worked on a business' employee-only training software.

Writing, like programming, spans across tons of arenas that people don't even consider and have no interest in. Someone had to write the instruction manual for your microwave; someone had to write the survey request on your receipt; someone had to write the warnings on the pill label. On top of all that, someone has to write internally-facing company memos and revise drafts and a million other things that make the excitement of "you're a writer? have I read any of your books?!" wear off pretty fast.

3. Everyone has the next big thing - Everywhere I go, when people ask what I do, I mention that I'm a mobile developer and someone has to tell me the next big thing. They then expect me to either become enthusiastic about it and want to make it myself, or pass it on to my boss who will find someone because this idea is SO GOOD. Of course, most of the time it's mediocre at best, has no monetization scheme, and no backing.

Meanwhile, writers get the next big plot - mothers going on adventures! Ghosts fighting goblins! A fantasy/sci-fi mashup where aliens get transported to a magical realm! Usually it's combined with a "I just don't have time to write this myself, so I'll give it to you, free of charge!" How...kind of you.

4. It's easy! Until it's not - By the end of your first programming book, you should be able to write programs. That means programming is easy, right? Anyone can write a program! Just like anyone can write a sentence - that doesn't mean the sentence is good. A lot of programming seems, straightforward, logical, and simple until you get into the gray areas - which filetype is better to use when both work on a technical level? Is it marginally faster to use a different kind of loop here? Should I move this task to a background thread, or is it too important to the page loading? How should I handle this variable type? Should I bother updating the deprecated API when I know it will take a few days to rewrite all the code and the old one works just fine? Then you get into best practices, commonly accepted names for various variables, and all the other tiny decisions.

Writing looks like "sit down, pound out a book, done!" but it's far, far more than that. It especially is misunderstood in the realm of poetry, where 3 or 4 lines could take weeks to craft properly, but look as if the writer just wrote it in 30 seconds and submitted it. It's the "I could do that" mentality. You see it in writing from the people that constantly criticize novels, and the internet comments that constantly try to guess what's necessary to make a change in a game or program.

5. "Could you fix my computer?"/"Could you edit my paper?" - Yes, a programmer and a person paid to fix computers are clearly the same thing. I used to hear this a lot from my mother before I shut her down about it; if there was a problem with anything electronic, she would use my programming skills to try to get me to fix it. I had to patiently (and not-so-patiently) explain that my classes were not on how to fix remote controls or speed up her internet or fix the scaling on the TV. People that aren't technical tend to put them all together, meaning you're their tech support every time their radio farts.

Meanwhile, writers get asked to help everyone else write just as often. Once my boyfriend's friend's father, who I've never met, asked me to edit his daughter's essay (never met her either) because he heard it mentioned once that I was an English major and she wanted to get into a good college. Although honestly, this can be applied to many different jobs; plumbers I'm sure get called to help their friends with plumbing issues, etc.

6. And finally, no one really realizes what it takes to do something. I tried to explain how making something pop up on the screen took days of work to my boyfriend but he was not impressed because things pop up all the time and he couldn't see the work it took to get there. Just like when you edit a page for days and then give it to someone else, who doesn't understand why it took days to write a page.
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  1. Old Comment
    Nathan's Avatar
    Omg there's so much truth in this blog
    Posted June 28th, 2014 at 3:32 PM by Nathan Nathan is offline