Monday, December 18, 2017

What Do You Do Besides Write Code?

A bunch of years ago I read an op-ed piece in one of the news magazines. I forget the one but the piece itself has stuck with me for years. The Op-ed was written by a guy who was critical of software people. He was in construction and built things. And on the weekend he built more things. Software people just wrote code and didn’t, in his view, do useful things with their free time. At least they didn’t do construction type things on their own houses.

My first reaction was, clearly he wasn’t watching me as I built a large deck for my house or any of the other projects I’d done around the house. He clearly didn’t know my friend Philip who is building his own house. Yes, with his own hands. The man is an amazing carpenter who is also quite the software person. And he doesn’t know my friend Clint whose projects over the years have amazed with with their creativity and complicated construction. Or many of the others I know who build things with their hands and make their homes or cars truly their own.

My second thought was, the man wants me to be impressed that he does the something on weekends as he does for work? That’s crazy. He should be doing something else to stretch himself. If he really wanted to impress me he should tell me about the code he writes in his down time. People need something other than what they do for a living to keep them really grounded.

An article in Medium (“Every Computer Scientist Should Have A Creative Hobby” by Yash Tulsiani ) got me thinking about this again today.

Generally the best technical people, especially computer science people, I have known have had some sort of other creative outlet. Some music, some wood working (amazing how many CS people love power tools), and some write fiction. A bunch of them are seriously into photography.  

Computing used to be something that stayed locked into environment controlled glass rooms that people might be able to see into but not interact with. The opposite is true today. While once upon a time you could get away with esoteric and complex user interfaces or boring simple ones – card readers anyone? Today we talk to our computers and expect them to talk back. Today we want it all to be easy – swipe left, swipe right, swipe down.

Today computer science is never in isolation Today it’s “computer science and …” where the “and” is anything and everything. People who can’t see past the computer and not very useful. People who are not creative and innovative are not the idea computer scientist today.

One of the things that creative hobbies have in common with computing is that they force one to look at things. To look closely at times, to look from far away at other times, and generally to look differently. A person who only has code as a tool and programming as a way of looking at problems is as bad as the carpenter who only has a hammer and sees all problems as nails.

As a teacher I occasionally see students who get totally immersed in one thing. It may be sports, it may be their music or art, sometimes it is computing, sometimes it is in some other academic subject. What ever it is I worry that they lose sight of the big picture. That can be a fatal trap in a future where most people will have multiple careers.

So you can code? Great! What other creative outlets do you enjoy?

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