Structure & Interpretation

Pleasure & Despair

There’s always temptation to slip into meta-writing, or, when you’ve become conscious of that, into writing about meta-writing, which is what I’m involved in right now. It’s useful at times and may be somewhat entertaining, but more often it’s just a fancy way to delay the pain of writing about the real thing, if there can be such a thing in writing. This will be a personal blog. I’m not here to paint myself as a “professional” and overwhelm you with extremely useful technical/career advice or explicate how certain things work, although at some point I might do that too. Earlier today I had a surprising thought that although I’ve been involved in various programming activities (and not without some success too) for about twelve years, my path as a programmer has just started.

Let me explain. All my career I’ve been mostly concentrated on solving tasks at hand. Give me a task, give me a context (a tool, an environment, a legacy system), and by hook or by crook I’ll do it, even if the tool is shit, the system a mess, and the task doesn’t really make sense. Two things were at play: me chasing that high of a completed task, of a piece of code working correctly, of a system configured properly, of a bug fixed, of a process improved; also me rushing to solve the problem because the tension and anxiety an unsolved problem would give me were unbearable. I rarely stopped to think back to what I’d done and how. It was a perpetual forward motion from task to task, from problem to problem, from project to project, from workplace to workplace. A purely workaholic, soul-drenching approach.

Occasionally I would have a depressive episode based upon a realization that I didn’t know what I was doing and why. The projects shut down, their domains expired, workplaces closed, the code I’d written got buried in abandoned corporate Github accounts. At times I’d become appalled at the amount of effort, thought, emotion, time, money, that had gone in vain, or so I thought at least.

I’m of a (slightly) happier disposition now. I know for sure there was no sense nor meaning in all those silly little or big projects and endeavors but for me to solve tasks and tinker with computers and discuss it with those who shared the same passion. I know that because that’s what I was preoccupied with, that’s what constituted my own personal meaning back then, that’s what I both put in and got out of it, that’s what I enjoyed doing, and that’s enough. I can retrospectively think about the impact of certain projects, or the acclaim some of them received, or money I earned, but none of it ever was my primary drive. The pleasure of solving a difficult task, of figuring out how something works, or finding the root cause of an obscure bug, or seeing a computer do what you’ve programmed it to do, cannot be overlooked, it’s there. I’m so hell-bent on reiterating this point because it is my firsthand experience and it is something I can rely on and build upon.

My next point is that we who share this experience need to look deeper into it and try to analyze its mechanisms, its workings, its sources, try to understand at least something about it and use the findings to shape the present and the future of programming, the programming that we’ll undoubtedly be doing for the next undefined number of years. I simply don’t see myself stopping.

If we don’t do that, someone else will soon be telling us how we should be programming and solving our precious stupid problems and then also which problems are worth solving, and there’s a high chance of slipping back into drudgery and despair.

See ya!

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