Karim Hamidou

Programming and negativity

My uncle is a teacher. When I was a kid, he would often slip into “teacher mode” even not in a school setting. Not only would he lecture us (which I’m glad he did), but he would also try to discipline us as if we were a classroom. Having to write a memoir during your holidays is not fun.

This is to say we often forget how much stuff we unconsciously pick up from work.

This week Github released a new text editor. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve seen a lot of negative reactions toward it (“It’s webkit, it’s going to be slow”, “Why would you even use coffeescript”, etc.) I saw much the same reactions to LightTable a few months ago.

As programmers, we spend most of our working days in front of computers, trying to make sense of the stuff and why this crappy API won’t work and IE sucks and so on. We get used to be always on the lookout for potential flaws. It’s a good thing when you’re designing a system, but after some time it becomes an habit you apply everywhere. I know I did.

So I’d like to remind everyone (mostly me actually, since there’s like one and a half readers to my blog) that it’s easy to get trapped in the day-to-day routine and forget what attracted us to computers in the first place. The magic. The ability to get the machine do what you wanted, faster than you. The fun of solving puzzles.

These people are trying to stretch the limits of our machines, don’t hate them for this.

This Alan Perlis quote opens SICP:

I think that it’s extraordinarily important that we in computer science keep fun in computing.

When it started out, it was an awful lot of fun. Of course, the paying customers got shafted every now and then, and after a while we began to take their complaints seriously. We began to feel as if we really were responsible for the successful, error-free perfect use of these machines.

I don’t think we are. I think we’re responsible for stretching them, setting them off in new directions, and keeping fun in the house. I hope the field of computer science never loses its sense of fun.

Above all, I hope we don’t become missionaries. Don’t feel as if you’re Bible salesmen. The world has too many of those already.

Key takeaway: Don’t become a bible salesman.