Vladimir Sedach

Have Emacs - Will Hack

April 16, 2011

Programming is a creative pursuit

Topic: Software engineering

There is still some debate around whether programming qualifies as a creative endeavor akin to writing, arts, or crafts. Paul Graham attempts to draw analogies between hacking and painting (some argue, unconvincingly).

The answer is revealed if you examine the motivational factors behind computer programming.

How else can you explain the motivational factors of people working on Free Software? Of people programming at work, and then going home and programming as a hobby? Of working on multiple, related and unrelated, projects simultaneously, sometimes over periods of years or decades at a time?

Another obvious but almost never discussed aspect of programming as a creative pursuit is that it is almost impossible to succeed in programming as a career if you do not enjoy your work.

Succeeding as a career programmer has very little to do with getting a job as a programmer, because of continuing organizational beliefs that programming is a non-creative profession and that 9 women can make 1 baby in 1 month. With perverse incentives such as "lines of code written" (when the only good thing about lines of code is how many you can remove), and no understanding by management of the impact of such things as technical debt, unit testing, or even basic things like quality, hapless code monkeys can stay on the payroll. How many of them continue programming as a vocation into their later years? How many are promoted into management?