How I learned to loathe and code (The ladder to enlightenment)

‘Ladder to enlightenment’ 2016

I live with someone who breathes code as I indulge in art. We’re both equally professional, experienced, totally tech-savvy, and dedicated to getting things done. Just for starters, I’m completely comfortable in start-up environments with databases, blockchains and agile. So, how hard can it be to step into someone else’s world of practical tinkering and building something that’s creative and works?

Very, is the short answer.

Though, not for want of trying or ability to comprehend, but just because it requires something very special, something crucial learnt by some at a very early age of stacking up lego pieces ‘high up to the sky’, and then knocking them over for the sheer fun of it: that famous ‘test it to destruction’ phenomenon, which toddlers (not just men!) around the world embrace.

“You’re too scared of breaking it!!!” my resident guru and go-to coding oracle explained, as I sought to highlight the thinking and value of what I was carefully constructing. “Just keep giving it a go and seeing what others have already got out there: very little is elegant coding, when you first start off, at least!”

And as I strained under the knowledge of knowing it was about chipping away and making minute connections and getting bits and pieces to work, and seeing all of a sudden how the storyboard took shape and lo and behold produced a user interface I could see changes on, and then once more plummeting and losing psychological footholds through realising the limitations of those instructed with the sheer complexities of making ‘nice and easy introductions’ to the latest Swift language features…

I experienced pure fury that I could not lift my wings and fly up to the floated realms of my beloved co-habitee’s coding universe, and from there swoop around as an equal master of understanding the most desired skill of our present age: coding new reality and seeing life take shape, form and function on my own revered electronic tablet.

I loathed the fact that I couldn’t hurry along a natural formation process: that of the mind being shaped, broadened, and often transformed by what we physically make.

I had, of course, experienced this in different ways through my art work. I also did understand the process of literally ‘taking something apart’ to make it a key component of my world by bridging the gaps between someone else’s working world and my own experience, and I had duly lapped up technical details and quirks in all sorts of demanding environments from manufacturing and engineering to international economic and policy negotiations…

But, could I get myself to slow down enough to take on board what the great guru pointed out?

Not instantly, when I was in the initial throes of realising that following diligently through each sequence and character in online examples, and seeing the logic and language of the code already written and working out for others in quite specific, comparable contexts was just the beginning of — you guessed it: testing and testing it again to destruction.

“It doesn’t work!” I wailed; and, “They’re not explaining it properly”, I complained, and, right, of course, on both accounts, and for a myriad of reasons, not always entirely or even at all due to novice me or guru coder’s mysticism.

Sometimes, everyone’s just testing to destruction to get the most out of whatever code is out there and developing it further. And it shows, in the most positive way I saw how clear experts and high flyers helped each other out with bits and pieces of codes and hints and pointers on various online coder boards and diverse battle hardened techie meet-up-and-exchange-war-stories platforms.

And in the course of much heated debate, and seeking to hold my own, whilst wallowing in the mudslides of coding possibilities and pushing through to an understanding that I could utilise directly for myself and for the project I was working on — I learnt the most useful skill of all, that the scraped and bruised knees of all my coding escapades lead to one thing.

I was actually walking the talk with every inch and millimetre of understanding that I sought to wrest from someone who knew what they were talking about because they had progressed over a very long time to no longer really remembering how difficult first steps can be. I was, in fact, testing my own knowledge to destruction by completely entering someone else’s familiar territory that had been a black box of tricks for me.

And just when I thought, I had laid aside all artistic pretences and knuckled down to just coding one baby step at at time, my app guru surprised me by laughing at the parallels of my learning curve to just ‘how easy art can be’ with a quirky sketch of drawing one little circle, then a bigger one underneath, and just adding a few marks for the legs, ears and neck to reveal the equivalent of George Stubbs’ magnificent painting of the famous racehorse ‘Whistlejacket’ (in your dreams, app guru!)

‘Guru Art (A head start)’ 2016 — with many thanks to the app guru

Of course, we can all see the face value of ‘busting a gut’, ‘breaking the back of something’ and ‘getting down to brass tacks’ to understand something quite intimately in an almost sledge hammer, quasi ‘manly’ way of testing something to destruction and learning in the process, but it takes quite a bit of finesse to realise that the biggest grappling is, and always will be in the mind, and how we think we are building something that converts electronic signals into physical reality for users on screen and in their immediate environment.