On being a programmer

I have an addictive personality. If I like something, I can’t get enough of it. And besides distance running, little else besides programming makes me feel the same overwhelming sense of euphoria.

Many programmers know what I’m talking about. When it’s good, time just flies. Fueled by passion and inspiration, we have worked into the early morning hours, reluctantly stopping, the body giving way before inspiration does.

Musicians, e.g. Rich Hickey and Derek Sivers, have elected to become programmers. A few years back, I read about a lifelong jazz musician who, upon entering his 70s, completely gave up music since programming completely fulfilled his creative impulses.

I’m not a musician, but I have some experience with piano, guitar, and voice, so I sorta get it. The feeling I get when the pieces fall into place in what I’m building is a bit like when notes fall into place: In both cases, I feel a sense of harmony. The brain chemistry in either situation has got to be similar.

But programming is more expressive than music is. The end result of music is only ever going to be sounds. But the end result of programming can be a helicopter that flies itself, performing tricks that only the best pilots in the world can perform.

Incidentally, I’m lucky that I am able to make a good living off of my craft. Many programmers consider themselves underpaid if they are making low six figures. While we should make sure we are always paid fairly, we also need to remember to be grateful for the unique situation that we have in which we are paid to do something we would do anyway. My brother Johnnie, a new programmer, said to me the other day that after months on the job he is still amazed that he gets paid for what he gets to do.

It is becoming cool to be a programmer. There are a bunch of people who are entering the field, particularly from bootcamps. I welcome you all, and that’s why I’m writing this. I’m alerting you that it runs a little deeper than you might think at first.

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