If You Give a Programmer a Cookie

Or “This is Your Brain on Code”

Leslie Hawk
Nov 23, 2019 · 3 min read

I used to like writing words.

Putting thoughts on a page to be read, or not. It didn’t matter. I just liked to write — ever since I was a kid. Some people even said I was good at it.

Why therefore has my assignment of “Write a {simple} Blog Post” for Launch School’s 101 Course been so difficult for me?

I mean, I’ve done it. I’ve written THREE posts actually. They are all different, but all terribly uninteresting to me by the end of them. Why??

I have spent the year studying computer programming part-time with Launch School. I love the curriculum, the challenge, the community, and the skills I’ve acquired. It’s been terrific and there is so much good material to write about — Launch School’s pedagogy for example — so why could I not hit publish?

“What is my problem!?!” I ask my rubber duck.

And it hits me.

Writing a blog post is not a problem — and that is the problem. It is not a code problem. When I hit publish, no code will run, no hard-fought program will execute. I will not throw up my arms in victory, or bang my head on my keyboard in defeat. I won’t squeal and dance around my office, or take a walk around the block mumbling to myself. I will not celebrate with a cookie, or gear up for debugging with yet another cup of tea.

This has been my world for the last year training to be a programmer: An endless loop of victory and defeat — mostly defeat — which has made the victories all the more sweet.

I did not realize how accustomed I had become to the thrill of this work until asked to do something different with my keyboard. After a year of write and response, key-stroke and drama, muscle-memory and dopamine, my brain expected a hit when my fingers were done flying!

That is why I could not post. The assignment wasn’t challenging enough for the amount of typing involved!

Refusing to be satisfied with a lesser reward, my brain turned the assignment into a problem it could recognize: I had to hit a wall, multiple times. I had to think harder. I had to PEDAC, refactor, walk away. I even had to, for the love, talk to my rubber duck to have a break though.

And it worked.

We’ve achieved something “more” than just words on a page and my brain is satisfied. All warm and cozy with the familiar feelings of confusion and sweat, it is finally happy to commit and push my writing to MediumHub. Cue the rush.

Oh dear. I think I may have a problem.

But it’s a great problem to have (says the addict). I love this work, and all its challenges and rewards. The dopamine is proof that I have worked hard for a year to be in this loop at all. And it’s a good loop, as long as I can still write, which I guess I can.

So at long last, it is time for that hit. And a cookie. (‘Publish’)

What are your victory/defeat rituals? Please share in the comments. I may need them to churn out my next blog post.

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