Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Programming and Craftsmanship
I've been enjoying reading Ora Lassila's Blog lately. I particularly enjoyed his entry on Programming as a craft. I agree with his sentiment 150% (OK, talking about framing his source code was a little much for me, I've never written code that I was THAT proud of...There's always room for improvement IMHO). It seems all too often that people think that programming computers could be done by anybody. It's true you can take anybody off the street and teach them to program, but can you make them great? I don't think so without a lot of training and passion from the trainee. The same passion that drives a great artist must be the same passion for a programmer. It's what separates the average from the good from the great. Peter Norvig has an excellent essay entitled "Teach Yourself Programming in 10 Years" which takes the position that to be great at something you must have passion and the will to practice to become better. In the paper, he argues that programming is a craft that needs to be practice to be mastered. If you would like to read a great book on the subject, read Software Craftsmanship by Pete McBreen in which he talks about having aprentenceships and masters like in the old days of blacksmiths. I love the idea of being a craftsman practicing my art everyday. Great programmers live and breathe for code. They spend every waking moment practicing and learning about their craft. One important thing that I have found about great programmers is the lack of arrogance (I've never seen an arrogant great programmer...Arrogant programmers might think they are great, but usually are only great with hot air). The great ones are humble and know that they will never know everything. They are equally eager to learn as they are to teach. I wouldn't consider myself to be great by any stretch, but I LOVE working with great developers. In fact, I think everyone has a trick that they can teach me. Camp Smalltalk 2004 allowed me to have access to some of the best minds in Smalltalk and programming in general. Everyone was eager to share and the colloboration was envigorating. I walked away with my brain hurting! I LOVED IT! I wish we could have programmer guilds where I could go and learn. I have a list of mentors that I would love to learn under. The Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Illinois was exciting for that very reason. A chance to be mentored by the best. The internet has enabled me to get closer to the best and that's a great thing. I guess this post was more of a "right on" of what other programmers have been blogging and a wish. I wish we treated programming like a craft that someone has to work at to get good at like music and painting. All programmers are not at the same level of competence much like musicians and artists are at different levels. As with any craft, you are constantly learning new ways of doing things and pushing yourself. I think it would be fun to work on a Lisp or Scheme project full-time just for the fun of it. How awesome would that be? I play with Lisp in my spare time, but I know an experienced Lisper could teach me a lot of tricks. Now, wouldn't that be cool? Well, I'm going to go practice my craft!
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I understand how programming is a craft; however, perhaps we should approach programming like driving a car. Most everyone will need to as part of life, yet we should not have to master a different complex, crafted steering wheel, mirror, and pedals for each car before we can ever drive from one place to the other.
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