Monday, October 20, 2014

The Problem with Coders' Technology Focus

Coders focus on code. Coders focus on toolchains and development practices. Coders focus on commits and line counts. Coders focus on code, but we don’t focus as well on people.

We need to take a step back and remember why we write code, or possibly re-evaluate why we write code. Many of us might be doing it for the wrong reasons. Maybe you don’t think there can be a wrong reason, and I’m not entirely sure. What I am certain of is that some reasons to code lend themselves to certain attitudes and weights about the code and other motivations might mandate that you take yourself more or less seriously.

We’re taking the wrong motivations seriously and we’re not giving enough attention and weight to the reasons for code that we should.

The most valid and important reason we can code is not what hackers think it is. A good hack isn’t good for its own sake. No programming language or tool is inherently better than another. The technical merits of the approach or of the individual are not the most important factors to consider.

Our impact on people is the only thing that truly matters.

Twitter isn’t great because they developed amazing distributed services internally to support the load requirements of their service, but because they connect millions of voices across the globe.

RSS isn’t great because it encapsulates content in an easily parseable format for client software to consume, but because it connects writers to the readers who care most about their thoughts and feelings and ideas.

The amazing rendering tools built in-house by the likes of Disney aren’t amazing because of their attention to physical based light simulations and the effort required to coordinate the massive render farms churning out frames for new big budget films, but for their ability to tell wonderful stories that touch people.

The next time you find yourself on a forum chastising someone for writing their website in PHP, pause and ask yourself why that was the more important question to ask them than “Does this fulfill something important to you or your users?”

When you are reviewing code and want to stop a merge because you disagree with a technical approach, take a step back and ask yourself if the changes have a positive impact on the people your product serves.

Every time you find yourself valuing the technical contributions of team mates and community members, make sure those contributions translate into enriching and fulfilling the lives of that community and your workplace, before the technical needs.

Nothing that is important can be so without being important for people first.

1 comment:

vincent said...

What you're basically saying is that the end should justify the means more often than we think.

It's certainly true that coders prefer to focus on the code and sometimes lose track of what the purpose of the code actually is, but it's also this attention to "what's important for the code" that makes the end possible.

The "it works, so lets leave it like this" argument is usually followed a few weeks later by "Hey, it stopped working, that's odd" or "I can't implement this new feature with the code we wrote a few weeks ago", and the code get's rewritten into what the coders originally wanted in the first place.

As usual, it's a compromise; Don't waste time making the code more beautiful than it needs to be, but take your time to make it reliable and maintainable.

I write here about programming, how to program better, things I think are neat and are related to programming. I might write other things at my personal website.

I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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