programming in the
twenty-first century

It's not about technology for its own sake. It's about being able to implement your ideas.

This is Why You Spent All that Time Learning to Program

There's a standard format for local TV news broadcasts that's easy to criticize. (By "local," I mean any American town large enough to have its own television station.)

There's an initial shock-value teaser to keep you watching. News stories are read in a dramatic, sensationalist fashion by attractive people who fill most of the screen. There's an inset image over the shoulder of the reader. Periodically there's a cutaway to a reporter in the field; it's often followed-up with side-by-side images of the newscaster and reporter while the former asks a few token questions to latter. There's pretend banter between newscasters after a feel-good story.

You get the idea. Now what if I wanted to change this entrenched structure?

I could get a degree in journalism and try to get a job at the local TV station. I'd be the new guy with no experience, so it's not likely I could just step-in and make sweeping reforms. All the other people there have been doing this for years or decades, and they've got a established routines. I can't make dozens of people change their schedules and habits because I think I'm so smart. To be perfectly fair, a drastic reworking of the news would result in people who had no issues with old presentation getting annoyed and switching to one of the other channels that does things the old way.

When I sit down to work on a personal project at home, it's much simpler.

I don't have to follow the familiar standards of whatever kind of app I'm building. I don't have to use an existing application as a model. I can disregard history. I can develop solutions without people saying "That's not how it's supposed to work!"

That freedom is huge. There are so many issues in the world that people complain about, and there's little chance of fixing the system in a significant way. Even something as simple as reworking the local news is out of reach. But if you're writing an iOS game, an HTML 5 web app, a utility that automates work so you can focus on the creative fun stuff, then you don't have to fall back on the existing, comfortable solutions that developers before you chose simply because they too were trapped by the patterns of the solutions that came before them.

You can fix things. You can make new and amazing things. Don't take that ability lightly.

(If you liked this, you might enjoy Building Beautiful Apps from Ugly Code.)

permalink April 2, 2012


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I'm James Hague, a recovering programmer who has been designing video games since the 1980s. Programming Without Being Obsessed With Programming and Organizational Skills Beat Algorithmic Wizardry are good starting points. For the older stuff, try the 2012 Retrospective.

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