I Am Not a Corporation

In 2009, when I exclusively used a fancy Nikon DSLR, my photographic work flow was this: take pictures during the day, transfer them to a PC in the evening, fiddle with the raw version of each shot in an image editor, save out a full-res copy, make a smaller version and upload it to Flickr.

Once I started using an iPhone and the Hipstamatic app, my work flow was this: take a picture, immediately upload it to Flickr.

Pick any criteria for comparing the absolute quality of the Nikon vs the iPhone, and the Nikon wins every time: sharpness, resolution, low-light ability, you name it. It's not even close. And yet I'm willing to trade that for the simplicity and fun of using the iPhone.

That's because I'm not a professional photographer who gets paid to put up with the inconveniences that come with the higher-end equipment. If I can avoid daily image transfers, that's a win for me. If I don't have to tweak around with contrast settings and color curves, that's huge.

I also work on projects in my spare time that involve writing code, but I don't have the luxury of a corporate IT department that keeps everything up to date and running smoothly. I don't want to be maintaining my own Linux installation. I would prefer not to wait forty-five minutes to build the latest bug-fix release of some tool. I don't think most developers want to either; that kind of self-justified technical noise feels very 1990s.

When I'm trying out an idea at home, I'm not getting paid to deal with what a professional software engineer would. If I've got thirty minutes to make progress, I don't want to spend that puzzling out why precompiled headers aren't working. I don't want to spend it debugging a makefile quirk. I don't want to decipher an opaque error message because I got something wrong in a C++ template. I don't want to wait for a project to compile at all. I'm willing to make significant trades to avoid these things. If I can get zero or close to zero compilation speed, that's worth a 100x performance hit in the resulting code. Seriously.

If I were a full-time programmer paid to eke out every last bit of performance, then there's no way I'd consider making such a trade. But I'm not, and if I pretended otherwise and insisted on using the same tools and techniques as the full-time pros, I'd end up frustrated and go all Clifford Stoll and move to an internet-free commune in Tennessee.

Fun and simplicity are only optional if you're paid to ignore them.

(If you liked this, you might enjoy Recovering From a Computer Science Education.)