programming in the
twenty-first century

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

The Silent Majority of Experts

When I still followed the Usenet group comp.lang.forth, I wasn't the only person frustrated by the lack of people doing interesting things with the language. Elizabeth Rather, co-founder of Forth, Inc., offered the following explanation: there are people solving real problems with Forth, but they don't hang-out in the newsgroup. She would know; her company exists to support the construction of commercial Forth projects.

In 1996 I worked on a port of The Need for Speed to the SEGA Saturn. (If you think that's an odd system to be involved with, I also did 3DO development, went to a Jaguar conference at Atari headquarters, and had an official set of Virtual Boy documentation.) There were a number of game developers with public faces in the 1990s, but the key people responsible for the original version of The Need for Speed, released in 1994, remained unknown and behind the scenes. That's even though they had written a game based around rigid-body physics before most developers had any idea that term was relevant to 3D video games. And they did it without an FPU: the whole engine used fixed-point math.

Yes, there are many people who blog and otherwise publicly discuss development methodologies and what they're working on, but there are even more people who don't. Blogging takes time, for example, and not everyone enjoys it. Other people are working on commercial products and can't divulge the inner workings of their code.

That we're unable to learn from the silent majority of experts casts an unusual light upon online discussions. Just because looking down your nose at C++ or Perl is the popular opinion doesn't mean that those languages aren't being used by very smart folks to build amazing, finely crafted software. An appealing theory that gets frantically upvoted may have well-understood but non-obvious drawbacks. All we're seeing is an intersection of the people working on interesting things and who like to write about it--and that's not the whole story.

Your time may better spent getting in there and trying things rather than reading about what other people think.

(If you liked this, you might enjoy Photography as a Non-Technical Hobby.)

permalink June 21, 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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