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 Recovering Programmer

I wrote the first draft of this in 2007, and I thought the title would be the name of my blog. But I realized I had a backlog of more tech-heavy topics that I wanted to get out of my system. I think I've finally done that, so I'm going back to the original entry I planned to write.

When I was a kid, I thought I'd be a cartoonist--I was always drawing--or a novelist. Something artistic. When I became obsessed with video games in the 1980s, I saw game design as being in the same vein as cartooning and writing: one person creating something entirely on their own. I learned to program 8-bit computers so I could implement games of my own design. Eventually, slowly, the programming overtook the design. I got a degree in computer science. I worked on some stuff that looks almost impossible now, like commercial games of over 100K lines of assembly language (and later I became possibly the only person to ever write a game entirely in PowerPC assembly language).

Somewhere along the lines, I realized I was looking at everything backward, from an implementation point of view, not from the perspective of a finished application, not considering the user first. And I realized that the inherent bitterness and negativity of programming arguments and technical defensiveness on the web were making me bitter and negative. I've consciously tried to rewind, to go back to when programming was a tool for implementing my visions, not its own end. I've found that Alan Cooper is right, in that a tech-first view promotes scarcity thinking (that is, making perceived memory and performance issues be the primary concerns) and dismissing good ideas because of obscure boundary cases. And now programming seems less frustrating than it once did.

I still like to implement my own ideas, especially in fun languages like Erlang and Perl. I'm glad I can program, because personal programming in the small is fertile ground and tremendously useful. For starters, this entire site is generated by 269 lines of commented Perl, including the archives and the atom feed (and those 269 lines also include some HTML templates). Why? Because it was pleasant and easy, and I don't have to fight with the formatting and configuration issues of other software. Writing concise to-the-purpose solutions is a primary reason for programming in the twenty-first century.

If blogs had phases, then this would be the second phase of mine. I'm not entirely sure what Phase 2 will consist of, but I'll figure that out. Happy 2010!

permalink January 1, 2010



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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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