Thursday, June 23, 2005

Simple pleasures

Oddly enough, one of the things I rarely have time to do these days is sit down in front of a computer and program. Ironic, isn't it? For me, though, programming is something I do best in large chunks of time, rather than in little pockets here and there, which explains why I don't do much of it during the academic year. I like to have time to think about what I'm doing, plan things out, try things out, and debug. I don't do as well when I have to pick up a program a few weeks or a few months after I started it (even if I've commented it pretty thoroughly, which I typically do)---it's hard to remember my train of thought, my flow of ideas, my conception of the program at the time it was written. I guess this is similar to how some people write: it's difficult to pick up the thread again if you've set aside a paper or a manuscript for some time, even if you've written scrupulous notes. There's a creative energy that you feel in the moment that gets lost over time.

So anyway, I'm really enjoying the process of programming for my research, rather than writing piddly little programs for my classes. Programming is not something that I was fabulously good at early on, and it's not the reason I got into my field. But as I get older and (hopefully) wiser and learn more about the process of programming, and get better at it, I find that I enjoy it much more. Programming is surprisingly creative, and it's the ultimate problem-solving exercise (as I like to tell my students). You need to make the computer do X, so you write a program to do X, and invariably it doesn't work so you have to do a whole bunch of troubleshooting/detective work to get it to do X. When it works, it's very empowering. And just knowing you have the capability to make it work, with some persistence and patience, is empowering as well.

I would not want to be a computer programmer---I like that programming is just one part of what I do and of what I can do. But I like that I'm rediscovering the joy of programming, a skill that's so basic to my field, a skill that I spend so much energy getting my students to learn and to enjoy during the school year.


Ianqui said...

I could always see in the abstract why programming is attractive, but I've always hated actually doing it. I rarely program anything now, but I sometimes tweak other people's programs, and even that's a pain. Even HTML is a pain! I really wish I liked it though, because it would be SO SO useful to me. Fortunately, my husband likes it and is good at it, so I do have a recourse.(So much more useful than a husband who mows lawns and fixes cars...especially here in NYC...)

Jane said...

Ianqui, I can relate, because I used to absolutely hate it too. In fact, the first programming course I took in college was a disaster---I failed miserably at it, and it shook my confidence for quite a long time afterwards. For me, the difference was when I finally started having some success with it and gained some confidence in my own abilities. And, on an unrelated point, I think my early struggles actually help me be more attuned to the struggles some of my students have in learning to program.