kottke.org posts about David Auerbach

Getting high on programmingJun 20 2014

David Auerbach writes about the high you get from coding.

These days I write more than I code, but one of the things I miss about programming is the coder's high: those times when, for hours on end, I would lock my vision straight at the computer screen, trance out, and become a human-machine hybrid zipping through the virtual architecture that my co-workers and I were building. Hunger, thirst, sleepiness, and even pain all faded away while I was staring at the screen, thinking and typing, until I'd reach the point of exhaustion and it would come crashing down on me.

It was good for me, too. Coding had a smoothing, calming effect on my psyche, what I imagine meditation does to you if you master it.

Auerbach asserts that there's something different about the flow state one enters while programming, compared to those brought on by making art, writing, etc. Over the years, I've written, designed, and programmed for a living, and programming is, by far, the thing that gets me the best high. I've definitely had productive multi-hour Photoshop and writing benders, but coding blocks out the world and the rest of myself like nothing else. In attempting to articulate to friends why I enjoy programming more than design or writing, I've been explaining it like this: for me, the coding process is all or nothing and has a definitive end.

When code doesn't work within the specifications, it's 100% broken. It won't compile, the web server throws an error, or gives the wrong output. Writing and design almost always sorta work...even a first draft or an initial design communicates something to the reader/viewer. When the code works within the specifications, it's done. The writing or design process is never done; even a great piece of writing or the best design can be improved incrementally or even scrapped altogether to go in a different and potentially more fruitful direction. Maybe, for me, programming's definite ending is what makes it so enjoyable. The flow state comes from knowing that, while the journey is difficult and maddening and messily creative (just as with writing or design), there's a definite point at which it's done and you can move on to the next challenge. (via 5 intriguing things)

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