Sympathy for the developer

developerscode profile image Ka Wai Cheung ・2 min read

In most other art forms, the end product is final. A song. A novel. A painting. A movie. A sculpture. A dish. Critics may revere or denounce it, but the end result is the end result. The artist puts a stamp on it and moves on to create something new.

In most other art forms, the audience directly consumes the art. When you read a beautifully crafted story, you read the very words the author wrote. When you admire an oil painting up-close, you see the very strokes the painter made in the process of creating it. When you listen to your favorite song, you hear every note in the exact way the musician intended you to hear it.

In most other art forms, great works become better with age, like the guitar riff on "Stairway to Heaven" or Van Gogh's "Starry Night". They don't lose their lust over time. If anything, the opposite happens—they're looked upon with even greater reverence as time goes by. It's why, six centuries later, people still wait in long lines at the Louvre to be within ten feet of the Mona Lisa, a painting that only stands a couple of feet long and wide on its own.

In most other art forms, the audience shows deference to the artist. I remember reading "The Sound and the Fury" in high school. If you've ever read it, you'd be familiar with William Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness style of prose. Though a 17-year-old version of me would've argued that this was simply a quick trick to meet a publisher's looming deadline, most would be appalled by my suggestion. Instead, it's high art and it falls on us as readers to consume those words, break them apart, and make sense of it all.

But, writing code isn't like most other art forms. We get none of these returns.

Our end product is only final if it fails. If, on the other hand, our product succeeds, we need to continually apply our art against it. We are in the constant battle between applying more of our art to it and ensuring we're not drowning the product in it.

Our art is hidden from the purview of our audience. What may be a masterfully-crafted, elegantly-written piece of code will go unnoticed to the user because everything went...right.

We don't pay homage to the past. No developer looks back at that Flash site from 1999, or the RSS reader they wrote in 2004 and says to themselves, "They don't make 'em like they used to."

And if a spinning loader revolves one too many times for a user's liking, it is met with disappointment and disdain, not with the idea that perhaps the complexity of the situation more than merits the wait.

And, rightfully so. Our art, as difficult as it sometimes is, serves primarily a utilitarian purpose. That's just the way this form of art shook itself out.


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