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Programming and fun…

In my youth I loved to build things: rockets, rocket cars, telescopes, slot car tracks.  Some of my favorite toys included the Edmund Scientific Kit, Erector Set, and the Visible Engine.  All of this was before I got involved in computers and programming.  I knew about computers from the early space program and from my dad’s work.  I didn’t get to actually touch a computer until the fall of 1969 when I entered Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and wrote my first Fortran program.  I’ve been hooked on computer programming from the time I experienced the successful output of my first program.  The computer was the college’s IBM 360 model 40 computer.  It was fun to be able to create a program from lines of source code.  For the past 37 years I have continued to have fun playing about computer architecture, learning file systems, data structures, programming languages, compilers, operating systems and more.  It has never stopped being fun.

Fred Brooks, in his book “The Mythical Man Month”, describes five reasons why programming is fun:

  • The sheer joy of making things
  • The pleasure of making things that are useful to other people
  • The fascination of fashioning complex puzzle-like objects of interlocking moving parts and watching them work in subtle cycles, playing out the consequences of principles built in from the beginning
  • The joy of always learning
  • The delight of working in such a tractable medium

The is a good starting list of why programming is so much fun. Here are a few more reasons that I would add to the list:

  • The enjoyment of working with other programmers in a team
  • Being able to play with leading edge computer hardware
  • Helping to debug complex software systems that someone else built
  • Building developer tools that are useful to others and that I can use myself
  • Meeting and communicating with top industry experts in our software field
  • Being able to visit with our customers around the world
  • I get paid to play

How about you? Why is programming fun?

{ 18 } Comments

  1. Jim Roberts | August 19, 2006 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    "If it isn’t fun and profitable, what the hell are you doing in the business?" — Robert Townsend, "Up the Organization"

    The only (main) business principle I live by. I was given a toy when I got out of school and haven’t had to go to work yet. My boss(es) get a kick out of that but they have always agreed. Young guy came in on an interview and said "I’m passionate about programming!" I didn’t need to hear any more (almost). He’s been one of the best.


  2. Ruud Schmeitz | August 19, 2006 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Because it’s a combination of intelligent and creative work.

    And the fact that you’re in control: you don’t get pushed around, it’s you that’s

    pushing the computer around.

    Well, sort of …


    BTW David, do you still enjoy your telescopes ?

  3. Nevel | August 20, 2006 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    I escpecially love:

    * Shaping, reshaping and optimizing both tools and the differrent objects/components they consist of

    * Creating what I envisioned ("Hm, given the following facts, it *must* be possible to build software that will [yadiyadiya]")

    * Regarding myself as a "code master", being some kind of nerdy super hero ;)

  4. Russell Holcomb | August 21, 2006 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    I have been ask many times "How can you sit in front of that computer all day". I thought about that a good bit and came up with things like, nearly instant gratification, ability to be creative, the pride of seeing my work used by other people, etc. But I think the thing about it that really hooks me is taking a machine that was designed for no purpose in particular and making it do anything I want.

  5. Theodore Dennis | August 21, 2006 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    I like programming and designing systems because it is a pure outpouring of my passion. The joy that I get from users using my systems and the benefit that it bring to them to make their lives easier, is more than can possibly be described. Though challenging at times, I do not look at it as a job. I look at it as a hobby that I have had the tremendous opportunity to evolve into a career. The tools I use (those from Borland and others as necessary) help to fuel the passion. I see it as an art form and a challenge to take a sometimes mundane database design and present to end users in a way that users enjoy using it.

  6. Charles Hodgkins | August 21, 2006 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Ahh, the fun I had making things as a child.

    It’s true that I still get to make things (software) that are just as much fun.

    Thanks, David, for the links to Erector (I called it Meccano in Australia) and the V8 engine.

  7. Kristofer Skaug | August 22, 2006 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    Agree with all of the above, and would like to add: A favorite programming moment is when I get to fix a bug in code that already has a good unit test. Such work is often akin to putting golfballs into a neutron star’s gravity well; I get this "can’t-go-wrong" feeling, as if I could do it blindfolded (it makes me want to loudly revive this old David Letterman hang-up: "He shoots - he scoooores!"). Bottom line: It’s the sweet return on past investments in solidly engineered code.

  8. Richard Ware | December 14, 2006 at 6:48 am | Permalink

    Programming is a mix of art and science. The feeling of butterflies when getting close to the production version is like no other feeling. Insure you have a separate test group to shake out issues you may overlook.

  9. David Krings | December 14, 2006 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    For years I dreaded programming. I had to declare tons of stuff and include tons of other stuff and before I got a grip on all that I didn’t have a "Hello World!" on screen and didn’t have any motivation left to go on. Since the days of the C64 were gone where one turns on the machine and can start writing code, the truth was that I hate programming and programming hates me. And then I came across PHP. What a joy! I got text to show up in no time, I could finally make something out of form submissions and the whole world of browser based applications opened up, but not to gobble me up, but to provide me with a nice environment that my non-software-developer brain could understand. Sure, later on I found out the hard way why it is good to declare variables and assign a value to them before using them the first time. I started hitting problems that were solved by applying well-known techniques, I started appreciating IDEs and debuggers. I also learned the hard way why comments and documentation are as important as good code. And with using MySQL I finally could make tools for searching through the collection of all my pictures, videos, and MP3s. The whole experience was ‘the other way around’. I wasn’t bored to death by some unenthusiastic teacher or a horribly written book that spent dozen of hours to explain the framework and the right way to do stuff. Yes, that is important, but it comes with time and it is so much easier understood when one finds out him/herself why it is a good idea. Yes, programming is fun, but way too often is ‘fun’ not part of the curricula of the universities’ Computer Science programs. This is why we have quite a few programmers who are plain miserable and let everyone know about it through their code.

  10. Chuck Kinney | December 15, 2006 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Once you learn the programming language/environment, you get to learn the end-users ‘job’ so you can program effectively to help them.

    As you change companies/projects there are always new end-usrs jobs to learn.

    IE: I’ve had to (gotten to) learn about the rental car, airline & telephone industries; sections of the military; state & federal governmental activities like facility management, social services, and holding elections.

  11. Mike Tashker | December 15, 2006 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    I love features. I love creating them, I love using them. Remember Mad magazine? You got to turn the pages around to see the jokes the writers had inserted in various places around the magazine. Code’s like that. Not jokes (necessarily), but neat things to ease people’s day. I get that feeling whenever I load up an updated version of an IDE. I get to turn it

    upside down to see the good stuff people have done for me. Then I get to make my own good stuff. Love it.

  12. Jonathan Danylko | December 18, 2006 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    I’ve always loved programming since an early age of 10/11.

    The biggest thing I like about programming is finding out a technique that is so slick and savvy, it completely blows you away when you see it working.

    I also followed up to this post here:

  13. Tom Hines | December 18, 2006 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Programming is fun because I get to daydream all day and get paid for it.

    Also, If I’ve done my job correctly, there are certain problems I’ll NEVER have to solve again — just hook up the previous solution.

    Also, I can erase my regrets with either overRiding or overWriting.

  14. Ashraf | December 19, 2006 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    By profession, programmers and prostitutes are same, as both of them are getting paid for fun! But the difference si they are placed in deffrent views in society.

  15. Ashraf | December 19, 2006 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    By profession, programmers and prostitutes are same, as both of them are getting paid for fun! Lol!

  16. Brian in Africa | December 19, 2006 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    The highpoints of programming are those precious few occassions when you look back at some code you have written and you are amazed by it’s brilliance and simplicity and you wish you had written it. And then you remember, you did.

  17. philb | December 20, 2006 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    The draw of the wild frontier, getting into a covered wagon and heading for California.

    That is what programming is like for me. It’s the challenge of the unknown. Are we going to meet hostile natives around the next bend? Will it be a beautiful sunrise?

    It’s exciting.

  18. GSH | January 2, 2007 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Wow, I went into Aerospace Engineering and my love affair was the Fortran classes. I’m a creating perfectionist and by jamming in some code you could create beautiful solutions in no time via some cold crankbox.

    Anybody programming in Fortran yet?


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