Software, The Art Form

Cory Doctorow as the guest on one of my all-time favorite podcasts, The New Disruptors, said the following:

Don’t quit your day job is advice you should keep even after quitting your day job. The odds are not with you maintaining a career through your whole life. There’s a recurring narrative where someone finds a pop star who was once in the top 10 and they are now working in an office as an insurance underwriter or something. And they go, “Oh my God, how is that possible? You were annointed!” Well that’s not the exception, right. That’s the norm, right. Most people who had careers in the arts where they were at the top of the field ended up just having anonymous lives for the rest of their lives after their stars peaked and after they faded away.

And that’s the people who reached the top of it. The people who reached near the top, ya know I’m in the 99th percentile, the people who got to the 99&5/9th percentile, those people too often finish their lives as university professors or as Vegas performers or fellowships or something but not living in the industry, not continuing to publish. This is the reality of the arts. This is not a new reality of the arts; it’s an ongoing reality of the arts.

When I was in college, the Computer Science program was apart of the math department. Computer Science, like mathematics, is consistent and stable. Computer Science, the academic study, was. In 1996 they were still teaching Pascal even though Pascal wasn’t used much in industry at all.

But once I graduated I realized that Computer Science, the real world form, was anything but stable and consistent. If anything, being a practitioner of Computer Science, wanting to learn and expand on my art, was about as unstable as it gets. At least if I wanted to practice the craft of writing I could use paper or a word processor or a typewriter, all of which can still be found today. Or, alternatively, I could be a Russian writer or French writer. Once I learned the language it was mine to wield how I wished for the rest of my life.

When I graduated from college, though, I chose to hone my craft in Computer Science at the hands of Palm OS. You know the value of being one of the world’s foremost experts on Palm OS code today? Nothing. The skill is worthless.

And that was one of my thoughts last week as Apple introduced an amazing array of new iOS and OS X capabilities, that’s what I thought about reviewing the plethora of announcements at Google I/O just a few weeks ago, and that’s what I think about every time I write JavaScript.

As much as us developers like to think of ourselves as scientists, we are in fact artists. Our craft is being able to take an archaic, confusing language that most people couldn’t understand if they wanted to and turn it into products, into apps, that come alive in our customer’s hands.

Our medium is code, but unlike mediums used in other art forms, ours are constantly evolving and changing, becoming more important and obsolete, more complicated and easier to use, all at the same time.