‘The programmers have a huge amount of agency in the world, because they can deconstruct, reverse engineer and write and construct and create these systems. People who can’t, don’t, and they have less power in the world because of it.’
I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Children learn from anything and everything they see. They learn wherever they are, not just in special learning places. They learn much more from things, natural or made, that are real and significant in the world in their own right and not just made in order to help children learn…We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions—if they have any—and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.
If you believed, as Starkman clearly does, that this view is not just incorrect but odious, that the current form of the newspaper remains a good general fit for public interest journalism, merely going through a rough patch, then you’d be eager to dial down the ‘try anything’ ethic in favor of the hard, grinding work of rebuilding and shoring up the institutions that have served us so well these last several decades.
But if you believe, as I do, that many of those institutions are so mismatched to the task at hand that most of them face a choice, at best, between radical restructure and outright collapse, well, in that case, you’d probably find the smartest 25 year olds you know, and try to convince them that now would be a pretty good time to start working on Plan B.
Specifically this blog post by Avdi Grimm: http://journal.avdi.org/i-neckbeard.
Regarding RMS, Steve Jobs, and open versus closed systems, I’ve come a long way since my Linux zealot days and this recent round of spouting off from all corners of the internet is enough to make me end my charitable giving to the FSF. “Disappointed” best describes my feelings. I’m sad that there are camps in this issue and the FSF side can’t see past the tall fence they’ve built around theirs.
We’ve built our careers on the fact that there are not strict dichotomies in software between open and closed. I have seen a lot of give, and remarkably little take, even from the corporate fringes surrounding professional Ruby development. I’ve enjoyed immensely working in and with open source software and the community that surrounds it, and I don’t believe any form of “I don’t care, Steve Jobs was an evil man” represents that community.
RMS dragged an interesting topic for private discussion over a cup of coffee or beer onto a pulpit, not cool.
In response to one of the biggest Twitter conversations I’ve ever been involved in (67 chars of just usernames), I thought I’d jot down exactly what I’m trying to say with regards to Figure 53’s current, tentative search for a designer.
Before I start, I confess to ignorance of the professional practice of design. I ask that if you are a designer you afford me a measure of grace and not assume I am denigrating you or your profession intentionally.
Also, I do not speak for Figure 53 in any official capacity. I am an employee and do not sign the checks, although as much as we tend to run on a consensus basis, my voice counts in the decisions of the company.
I am a programmer. I write code all day and mostly my screen looks like this:
In the world I inhabit some skills are very difficult to pick up on-the-job. For example: logical thinking, the ability to visualize data structures in one’s head, the ability to make connections quickly between disparate ideas, the ability to learn quickly when things change (things always change), and the ability to speak a highly structured foreign language or many such languages fluently.
You don’t have to be “smart” to be a good programmer, but most folks who are good programmers seem “smart”. These are all “smartness” things, they could be called general talents or skills, and seem like they would be very difficult to learn. I don’t believe they are native or born into a person, but it seems likely that there is a strong natural predisposition towards their development in some people more than others.
Some things I do during the day are much easier to learn while working. Those are things like, how a particular editor works, how to use source code management (SCM) tools, or the particulars of the programming languages in use on the current project.
This distinction is subjective and is based on my personal journey into programming professionally. On my last gig I came in as a programmer but I knew very little about the language, editor, or SCM tools but I picked them up as I went along. In the meantime, I wrote working code and contributed in a real way.
You might say I came to the job with the necessary talents and the general skills, but I learned the specifics required by the job after I got there.
Just the highlights. I’m using EmbedTweet for embedding, try reloading the page if the messages don’t appear.
It started with:
Then Brian said:
Then Chris replied:
Then Brian split a longer thought across two messages:
And Elizabeth added her voice:
And Brian, again with the double:
Jonathan Julian joins jovially:
I join, attempting to cram too much into two messages:
Let me explain.
By “tools of the trade” in the first message I’m describing the actual specific technologies we use to get our jobs done. Things like particular image formats, particular resource management tools (http://mac.github.com/ is killer), and the specific graphic language we’re looking to use can all be learned on the job.
Regarding skills, our goal is to make beautiful software tools that work well. The “work well” comes largely from our skill in building the tools in such ways that they don’t break and when they do, they’re easy to fix. The technical skills that allow us to build such software we already possess (he says, arrogantly). The design skills that allow our company to make them beautiful and truly work well, we do not possess. Where we have produced things that people consider beautiful we have had to struggle, hire out, try repeatedly, or spend more time than is comfortable experimenting. It’s my belief (and I think the others share it) that by adding dedicated design talent to our company, we’ll be able to go much farther, much faster.
I would expand on the second message by saying that I want Figure 53 to hire someone who would work full-time on the visual design elements of: our corporate materials, our applications, and anything else we produce that has a visual aspect. Chris has said the same. It is necessary that they work digitally (on a computer) and are fluent in the medium in which our products are based (also computer).
It is not necessary that they be able to build web pages, slice PSDs, or design a complete desktop application UI from scratch. Also not necessary for them to design exclusively for digital mediums, but it would be difficult to do the work we want to do with a person who designs exclusively for physical media.
The “too much beauty wasted on marketing” jab doesn’t really add but is me criticizing our culture’s celebration of advertising and its resulting drain on the incredible talents of some of history’s great designers. Why create ephemeral work to sell snack food or TV shows when you could build tools people use every day, love dearly, and remember for most of their lives? I don’t want to go any further down that path, I’ll finish by saying “It’s great work, but…” and nodding towards Jonathan Ive and raising my eyebrows meaningfully.
Back to the thread.
Kate responds to my comments:
After that, I think we crossed wires, it’s hard to follow who was replying to who and as part of what conversation.
But at the end:
Design is more than photoshop.
This sentiment I agree with very strongly. I’d also add that design is more than web pages and design is more than icons. The “more than” would be very difficult for us to teach, the “Photoshop” we can help with if we have to.
In closing, Figure 53 wants to work with a great designer. A person who sees clearly what is difficult for us to see and can create with us beautiful tools that work great and people will love to use, because that’s what makes us happy. Everything else is details.
In response to “Is making software a craft and/or art form?” on Mike Subelsky’s blog.
Do you mean art like a product or artifact, or art like a creative practice? Defining art is not simple, using the word precisely is difficult. What do you mean when you say “art”?
The motivation behind the creators (programmers) prevents software development from being classifiable as art. There’s an aesthetic component for a lot of people and there is clearly creativity involved, but craft is much closer to what the process and product of software development is.
In the world of computer art, software development can often be involved, but the creator in that case pursues art as the product, the end goal. In my work as a software developer, I’m producing software as the end goal. A finished product that fulfills a particular set of requirements.
None of this prevents us from observing our practice and considering whether we are doing what we want to be doing in the way we want to be doing it. People’s response to “is software design X” reflects their motivations, not a truth that can be applied to another’s experience.
“Is making software a craft and/or art form?” is a subjective question and can only be answered subjectively. I think it’s craft-like in its repetitive practice and in the quality of the product strongly reflecting the skill of the creator. I think it’s not art-like, even though software making can be pursued for artistic purposes.
I guess what I’m asking for is a digital rendition of the commonplace book, and a serious rethinking of what advantages digital could provide in that context.
I mingled with the students and chatted with some of them. I got to know a young man named Ben who was seventeen. After talking with him for a while, I made a prediction:
In a few minutes, you and your friends will be asked to stand behind the podium and listen to the speakers. At some point, one of them will say something like: “This is a great day for Milwaukee because our children are our future.” When that happens, go over and grab the microphone away from whoever is speaking and tell him: “I’m here right now.”
The press conference began. The students were herded behind the podium. The president of the technical college welcomed everyone and introduced a representative from the National Council of La Raza who described the initiative. Then, he invited the superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools up to the microphones. The superintendent said: “This is a great day for Milwaukee because our children are our future.”
Standing behind the cameras, I made eye contact with Ben and gestured to him to do what I had suggested. He smiled shyly, looked down at his shoes, and shook his head. The press conference droned on to its conclusion. When it was over and the media people were packing up their equipment, Ben found me in the crowd.
“How did you know someone would say that?” he asked.
“Because,” I answered, “most of the people in the adult world don’t believe you’re here. They think you are somewhere else they call The Future.”