Thursday, April 28, 2011

Making stuff

As some readers may know, in real life your humble Devil designs software. I have only really started doing it formally in the last eighteen months or so and it is a massive learning curve.

Whilst you might have a vision of what your software should look like and how it should operate, things never seem to come out quite as you imagine: you are learning how code works, you are constantly learning new paradigms, constantly understanding your markets, adapting to laws and embracing new technologies—and, most challengingly, you are (almost certainly) trying to realise your vision with vastly limited resources.

Which is why I find this quote from Ira Glass—as transcribed by Daring Fireball from this video—so incredibly apposite...
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.

I have, indeed, gone through years of this—and in several professions. I spent many years trying to produce great art in the medium of print, before taking my first hesitant steps in web design.

I'm not sure that I have ever produced really great work in pure website design—but in the area of software design, working with fantastic developers, I am finally producing really great work (it's the combination of problem-solving, elegant code, workflow design and aesthetic beauty that captivates).

And with the new system that we are about to embark on, it is just getting better and better and better...

But (lest the above seem overly self-congratulatory) one of the things that continues to drive me on is that my "work disappoints" me still—it could and should be better. But that is, at root, why I continue to love my job (and neglect The Kitchen)—because I know I can do better, and because the people that I work with not only give me the freedom to try, but the skills and the creativity to realise it...


Kevin Monk said...

Loving the passion for your work! That's how I feel. I too work in web development and it really feels like you're a pioneer sometimes. Not as a solitary explorer but as a team who are working together, clambering on shoulders and looking over new horizons. I love it! What a great profession web development is.

My latest passions are document based DBs like MongoDB and CouchDB and Objective-J frameworks such as Sproutcore and Cappucino. It's very uplifting to see how you can apply these technologies yourself but even more so to see just how innovative and resourceful humans can be.

I think this might be why so many libertarians are programmers and web developers. We get to see each day what people can achieve when you take the shackles off.

Ade said...

I don't think I've ever got past the "work disappoints" stage, except for brief periods, occasionally... and I've been programming for 25 years (18 of which professionally).

In my case it (generally) drives me to find better & simpler solutions, I'm a huge fan of KISS - both on the code side & on the UI side - and, every now & then, you get to sit back & marvel at something you produced, from nothing. And it feels great.

Then Fred the customer wants it to do "y and z" as well as "x", and it all starts again...

I took up machining as a hobby - partly because it's totally different to software, and because it's still creative. Plus, if it all goes wrong, you've got something substantial to throw across the room. And it makes lots of noise, burning smells, and at the end of it you can look at a finely made piece and get that same satisfied feeling of "I made that". I can highly recommend it (machining) as a hobby for disillusioned and aging computer programmers.