Balanced Life -- Why Is Computer Programming Fun? (For Some People.)

Balanced Life -- Why Is Computer Programming Fun? (For Some People.)
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Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day.

This Wednesday: Five reasons for the joys of craft, or, Why is programming fun?

I recently read (sort of) Frederick Brooks's The Mythical Man-Month. As I understand it, this book is a cult classic, and I was very curious to read it. It's about software project management, and even though that's a subject about which I know nothing, I found the book very interesting -- that is, the parts I could understand.

My favorite section was a discussion of "The Joys of Craft," in which Brooks answers the question, "Why is programming fun?" This question interests me because it's such a good reminder of my Secret of Adulthood: Just because something is fun for someone else doesn't mean it's fun for me -- and vice versa.

Nothing is inherently fun. Some people find computer programming fun, or skiing, shopping, drinking wine, doing crossword puzzles, playing tennis, knitting, fly-fishing, watching American Idol. I find none of these things fun. But then, some people wouldn't enjoy blogging -- or reading books about computer programming! Which I do find fun.

But apart from the particular fun (or not) of computer programming, Brooks had a great list of the reasons that "craft" is fun:

1. "The sheer joy of making things." Not to be underestimated.

2. "The pleasure of making things that are useful to other people." Seeing other people take delight in what we've created, or benefit from something we've done, is enormously satisfying.

3. "The fascination of fashioning complex puzzle-like objects...and watching them work." Getting something to WORK. An under-appreciated joy. Gosh, when I finally got some songs to load into my iPod, I thought I would break into song.

4. "The joy of always learning, which springs from the nonrepeating nature of the task."

5. "The delight of working in such a tractable medium. The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff." True -- but the opposite of a profound truth is also true, and I think there's a mirror pleasure to be gained from dealing with actual, physical, tangible materials.

Reading this discussion reminded me of Stuart Brown's styles of "play personality," which, as several commenters pointed out, seemed to omit the computer-programmer's kind of play, though perhaps it is encompassed in Brown's #7.

The more I've reflected on the nature of happiness, the more convinced I've become that an atmosphere of growth is a key to a happier life. Making something, fixing something, helping someone...these kinds of activities give me enormous energy and zeal. William Butler Yeats wrote: "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor thing thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing."

How about you? Do you get happiness from the "joy of craft"? What kinds of activities bring you that joy? More and more, I'm making sure that I have plenty of the atmosphere of growth, and the joy of craft, in my life.

* Speaking of the joy of creating something, and also of the things that I find fun, I'm intrigued by the site Uncovered Cover Art -- "a sketchbook of reimagined children's books." Different artists create their own covers for children's books. Fascinating!

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