Monday, June 6, 2011

How Studying Philosophy Helped Me Learn Computer Programming

A just spent an entire week being trained in the computer language I use at work.  Since I'm mostly a hands-on engineer rather than a code-jockey, I am accustomed to being "the slow one" in these classes, but not this time - this time the slowest ones in class were the programmers.  And they needed a shot of philosophy.

The program I use is different than other programs and has some very strange idiosyncrasies to it.  I have a hard time with these oddities, just like everyone else in the room, but I file it under "weird stuff" in my head and move on.  But not the programmers.  No, they complained.  "It's not like this when I work in Java," they whine.  "I want to do it this way instead of the right way, why can't I?"  "Why was it designed to want brackets instead of quotes here?  It's not like that in C++!"

All week I heard them crying out for justice and proclaiming the travesty of this language.  Meanwhile, I was working away and getting the class assignments finished.  Why was I able to press on?  Because I remembered what Marcus Aurelius said:

A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, "And why were such things made in the world?" (Meditations VIII. 50, trans. George Long)

but, for the computer programmers, I need to amend it, just a little:

A pair of brackets is open.  Close them.  The baud rate is not allowed.  Change it.  This is sufficient.  Do not add, "And why were nominal C+ standards not deployed?"

If I'm ever a certified expert in this software, which may happen by the end of the year, I'll be sure to thank the stoics.  Just don't tell Boethius.  (See, studying the humanities can help you in the real world!)

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