Below is Walt Whitman’s When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
The same poem read by one of the humans on Librivox
Read by the Character Gale on Breaking Bad
See the Pen JgjdjP by bluthgeld (@bluthgeld) on CodePen.0
Can you see the differences among these items?
Earlier this week I shared a link to a Twitter thread that had been making it round my timeline:
Until I hard read this thread I had never clocked the concept of a “10X developer.”
On, you haven’t either? That’s probably best for the best; it’ll save you from the anxiety of believing that it’s something you should be.
A 10X engineer or developer is said to be a man – always a man – who can do 10 times the work of the average developer in the same number of hours. Whether this man/machine hybrid actually exists in the meatverse is subject to much debate in the darkest depths of Reddit and the Twitter Machine. Still, that controversy hasn’t stopped developers and coders from putting “10X” in their bios/linked in pages, and hiring managers and Vulture capitalists like the dude above from hunting that particular Unicorn.
I’ve worked with these guys before. Not just Developers/Engineers, but also sysadmin, guys who couldn’t be bothered to put on clean jorts or show up for a mid-day meeting. He’s got more important things to do, like manning the ramparts against midnight blackhats or playing WoW.
To a Carpenter, Every Problem is a NailProbably Your Dad…
They are insanely good at ticking off the bullet points on their job description, there is no doubt about that. However, they fail at the soft stuff: working with others, listening, considering thoughts/feelings/opinions of anyone “nontechnical.” A developer with the attributes listed in the Twitter thread may be able to make magic, but only the magic that they want to create. You won’t have a conversation with them over the watercooler. And they will not see any solution to a problem that goes beyond their own experience with the world. To a Carpenter, Every Problem is a Nail.
Like white, male developers building facial recognition technology that mistakes black women for men, narrow thinking, tunnel vision, and limited experience can bake limitations into our code.
And that would be fine if HR and hiring managers were just looking for these magical beings, these 10X Unicorns. But executives, looking to maximize their hiring dollars, absolutely look for these attributes in the Quarter Horses1 who do the actual work of making a company full of actual human beings produce software to be used by other human beings.
If you ask about work-life balance during an interview and the hiring manager gives an ironic smile, you can believe there is none. They want 10X in 100% of their people.
The value of a Liberal Arts education has taken a beating, since at least the first half of the Clinton administration. I have a fine arts degree. When I left high school and took the Amtrak up to Boston to learn how to tell stories, many of my peers went into engineering, hard sciences, medicine, computer science. A lot of people thought I was insane.
Here’s a typical dictum, from Sun Microsystems cofounder Vinod Khosla: “Little of the material taught in Liberal Arts programs today is relevant to the future.”As said by someone who’s never read a book…
I can remember, distinctly, listening to Tom Friedman on some morning talk show, pontificating about how the world, as flat as it was, would need American’s to be the managers of the information society. An American (man), he implied, would be best served with a background in a very specific science or a very specific technical skill (like plumbing). Art, music, books, would still exist, of course, but for downtime, weekends, vacation. In the 90s, we were all headed for 4 day workweeks.
To the leaders of the free world, philosophy, history, art were hobbies to be pursued after we provided management to the workers of the world.
Still, it looks like the recognized value of a solid, well rounded liberal arts education is resurgent:
If we want to prepare students to solve large-scale human problems, Hartley argues, we must push them to widen, not narrow, their education and interests. He ticks off a long list of successful tech leaders who hold degrees in the humanities. To mention just a few CEOs: Stewart Butterfield, Slack, philosophy; Jack Ma, Alibaba, English; Susan Wojcicki, YouTube, history and literature; Brian Chesky, Airbnb, fine arts. Of course, we need technical experts, Hartley says, but we also need people who grasp the whys and hows of human behavior.
What matters now is not the skills you have but how you think. Can you ask the right questions? Do you know what problem you’re trying to solve in the first place? Hartley argues for a true “liberal arts” education—one that includes both hard sciences and “softer” subjects. A well-rounded learning experience, he says, opens people up to new opportunities and helps them develop products that respond to real human needs.
This blog is a self hosted WordPress blog. The WordPress motto is “Code is Poetry.” Until my time at Flatiron, I hadn’t thought someone would believe that.
Code, on the other hand, fails completely when syntax and structure is not met exactly. Remove this line from the codepen above and see what happens:
const main = document.querySelector('main')
Code is a set of specific instructions from a human to a compiler on a computer. It may be satisfying to write it well, to achieve the same programming objective with fewer lines than the time before. To be efficient. Code itself transmits no meaning or feeling to a reader; what it produces may, but the code itself does not.
Code is the book. Code is the paper, the letterpress, the type, the ink. Code is the glue and binding. Code is even the postage stamp and brown kraft padded envelope that brings a slim volume of poetry to my house.
But it’s not the poetry. Words infused with human feeling and human thoughts, absent precise grammar, syntax, or even punctuation can still bring joy to the reader, bridge understanding between two people. The same is not true with code. Broken code fails completely to impart meaning to neither a human nor a computer. Code, when successful, is meaningful for what it imparts, not what it is.
Anyone can write a poem. Anyone can write code.2 To believe that they are somehow equivalent constructions betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of art and communication between actual people. In much of my reading, some work experience, and the links above suggest that there are those in our field that make hiring and firing decisions based on the idea that the arts and soft sciences are not important. That a coder should have no interests other than code. That coding is *the* solution, not the mechanism for delivering a solution.
If we don’t know or care about how people will use our software, we will fail. Or worse, create problems that cannot be refactored out of our code. See Facebook and disinformation or Twitter and hate. Both of these entrenched problems stem from a fundamental lack of understanding by their creators, willful or otherwise, of how humans use their products or how people share ideas. Zuckerberg and Dorsey can not see solutions to the problems they have created for our society. Not because there aren’t solutions, but rather, their owners do not have the imagination (or access to people with that imagination) to identify or implement solutions.