Unlike many of my peers who started late careers in software, I’ve actually been programming since my early teens. Silly Harry Potter sites on geocities, BASIC programming and Lego Robotics in middle school enrichment programs, Java and MATLAB in college.
But it wasn’t until I was 25 that I finally decided programming could be a career. It was after an assignment at DevBootcamp where we parsed HTML from craigslist and displayed summary information on the command line. Then, I concretely understood how code is powerful and connective.
Was I crazy for not seeing this in all the other examples I’d encountered? Maybe. My predominant experience with code up to that point was games – mazes, space invader, etc. (And a bit of isolated laboratory data analysis.) I never feared studying software because of my gender or my perceived intelligence, but its conflation with games drove me away, because I consider games a waste of time.
There are good reasons for teaching with games – they are modular and isolated, and they have clear, satisfying goals. Programming as a career sometimes feels like a game, because it’s easy to focus on creating good code structures while disconnecting from ultimate uses, like “this is for running a corporate ticketing system.” And many of the failings of the tech industry are from forgetting that code has actual consequences (facebook news) or getting lost in an insular world (every app that mails you something inconsequential). So I think it’s appropriate to be wary of the games.
Let me tell you a story:
Once upon a time a fictional couple moved into an apartment in a house with three units. On each trash day, a fictional neighbor moved the trash cans ever-closer to the couple’s front door, eventually with a note. The couple, previously uninformed of a trash-moving arrangement but dazzled by this elegant hinting of their new duty, immediately felt ashamed of their lack of conscientiousness. They placed ‘Take out trash for apartment building’ onto their google calendars as a recurring weekly event. They planted an avocado tree as a peace offering. And everyone lived happily ever after.
I heard this fairy tale once (incidentally, it was while I made it up). Grumpy Neighbor, this is not your fairy tale. I imagine yours involves the bitchier half of the couple rolling her eyes and recalling the extremely lengthy, also passive-aggressive note about noise when they first moved in. And then deciding how to most effectively frustrate Grumpy Neighbor (who has never bothered to introduce herself). It’s worth noting that this bitchier half has a high tolerance for disorganization, and a low tolerance for taking unfair directions from the passive-aggressive.
Yes, that’s right – I’m the bitchier half. A misnomer, since I’m fully capable of solving mundane problems with my neighbors. But I will not be cowed into doing unfair chores because a neighbor indirectly tells me to. Instead, I’ll consider feigning ignorance until a certain someone can’t take the overflowing trash any more. Or I’ll consider lying and writing back “Sorry, we can’t take out the trash ever because we travel most weeks! Thanks for being so nice and taking care of it!” After considering more, I’ll likely be a good person and ask in person how we can fairly solve this situation.
So perhaps the lesson is this: if you want to write someone an annoying note, find a better way.
One of the few philosophical concepts I reliably remember is alienation of the worker. This is the idea that industrialization and capitalism reduce workers to their labor, leading to the alienation of the worker from the final products created. (Among other things. It’s a big idea. Sorry if I butcher it in the rest of this post.)
The negative side is when the full products of our work are hidden or unclear, and therefore our lives feels insignificant and untethered to reality. Or bittersweet/ironic images like a Foxconn worker seeing an iPad for the first time.
Maybe there’s a positive side too. Alienation reminds me of an observation that always astounds me – how dumb we all are as individuals, contrasted with how smart we seem as a species (in aggregate, over time, maybe). I think it’s funny that buildings are designed and constructed by combining the efforts of people who are just like me, when all I know about concrete is how it’s a mix of water with something powdery and greyish.
I wonder if my ultimate career goal is to escape alienation of the worker by building a full spectrum of understanding in a field. In software-land, I imagine this is why there’s this mythology of “full-stack.” Controlling a large range of your work decisions and possessing a contextual understanding of its significance is the opposite of feeling alienated. Perhaps artistry is the name for this.
Before this month of daily blogging, I hadn’t bothered to visit facebook in months, maybe a year. The last two weeks I’ve been reading everyone’s posts and wondering if I’ve missed something. It feels like my friends suddenly grew up and now everyone reads the news instead of taking photos of their food. Is this for real? Or is it an effect of facebook’s wacky algorithms? Or just election season? I can’t tell! But even though most of my friends are thoughtful and well-read people discussing important events, it somehow makes me feel more lonely than hermit-like disconnection.
Maybe it’s because facebook is loosely directed, as in everyone posts content targeting acquaintances. I feel like I’m missing something because I don’t understand enough context for why people post what they post, yet I feel entitled to context because I actually know these people. Unfair!
Perhaps social networks are a connectivity fallacy. Maybe the best connections lie on opposite ends of the acquainted-ness spectrum. For example, a meaningful book (or a good blog!!) assumes no context and supplies or invents it, while a friendly email plays with mutually understood context. Maybe the in-between of talking to people who sort of know you is the most impractical way to communicate.
Going to the gym is unique in my list of activities, because I don’t enjoy it. I find the concept of enjoying the gym so absurd that while on okcupid, I refused to respond to any men who mentioned “going to the gym” or “working out” as an activity – I assumed they must be liars or boring. Because really, who else would publicize that they enjoy lifting something heavy over and over again?
Yet now I go to the gym and lift heavy things… so I’m a little less judgmental about it. These are my reasons for going:
- Well, initially I went because Max (boyfriend) does it. It’s great to have a partner who plays a tiny violin for you when you whine.
- Then I complained to my therapist about how futile it feels to lift heavy things, and she recommended a book about women’s biology (Woman: An Intimate Geography). Apparently it’s great for retaining bone density.
- I decided lifting weights makes me a little better at figure skating.
- I hope it makes me less embarrassing at lifting heavy things in my normal life.
- It is uniquely freeing to be terrible at something as an adult.
The Boring Gym Routine
Step 1. I follow Max around the gym and he points at things for me to lift.
Just kidding, mostly. The following is a plan that he decided on after much research and consulting with a body-building friend. It includes mostly compound exercises, which are the most efficient for beginners.
- 3 days a week, with 1 or 2 days between workouts
- Alternate between workouts 1 and 2 below
- Warm up for 5-10 minutes before lifting. Max does a stair machine, I do some off-ice “training” (essentially hopping up and down and rotating in skating-specific ways).
- Bench press
- T-Bar Row
- Tricep extension
- Calf raise or box jump
- Pull-up (I do these at an assisted machine. Have never been able to do a pull up in my life)
- Shoulder press
- Bicep curl
Like any enlightened, mindful, in-pursuit-of-ultimate-career-and-life-fulfillment yuppie, I usually make a big deal about filling my time with activities that I consider naturally “enjoyable,” where the practice is naturally engaging, and I also get the satisfaction of an end result (like programming or skating). It’s okay to do something boring once in a while that’s good for you.
Let’s go to the beach! Are you all packed?
Wait, what is this? Flip flops? No, no. Sunglasses? Really, not cool. Swimsuit?? What are you thinking?
I considered the beach dumb until I moved to Oregon (and started visiting ‘the coast’ instead). I dislike east coast sand, the crowds, the noise, the resorts, and most of all, I hate how sexualized beaches are. Why is it acceptable to wear lingerie at the beach? Why is ‘beach body’ a term? And why is that one Sports Illustrated issue so famous? Blegh! It seems that because sexualization is a predominant marketing strategy, we’re pushed to consider too much of our lives through the paltry lens of “is this sexy or not sexy?”
That’s why the Oregon coast is cool. Literally, it’s 50s-60s year-round! Too cool and misty to warrant any wardrobe other than cozy layers with hoods. It’s instead a place to think about big, multi-dimensional things – the ocean! the mountains! Jellyfish, mushrooms, shipwrecks, clouds, moss. I love moss.
There are many superficial, narcissistic concerns that are easy to obsess over because someone (likely a greed-motivated someone) tells us they’re the most immediate and pressing – like our appearance or our possessions. It’s gratifying to instead open our concerns to grander, wilder experiences.
Oregon coast tangents:
- All of Oregon’s 363 miles of coastline beach is public, which is a great idea and a nice political story.
- Astoria in Oregon and Astoria in New York is named for the same guy, John Jacob Astor. The book Astoria narrates two treacherous missions to Oregon in the 1800s.