As I begin moving towards app development — and, believe me, the thought that that might really happen is pretty shocking to me — the thing I find myself explaining to other people more than anything else is why I started programming.
There are a number of possible answers: I was a peripheral member of the techie-clique in high school, and, in a sense, it’s a matter of getting back to my roots. Every day I teach English to people who think very technically and having a few technical pursuits of my own gives me an insight into how they think.
More than anything else, though, it’s the same reason I like to try my hand at writing: the more I ‘consume’ software, the more ideas I have for new software. It’s like reading a great novel and then thinking, “I’d like to write a story with characters like that, but as students.” To my way of thinking, the logical next step is to fire up the word processor and start writing. Or, in the case of software, to try my hand at a little code.
And, that brings me to the greatest benefit of trying to program: I like to think it’s strengthened my theory of mind for computers. It’s clearly anthropomorphism to think of computers as ‘thinking,’ but I feel like it’s a pretty natural reaction to have to them. For a long time, I’ve annoyed (or thought I was annoying) my techie friends with questions like “Why can’t a computer automatically tag the people in my photos?” or “How hard is it to make a computer understand that open can be both an adjective and a verb?” And, while I haven’t found answers to those questions, my introduction to programming has given me a sense of what a computer can do easily (translation: I can do the code for it) and what is more difficult (everything else.)
This experience is what made me think that my idea for a story-telling app was pretty feasible. It’s what made me realize that making an app somehow understand (read: react to) the outraged outbursts of my kids when it made ‘mistakes’ in telling the story was way out of my league. But, seriously, why couldn’t I create something that would tell one of the many wacky stories that I tell my kids, but with simple animations (look, I just added something to the picture!) and touch response? It seemed reasonable!
I don’t know that I’ll ever make a dime off programming. And I’ve spent enough time teasing my father about his hobbies to know that children are seldom impressed by the ‘skills’ of their parents (unless you can kill a bear with your bare hands, that’s always impressive), so this seems to be something I’m doing for me. Nonetheless, it’s something I’ve definitely benefited by.