in General

Why I Write Silly Things

[trigger warning: pretentious thinkpiece]

Tonight I was speaking with a new friend and the topic of what we do with our free time came up. In the course of describing what I do with my down hours (usually, coding), I realized I had never actually verbalized my reason behind this to anyone but her until then. At first glance, it may seem odd — I code all day; why would I want to do more of it in my free time, and especially dufus projects like what I usually pick?

Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I believe code is art — all code, written by anyone, is a wonderful, dazzling window into who they are. I can look at the code of someone I’ve never met and see the fingerprints of other code they’ve read; the whispers of where they learned to code and what resources they’ve used since; whether they’re moving with excitement and recklessness or taking methodical, well-planned, heavily-tested steps; most beautifully, I can see how they break down complex concepts into components of a whole — how they parse and imagine, how they go about building something grand. Software is like stepping through a house and admiring the floor choice, the layout, the doorways, the staircases, and imagining what the architects and builders were considering and doing as it took shape. It is a pure form of transcendental joy for me to see and understand another’s code.

Then comes work. At work, my code is highly purpose driven — to do the job it is meant to and ultimately to get paid. For me, the code I write is often wrapped in ego and vanity — I want my manager to appreciate its effects; I want my teammates to admire its elegance or functionality; I want future maintainers to thank past-me for writing expressive, logical code. I’m a vain, proud person far more than I would like to be, and it’s hard for me to write code in a corporate context that doesn’t get mixed up with those personal demons. I seek to code creatively — to me, it is my personal art as much as my music or technical theater work — but ultimately, work is more of a commission piece than an outpouring of my soul.

When free time arrives, I usually end up doing something silly or useless more often than a tool for fellow devs or a useful utility. My biggest reason for this is that it’s an opportunity to learn or to express myself independent of ego. These projects won’t earn me technical accolades or praise for usefulness; I’m not earning any corporate brownie points. By picking a goofy core idea, I can hone my skills and make art that’s free from entanglements with my pride and vanity. It’s like making a painting I’ll never show the world; the same reason I prefer playing piano alone rather than for an audience — with no one watching, with no one to perform for, my art is uncompromised by my own desire to please others. I can disentangle my soul from my mind, and just make my art.