Why we program

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As programmers, we don’t really make anything. Oh sure, we write code, design applications, and create open source libraries. Yet we so willingly refactor away our hard work, delete and close down apps, and at the end of the day, really have little tangible outcome from the work that we do. Unlike a furniture maker or a home builder, we don’t have something we can touch and say, “I made that.”

Looking back through my career, precious little of the code I’ve written remains in production. This isn’t uncommon: for most developers, refactoring is a normal part of the job, and the HEAD branch tends to forget us if we’re not actively contributing.

So, if we don’t actually make something tangible, why do we do this? What is the point of spending hundreds of hours building something? What should we be doing with our programming to make it worth while?

Develop experiences.

Life is about experiences. Each experience creates a memory that we take with us throughout the rest of our life.

We should focus not on developing applications, but on developing experiences. Create something that helps another person have an experience that they’ll never forget. That may not be tangible, but it’s certainly impactful, and will long outlive the code written that made the experience possible.

Help others live better lives.

Programming can help people to live better lives, through making certain things easier, or bringing groups together. Etsy is a great example of this, and Rasmus Lerdorf talks about how Etsy helps connect purchasers around the globe with manufacturers in places that might otherwise be overlooked. Etsy helps local manufacturers make a fair wage for their work, and helps enrich the lives of those who purcahse these goods.

Technology empowers people to live better than before, through social interactions, finding a job, or just doing their work. As developers, helping someone live a better life should be a primary goal.

Preserve life.

I read a story on Twitter about a man who was in the hospital with a critically sick child, and who noticed that some of the equipment that kept his child alive was written using PHP. This is an extreme case of using software to preserve life, but also illustrates that developers can have a dramatic and direct impact in doing so.

Applications that help rescuers in disaster areas, that help coordinate relief operations, or that provide tools for managing health crises are important elements that help preserve life and protect others. It is a worthwhile cause, to develop with a mission.

Write applications for others.

Writing applications is about working for the good of someone else. It’s about doing something to help another person. Applications that make money are still written for the benefit of another person. Too often we lose sight of the fact that programming is about doing something for other people, and we get caught up in the morass that is coding standards, testing coverage, and clean code. Let us not forget that programming is something we do for the benefit of those who can’t do it themselves, and that the impacts we make will long outlive any code we wrote yesterday.

Brandon Savage is the author of Mastering Object Oriented PHP and Practical Design Patterns in PHP

Posted on 7/2/2015 at 9:00 am
Categories: PHP

Ɓukasz Wojciechowski wrote at 7/13/2015 3:48 pm:


Just wanted to say hi and that I 100% agree with you.

Helping others with my software was my strongest and first incentive to develop in first place.


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