I’ve recently started reading The Mythical Man Month by Frederick P. Brooks Jr., and I came across several paragraphs that brilliantly and elegantly capture the joy of programming and the reward of solving a problem in five different points. The following is a copy of page 7 of the anniversary edition. I would definitely recommend this book to any career programmer.
Why is programming fun? What delights may its practitioner expect as a reward?
First is the sheer joy of making things. As the child delights in his mud pie, so the adult enjoys building things, especially things of his own design. I think this delight must be an image of God’s delight in making things, a delight shown in the distinctness and newness of each leaf and snowflake.
Second is the pleasure of making things that are useful to other people. Deep within, we want others to use our work and find it helpful. In this respect the programming system is not essentially different from the child’s first clay pencil holder “for Daddy’s office.”
Third is the fascination of fashioning complex puzzle-like objects of interlocking moving parts and watching them work in subtle cycles, playing out the consequences of principles built in from the beginning. The programmed computer has all the fascination of a pinball machine or the jukebox mechanism, carried to the ultimate.
Fourth is the joy of always learning, which springs from the nonrepeating nature of the task. In one way or other the problem is never new, and its solver learns something: sometimes practical, sometimes theoretical, and sometimes both.
Finally, there is the delight in working with such a tractable medium. The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff. He builds his castles in the air, from the air, creating by exertion of the imagination. Few media of creation are so flexible, so easy to polish and rework, so readily capable of realizing grand conceptual structures.
Yet the program construct, unlike the poet’s words, is real in the sense that it moves and works, producing visible outputs separate from the construct itself. It prints results, draws pictures, produces sound, moves arms. The magic of myth and legend has come true in our time. One types the correct incantation on a keyboard, and a display screen comes to life, showing things that never were nor could be.
Programming then is fun because it gratifies creative longings built deep within us and delights sensibilities we have in common with all men.