Words vs. Code

Writing and I have a complicated relationship.

In school, it's all I wanted to do. Tell a story. Communicate things to people. Over time, I started to take the occasional step back and look at where this was leading me: at 20 years old, as an editor at my university paper, I couldn't be sure where. Something was telling me it wasn't the right direction, but it felt so good to put my name on a piece of work and get it out there.

I could probably veer off in a direction about all of the things I was doing wrong back then, but it's not all that interesting, or even important. The biggest mistake I was making was ignoring what I truly wanted to do: write software.

But wow, I was shit at writing software. And it's damned hard to find the motivation to do something you're terrible at. It's even harder when you're taught that the way to get better is to hand in assignments of printed out code, numbered by line.

It's easier now to identify the things that were getting in the way, hindsight being 20/20 - but there I was, overwhelmed with the freedom of leaving home and sitting in a lecture theatre with six hundred other kids. Introduction to Computer Science. Please squint as needed to see the old guy using a slide projector to show you photocopied Java examples from an antiquated textbook. Oh, and ignore the pack of loud guys in the next row chugging cold shots and razzing the prof, because you're paying a ton of money to be here.

I guess I could also go on a rant about how large educational institutions are often ill-positioned to maneuver quickly enough to provide an effective education for aspiring programmers. But a guess that I just wasn't cut out for school would have just as much merit.

Writing was a way out. It had fewer rules, yet it still fulfilled my need to produce things. Whereas programming to me at that point had a "right" and "wrong" way of doing things, words were much more relaxed. Freeform. I could make something from nothing. That realization and ensuing honeymoon phase we experienced together was glorious until its point of collapse.

The shift was right around the time that I had to get serious about writing if it were to become the focus of my career. Suddenly my means of escape was being subjected to professional scrutiny, editing, and re-writing. I wrote less. Eventually, I wrote nothing at all. It's something I would experience again, in photography, before landing back on square one: code.

This year marks an entire decade since I started at UNB, and the industry has changed a lot since those days. You no longer need an undergrad from a centuries-old institution to contribute, or even compete. In many ways, programming has become much less daunting for me than writing. And now that I've found my place with the former, I'm finding myself missing the latter.

So here it is. My attempt at carving out a safe space for thoughts and ideas, a vent for my mind. Perhaps you'll find something useful here. If you do, that's great. But it's mostly here for me.

Doug Estey
Doug Estey

A software engineer in Toronto.