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Why is programming fun?

Posted on 09 February 2006 by Demian Turner

Why is programming fun? What delights may its practioner expect as his 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 each snowflake.

Second is the pleasure of making things that are useful to other people. Deep within,
we want others to use our work and to 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
the 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 another the problem is ever new, and its solver learns something:
sometimes practical, sometimes theoretical, and sometimes both.

Finally, there is the delight of working in 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 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 separately from the construct itself. It prints results,
draws pictures, produces sounds, 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.

Fred Brooks, The
Mythical Man-Month

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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Hallvar Says:

    Absolutely beautiful! I need to read that book! Thanks for the heads-up.

  2. Brian McNitt Says:

    “In this respect the programming system is not essentially different from the child’s first clay pencil holder ‘for Daddy’s office.’” — I once made a drawer-based knife holder for my Mom’s kitchen which consisted of two pieces of mismatched scrap wood, some off angle cuts to hold the knife blades and more than a handful of bent nails and staples to hold the whole thing together. Sometimes I feel like some of my programs resemble the knife holder. (At what point does that feeling go away?) Well, twenty-five years later my Mom still uses the knife holder and most of my early web apps are still in production so maybe I shouldn’t feel that bad. 😉

  3. raul Says:

    ok programming to be happy but how to beguin? what do you recommend to pbeguin, what program?

  4. Brian McNitt Says:

    That depends. What do you hope to do in programming?

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