Wednesday, May 13, 2009

you are going to be a stunning programmer someday...

I heard this today, quite out of the blue, from a cow-orker who has been coding since I was in junior high school. I'd mentioned earlier in the conversation that I'd just written my first C program (it's very basic) and now had a better understanding of compiling and running C programs from the command line (one of the topics covered in the tutorial I'm working on), and so he asked me what I was learning in my coursework, and what my background was.

"English," I said, half apologetically. "Completely nontechnical."

"Wow," he said. "You are going to be a stunning programmer someday. Better than a lot of programmers who come from science and math backgrounds."

His reasoning was that with a strong grasp of language, grammar, syntax, and stylistics, I would become very good at it over time...and that I'd be able to do something that programmers from technical backgrounds often didn't--make my code readable, easy to understand and update. "Never mind the math," he said. "You can look it up, learn it later."

I don't know if that happy state of affairs will ever come to pass, but it's encouragement I really needed to hear right now. I am still fighting a tendency to see technology as something that's off limits to someone like me, to see a huge yawning gap between him (a subject matter expert) and me (a mere technical communicator). But when I mentioned the networking course I'd be taking, he said, "That's the kind of course that is a great leveler. You don't need a scientific background to understand networking. You'll be leaps and bounds ahead of people who don't have a formal background in networking."

And maybe it's a bit of a challenge: you will be a stunning programmer someday. An expectation to live up to. In other words: this is something that should, actually, come easily to me. And perhaps, if I force myself to to see it as a potential to reach rather than as a set of odds to beat, it will start to come more easily.

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