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Today I watched a TED talk by a Korean author called Young-ha Kim and he was discussing the artist inside all of us. He mentioned concepts like a father playing with his children’s toys and finishing the Lego castle long after the child had become bored. Most of us have suppressed our artistic interests in favour of all the serious stuff in our lives… if it doesn’t make money then it isn’t worthwhile.
He also talked about the concept of the “artistic devil” – the notion that when you have an idea, you’ll pause and think about it for long enough that doubts start to creep in. The artistic devil is the voice inside our heads that provides the hundreds of reasons not to do something: there’s more important things to do, it’s a lame idea, people will laugh at you, EastEnders is on.
Although he was talking about art and specifically creative writing, there are so many parallels with software development that it’s unreal. It struck me straight away and held true throughout the talk.
We can earn a good living in this industry but we have so many opportunities to be creative. Indeed, developers are often very creative and get involved in open source and other types of community projects. But it’s hard to take those first steps…putting yourself in the public spotlight and subjecting yourself to scrutiny is difficult, as though it’s going to be a massive weakness to be “wrong”. There’ll always be people around to criticise. I am always coming up with project ideas but almost every time I’ll sit on it and think about it and come up with so many reasons to not go through with it. But if it’s a bit crap, who cares? The point is to do it because it’s fun.
I was writing a stack overflow question today. It’s actually the first one I’ve composed. I typed it out, thought about it, created a jsfiddle, thought about it some more, reworded it, and couldn’t help but think that I shouldn’t need to ask for help.
But actually, even engaging with a community like stack overflow can be a creative endeavour. Thinking carefully about how to form a question takes skill and the process can be fun. And of course, if I am stuck with a problem, someone else will be.
As Young-ha Kim points out, we’re all born artists. It’s obvious when you see your kids drawing on the walls with their crayons or building a sandcastle that will inevitably be washed away. There doesn’t need to be a point.
I’m going to start work on a little project of my own. It’s got nothing to do with work, it’s not going to make me rich, it might be bad art. It’s taken me a long time to realize that as long as I enjoy sitting writing the code, that’s the only justification I need. Anything else is a bonus.
You can view the video here