Saturday, March 14, 2015

Gratitude For Getting To Play

Lately I've been feeling a delight in my professional life for which I want to convey gratitude. It's a difficult feeling to describe, yet I imagine everyone experiences it at one time or another.

I've spent eighteen years as a computer programmer, slowly broadening and deepening my tool belt. During most of that time I felt pleasure at building upon my skills, and there's no question that I became more capable as time passed. But I can't recall feeling a perceptual sea change until about two years ago.

I would look at the code, and feel as though I was no longer seeing it as an assemblage of lines; I was seeing it as a shape in my mind's eye. I'd become familiar enough with its microscopic properties that I no longer had to think about them. Debugging or enhancing the code felt like playing with Tinkertoys.

During the last few weeks I've had a glorious opportunity to go back to the type of programming that I'm best at, and I'm getting that feeling more often than ever now. In my best moments, I feel as though I'm barely conscious of the details of what I'm doing; my hands are moving, and I'm pruning this and splicing that and extending the other and milling a new gear to pop in there. And the coolest thing is that I have a sense of what I don't need to look at. When I make a change, whether it's a fix or an enhancement, I see the flow of logic through that point and I know what that change will affect and what it won't. I imagine a mechanic with eighteen years of experience must feel like this. If she has enough experience with the qualities of the specific parts—how different engines behave and how the microscopic properties inform the macroscopic behavior—then she must reach a point where she doesn't really see the engine, yes? She sees what she needs to change and knows "Oh, yeah, I'll have to adjust this, that and the other thing." And she makes those adjustments not only without conscious thought, but without looking at the unaffected parts of the engine.

I'm smiling inwardly at all these metaphors, which feel a bit beside the point because the mental shift I'm trying to describe is metaphor. My brain has achieved a new level of abstraction, and it feels lovely. It feels joyous. It feels like a privilege.

I get to play. I'm a lucky guy.

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