I don’t like programming as much as you

In his book Listen to This, Alex Ross profiles Marlboro Music, a summer retreat for classical musicians, with a particular focus on one of the festival’s directors, the pianist Mitsuko Uchida. In one anecdote, Uchida attempts to convince Romanian pianist Radu Lupu to visit Marlboro:

“I got very excited, describing how people do nothing but play music all day long. But he said no. His explanation was very funny. ‘Mitsuko,’ he said. ‘I don’t like music as much as you.'”

That sentiment sums up my relationship with software development.

Of course, Lupu has some level of dedication to his art, if winning the Van Cliburn competition in 1966 is any indication. At the same time, it’s refreshing to hear a performer of Lupu’s caliber admit to his limits, if only in jest.

I earn a living working with web sites and databases. I like it. The work day passes quickly when I’m head down in a project, turning an idea into a tangible product. Part of it is the wonder of getting something to work. The rest is ego in not letting that stupid bug or that idiotic configuration defeat me.

But there comes a point where the proverbial wall smashes into my face. HTML5? Node.js? Ruby on Rails? Hey, great! Wonderful! I’ll get right on that, but first, there’s this other project I’m working on that suits my state of mind right now. So I’ll get back to you.

There’s a lot of punditry out in the land of developer blogs about what makes a “good” developer/engineer/programmer/whatever. A lot of the talking points are the same — gotta be curious, gotta code outside of work, gotta have passion, gotta not treat it like some 9-to-5 job. If that’s the case, I was a damn good developer in the early 2000s, but I’m nowhere as good now.

Sorry, software engineering is not how I choose to center my life. It’s certainly how I choose to center my professional career, and I take those skills to other things I do. But I don’t like programming as much as you, and I don’t think that makes me any worse off.

Sure, I’ll code outside of work in moderation. I’m curious to a point, and my passion has its limits. But my 9-to-5 job is exactly that, and my “life” portion of my work/life balance contains more things than just code.

If anything has sustained my career for as long as it has, it’s a principle that drives any work I’ve done, be it music or journalism or development. Rands puts it succinctly and in italics: “We must not ship crap.”

Live by that and everything else falls into place.