The Millions

To Your Left Is Coding, to Your Right Is Safety: Programming Stories

1.
The logic of novice programming goes something like this:

Run function (x, y)

If x is greater than y:

Do this

Else if y is greater than x:

Do that

Else:

Something else happens.

I quickly learned that computers don’t like choice, and they don’t like the unexpected. If you fail to anticipate every scenario or condition—say, that x and y might be the same number—it will shout at you and stop working. If you tell the computer that x is A and y is 6 it will shout at you and stop working. As a bad novice programmer, I know this from experience. Treat the computer like someone you don’t trust to turn off the lights and lock the door without careful instructions. Be that micromanager who tells his employee what font to use and how to stack the coffee cups. Forget all you’ve heard about AI and machine learning and algorithms. Novice programming is a bit like running army drills. First do this, then that. Then loop back and do it again.

I have a humanities brain, or at least it’s trained that way. I told myself I was a bad programmer could not resist a touch of Victorian sentiment. The marriage was not simply a logical consequence of the death of the first Mrs. Rochester. First this, then that.

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