When I first went to university, I very soon had two favorite classes. The one involved coming up with an idea - a solution to a problem - and documenting it (why, how, the solution would work, etc). The second, was a class in TurboPascal. I ate it up. The language was ok, but mildly frustrating as I remember it. I didn't have a completely clear understanding of why and how, but I found it very magical to create. I could create - create anything I wanted or anything I could use the language to create (as languages, of all types, can easily become barriers unless you learn to properly employ them).
I'd been timid as a child. Intimidated by my peers, by my siblings, and by my surroundings. In my own element, where I found myself somewhat in control or completely knowledgeable about the subject at hand, I could find myself at ease, but apart from at the farm, or outside the classroom, I was out of my element. My peers, and siblings (and their offspring) found my excellence in the classroom as perhaps intimidating, or perhaps insulting or unworthy of recognition. But if that's one of two places where you find yourself at ease, its nigh impossible to stop performing well. Its not a question of impressing the right people, but, in my situation, any positive reinforcement feels wonderful.
I the business world, at least in my business world, I've found that excellence is rewarded, complemented, and appreciated. As a youth it lead to hostility, insult, jealousy, contempt and disrespect. Certainly, in the business world, these negative results can still be experienced, but I'd vouch to say that they emanate from adult bodies with insecure youths trapped inside.
But university is a place to be tried, rewarded, insulted, and generally instilled (tuned) with knowledge, ability, and understanding. And so I found comfort in creation. At first it was the simple ability to run a program - a simple program that put words on a screen. Any words I commanded the machine to put on the screen would be displayed (if I held to the rules - the syntax - of the language).
Yet my confidence and focus in university were battered and I let myself down. I didn't have the faith in myself that I could understand if I put in enough effort. So I didn't apply the necessary time on one lab that came back to haunt me in the final. My marks suffered and I left "First Year" with the desire to do something different.
Two years in France gave me a chance to learn - to learn about myself, about other people, about the world, and about where I found work most enjoyable. Again it was in front of a computer. This time the language was different - it was data organization and representation. Yet the task was the same - improvement. Using the computer to improve a process, simplify, reduce labour.
I am a machine.
I live to improve. Improvement comes through creation.
I am creation.
So I returned to university. I had worked, in the best and worst conditions all at the same time, in France and found confidence and ability and understanding in myself. I found my strengths. My patience and determination were improved. I found faith in myself and tolerance in my surroundings and peers. Their words would no longer stick to me. Though they may hurt - sting for a moment - I gained resilience and confidence.
I retook classes that challenged me before and prevailed. And I took a new programming class.
Those three syllables had been ominous to the old me - something beyond my abilities or opportunities. Like Calculus to Arithmatic, C++ to Pascal was seen, by the old me, as a higher level - a challenge that would surely be demeaning and frustrating, not something I would enjoy.
And yet, given the opportunity to receive instruction, I latched on and have not yet been filled. Soon I found myself using language constructs the instructor did not understand or appreciate and I found myself yet again conversing with the instructor (or teacher in the more youthful days) over how I was indeed correct.
Another year of school and the language became more clear and my abilities grew. Year over year I learned and grew and created. Soon it was another language, and another. Then it was how ALL languages work. And on reaching that point, the language specifically ceased to be important, as fitting the appropriate language to the problem at hand became more fun. Using the language that made the act of creation easier, or more enjoyable, is what happens now.
But the task is always the same.
Solving the problem. Creating the solution. Improving the process.
Yet software development is a hobby - a side-project. My skills improve in many areas, and as long as I learn and improve, I am happy.
But I do not shake this software addiction - nor do I want to.
(Originally written on a train to Seoul Nov 9 2005)