Monday, March 05, 2012

Why Coders Code

I learned something about programming, or rather programmers, while listening to NPR's Morning Edition a few minutes ago.

Apparently the human brain makes predictions all the time. I lean toward my beloved and predict the direction her head will turn so we don't bump noses; I predict what her lips will feel like, and so on. I extend my arm toward the mug and predict the sensation of warmth and the smoothness of the cup's surface my fingers will feel; I predict the aroma that will greet my nose as I raise it; I predict the deliciousness of the coffee as the hot liquid passes my lips.

When the predictions turn out to be correct, my brain gets a shot of dopamine, which makes me feel good. This good feeling is a bonus -- beyond the delicious kiss or the delicious coffee is the delicious feeling of having predicted correctly.

When a programmer writes a piece of code and it functions as expected—or should I say predicted?—that's a good feeling. Even if the code does nothing intrinsically pleasurable (this describes most of the code I've ever written), the feeling of having predicted correctly is still a nice psychic reward.

Of course we still need to get paid so we can pay our bills, etc., but as for why many of us would rather write programs than write slide presentations— it's probably got something to do with that good feeling from seeing those predictions fulfilled.

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