“Bruce has two rules,” Shad tells us, on our first week at work. “His first rule is that you should be most comfortable where you’re spending most of your time. That’s at work, so you should make your cubicle and your computer as comfortable as possible.”
“And the second rule?” I ask.
“The second rule applies in the same way, only at home.”
“Oh,” I say.
That evening, I set out to make my Ubuntu-booting laptop pretty. Colours, icon sets, font rendering and resolution – nothing is free from my desire to make my Ubuntu pretty. The end result is a deep-seated satisfaction that is usually the result of having accomplished something big.
I want to share my big accomplishment, but as soon as the thought occurs to me, I realise that I have no one to share it with.
In high school, I learned Java, and I learned to dabble in programming outside of my school’s curriculum.
Discovering the nuances of PHP and how it differed from Java was practically the highlight of those four years, but it was impossible to tell anyone how much it meant to me. My boyfriend for most of high school, a local Air Cadet and something of a military nut, was not technically-minded. I once tried explaining the concept of programming for the web, and it went something like this:
“HTML, that’s just formatting. The actual content is static. But with PHP, and with a database – it’s like forums! Real-time user input! You can do anything!”
“I think I sort of get it.”
I actually wanted to explain how marvelous I thought it was to channel all traffic through a single file – you could do all your initial setup just once, and for every new page you wanted to add, you could start the file with all the setup already done for you. No need to call initialization methods, no need to do anything else to set it up. Just start writing code.
(Later in university, someone gave a talk on this kind of thing, and said that the entire idea of a single entry point was ridiculously stupid. He was a Yahoo! employee, and worked on the core of PHP beforehand, so he was very knowledgeable in this field. I changed my views after that, but for all its impracticalities, the workings of a single-point-of-entry website still appeal to me – it’s clean, beautiful code.)
I never got that far in my explanation. I honestly don’t think my boyfriend was really all that interested. Having learned something like PHP on my own, though, I just wanted to shove the results at someone who understood what it meant and say, See what I can do?
In high school it seemed understandable that everyone had different interests. In my first year of university, I discovered a new group of friends; they were all from my program, and so we were all geeks together. Michelle claimed she wasn’t as geeky as me, but I think she just hid it better
“Oh my gosh!” she told me one night, over Skype.
“Facebook has AJAX! They AJAXed the wall!” In light of this news, she proceeded to post all sorts of needless messages on my profile page, like “spam”, “AJAX FOR THE WIN”, and “ok, i like the new facebook now.”
In between hours-long computer labs, programming assignments, and write-ups of combinatorial proofs, I spent my nights dabbling in pieces of code, following blogs, finding ways to get my problem-solving fix. The week before exams began, having upgraded my Ubuntu and decided that I didn’t like it, I spent a few hours wiping my drive and reinstalling the operating system, customising all my options as they were before – while most people were preparing for the five gruelling final exams ahead.
It was great when Michelle and I were working at the same company. I might have been too intimidated to bounce ideas off of my senior co-workers, but Michelle was my best friend, and it was easier with her. If I had problems at work, I would talk to her. Most of the time, since I would come up with a solution halfway through, she didn’t even need to fully understand what I was saying – and since I have a terrible tendency to completely fumble my explanations, this turned out to be a very good thing.
Michelle understood the nerdery; she might not have understood the drive behind it, the need to make extra projects for myself, but she certainly understood the nerdery. Shad, on the other hand, understood my need for “clean, beautiful code”.
“Want to see some beautiful code?” he’d ask me, and then show me his latest project – fully automated, fully generic pieces of code that connected arbitrary databases and methods together. It was neat. It was awesome. And it was beautiful.
Sometimes I think I’m too attached to my pretty fifteen-inch Dell laptop, and its connection to the Interblag. The first thing I do after my morning shower is turn it on and check for updated webcomics, and when I come back home from work in the evening, it’s the first thing that’s on after I’ve finished dinner. Most people I know have a secondary interest – whether it be Asian dramas, or online RPGs, or following the Raptors. I don’t. I stare at Python code all day at work, and when my laptop’s turned on, I pull up some Python code and stare at that.
Honestly, I have to admit that it’s fun. Investigating code. Fixing bugs. Discovering efficiency. It’s true that the process of making something work can be frustrating, but it’s probably the most enjoyable part-it means getting that rush of accomplishment that I love and work for.
I screenshot one of my three workspaces and send it to Michelle.
“Isn’t it pretty?”
“You nerd,” she says affectionately.
Francesca Leung enjoys reading webcomics, is a fan of Queen, and finds knitting to be rather therapeutic.
© 2009, Francesca Leung