Thursday, September 01, 2022

A Surprising Source of Programmer's Inspiration: A Weekend with Pablo Picasso

A few months back I listened to Herbert Sigüenza's A Weekend With Pablo Picasso, a one man play that as the title suggests gives you a view into Pablo Picasso's life and work. I enjoyed the production, but what really surprised me was how I related to Mr. Picasso. Surprisingly, I saw him less as eccentric genius artist, and more as a peer.

In the show, Picasso had a short deadline to use his creative talents to make something amazing; and I often find myself in the same scenario. What's more is that nobody is going to save us. If he doesn't paint, it's not getting painted. If I don't code, it's not getting coded.

I'm not claiming to be in the same league as Picasso, of course. Just that I found our pursuits have surprising symmetry. I'm sure we could have sat down and swapped war stories with one another, both of us nodding in understanding.

As a programmer, borrowing another profession's mindset and practice is common. A quintessential example is from the field of architecture, where programmers were so inspired by Christopher Alexander's text A Pattern Language, that it launched a revolution in how programmers think and build systems. Alexander has become massively successful in the world of programming without ever writing a line of code.

But we aren't just architects.

When I'm dealing with an especially thorny bug, I'll often don my virtual lab coat and behave like a scientist. I'll form hypothesis and run experiments with the goal of untangling a mystery.

And sometimes I play the role of plumber, using well understood technology and practices to piece together a system. I'm less interested in breaking new ground here, and more interested in doing precise and high quality work.

And sometimes I'm an artist. I'm Looking for clever and unique ways to tell my story to the computer, end-users and fellow programmers. This is where borrowing from the artist's playbook helps, and focusing on being creative and taking risks pays off.

Listening to A Weekend with Pablo Picasso nurtured this last mindset.

In the world of programming, there's often a push to remove or at least constrain the level of creativity programmers practice. And there's good reason for this: having programmers throw out the playbook may feel empowering, but it also sets them up to re-experience all the problems that our industry best practices have been designed to address.

Still, there are countless challenges in my industry we have yet to conquer. Attacking these with the same fearless energy and creativity of a Picasso may be exactly what we need to overcome them.

No comments:

Post a Comment