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What is Code: The Legendary Article #ProgrammerDay @ProgrammerDay

There are very few great articles about code. This article by Paul Ford is one to read. Published by Bloomburg in 2015 it is all you need.

Embedded in the article are interactive tools, videos, GIFs, and a cute coding buddy to help you through. In one amazing interactive interlude, Ford outlines the complexities beneath typing a letter on a keyboard. You’re helped along by a little blue coding buddy:

It’s also full of excellent storytelling and context building:

Here we go again. On the other side of your (well-organized) desk sits this guy in his mid-30s with a computer in his lap. He’s wearing a taupe blazer. He’s come to discuss spending large sums to create intangible abstractions on a “website re-architecture project.” He needs money, support for his team, new hires, external resources. It’s preordained that you’ll give these things to him, because the CEO signed off on the initiative—and yet should it all go pear-shaped, you will be responsible. Coders are insanely expensive, and projects that start with uncomfortably large budgets have an ugly tendency to grow from there. You need to understand where the hours will go.

He says: “We’re basically at the limits with WordPress.”

Here is what you’ve been told: All of the computer code that keeps the website running must be replaced. At one time, it was very valuable and was keeping the company running, but the new CTO thinks it’s garbage. She tells you the old code is spaghetti and your systems are straining as a result. That the third-party services you use, and pay for monthly, are old and busted. Your competitor has an animated shopping cart that drives across the top of the screen at checkout. That cart remembers everything customers have ever purchased and generates invoices on demand. Your cart has no memory at all.

He gives you a number and a date. You know in your soul that the number is half of what it should be and that the project will go a year over schedule. He promises long-term efficiencies: The $85,000 in Oracle licenses will no longer be needed; engineering is moving to a free, open-sourced database. “We probably should have done that back when we did the Magento migration,” he says. Meaning, of course, that his predecessor probably should have done that.

This man makes a third less than you, and his education ended with a B.S. from a large, perfectly fine state university. But he has 500+ connections on LinkedIn. That plus sign after the “500” bothers you. How many more than 500 people does he know? Five? Five thousand?

In some mysterious way, he outranks you. Not within the company, not in restaurant reservations, not around lawyers. Still: He strokes his short beard; his hands are tanned; he hikes; his socks are embroidered with little ninja.

If you’re going to read one article about coding, this is it. And if you’re a programmer who’s too busy writing code to explain it all, just send your family and friends to Paul Ford’s masterful piece.

What Is Code


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