I do not love that phrase, but I do love programming.1

Some of my esteemed colleagues, notably GeePaw Hill and Kent Beck, apply the word “geek” to some of us programmers, I assume including themselves. I do not like the term myself, as I consider it cultural appropriation, since my Uncle Teddy was gainfully employed in a dual position as a poultry inspector in the daytime and a carnival entertainer in the evening.

I assume that Kent and Hill want to take back the pejorative use of the term from those who would denigrate us, typically the individuals we refer to respectfully as “suits” or “marketing creeps”. I myself do not care for the term, but such is my life.

The eminent Alex Harms and the aforementioned Hill may have originated the phrase “Geek Joy”, and while the first word makes me flinch, I fully appreciate the second. As I said on a private channel last night:

I do love the work. Have often not loved the job. But programming is as close to doing magic as I can get. Start with a blank sheet of paper and get this? Miraculous.

asteroids game with explosion

As readers will have noticed, I enjoy wordplay. Not your commonplace punning, no, but the creation of short punchy phrases, or long, involved, intricate, winding sentences that twist and turn and somehow come to a good end. Weird references that no one likely even notices. Fragments. And irrelevant stories about my past. I remember the time when Uncle Teddy offered to teach me his trade. We went out to the carnival site before the show opened, and … but no, now’s not the time.

The marvel of programming is that when you say something correctly, you get what you want! This is exactly magic: when you say the words correctly, you get what you want. And, like magic, when you don’t say them exactly right, you generally get something very bad.

I love coming up with an incantation that works, and I love improving that incantation to make it more clear, more general, more useful … better in whatever way I may understand the notion.

As the quote above says, I have not always loved the job. But I have always loved the doing of the work. That is Geek Joy, and I wish I could share it with everyone.

  1. These thoughts were inspired indirectly by this interesting piece from Justin Searls, and by my friends.