The End of Fun

Flatiron School / 9 October 2013

The following is a guest post by Mike Spangler and originally appeared on his blog. Mike is currently in the Ruby-003 class at The Flatiron School. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Who Makes a Better Coder?

the rigid taskmaster, or the free-floating esoteric…

The idea that struck me most about Sarah Pei’s presentation was that to create, successful one must fully embrace the dynamism of their own personality. To explain, Sarah invokes the famous Walt Whitman quote from Leaves of Grass:

It turns out that creative people are not defined by their age, race, gender, or even intelligence. What creative people share are successful habits. What most of their habits have in common is some element of context change.

You must base yourself in what you do know, before leaping into the unknown. Sarah calls the example of Twyla Tharp – one of the most successful choreographers in American dance. Thyla is 72 years old, and for the last 40 years she has repeated the same process of organized context change. In the mornings, she practices moves she has repeated thousands of times. It is a rote, comfortable exercise. Every afternoon she experiments, drawing on the core elements she reinforced that morning, to let chaos reign, and gives herself permission to try new movements. She executes, and she then creates.

So how does this translate to coding?

Coding is a creative process, as well as an intensely directed one. To succeed at any scale, one must occupy both provinces. We need context change to reach our apex productivity, but what exactly is context change in the context of coding?

Simply put, it’s chopping things up. It’s learning to tie knots in the middle of the day. It’s changing from the couch to the orange springy stool. It’s pair programming.

Perhaps most fundamentally, it’s our FS class composition. Sarah’s presentation cites research that shows teams comprised of VISIBLY DISSIMILIAR individuals perform better than homogenous peer teams.

On a more structured level, it looks like this:

So, the next time my tests aren’t passing for the 80th consecutive time, and I’m throwing up hail mary methods, convinced that Ruby is broken, I’m going for a walk. And it’s going to be the most productive thing in the world, because we need both contexts to perform optimally.

To think of it in terms of coffee- I often wake up in the morning with a few weird ideas bumping around in my cerebral stew… fresh ideas that originated in the context of sleep, in the whitespace afforded by dreams. That’s a powerfully creative state of mind that I crave, but if I didn’t get up and have my coffee, I’d lay in bed all day dreaming.

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