Who’s in Charge Here?

Flatiron School / 28 June 2013

The following is a guest post by Desmond Rawls and originally appeared on his blog. Desmond is currently a student at The Flatiron School. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Recording live from the mountain-top, fog-shrouded monastery of the holy order of uninitialized variables aka the chamber of binary incantations aka the cave of forgotten code aka the officer candidate school in the global war on minor inconveniences aka just another secret underground yoleo-enabled satellite surveillance station aka the equal-opportunity drop in a white male pond aka the how-many-computer-nerds-does-it-take-to-make-a-cup-of-coffee research labratory aka The learn-you-some-git-and-join-a-startup School aka The Flatiron School.

Here among the 1000 twisted power cords at Flatiron School we are blessed with many fascinating guest speakers. This is our opportunity to break the command line’s spell and focus on the big picture. I love the big picture. And I love new perspectives. The web developer’s perspective is completely new for me. The Flatiron School is really my first experience of life on the other side of the retinal display. That said, after only a week of fascinating guest speakers one thing has really hit me:

Code is power. Power to shape the world.

And my question is:

What guides this power?

When you write code for public consumption you are literally putting the stuff you think is important in someone else’s face. Right in their face. Being a wire-whisperer is comparable to being mega-rich – everybody has to listen to you. Add to that that programmers are often mega-rich too and I’m starting to see a bigger picture. Programmers are first class citizens. And wherever you have first-class citizens you have a lot of second-class citizens.

Let’s look at an example of that power:

During his re-election campaign Obama raised 230 million dollars largely in donations of less than $200. He also has 32 million twitter followers (take that Ashton!). Did twitter get Obama elected? Something like that. In 2012 Obama’s dev team beat Romney’s dev team to every single punch. Obama was the first to get a “Square app for in-person fundraising” and the first to get a “‘Quick Donate’ feature that allowed donors who had already given once to send a repeat donation”. And it worked! (2012 digital campaign)
In 2008, it was the same story. Obama’s online campaign gave McCain’s campaign the rearview mirror treatment. (digital campaign 2008) This phenomenon is about more than Obama’s human resources team. It’s a reflection of where the silicone tower’s loyalties lie. (tech politics) I don’t know if Obama won because of his online campaign but I’m sure it didn’t hurt. And the power behind that campaign was a small group of people with strong opinions. Shaping the world just like that.

And don’t get me started on PRISON, I mean PRISM.

The world isn’t flat but it’s close: sorta flat

I could imagine someone comparing the power of web sensations to the power of pop art. And who doesn’t love art? The difference I see is that art’s power is purely the power of persuasion and seduction. Meanwhile, programming has all that plus direct real world implications. What problems are you solving? Who are you marketing to? How does your product affect the people you aren’t marketing too? Are you hacking the Chinese government? In terms of content and reach, the media seems like a more appropriate comparison. Tech is like a media personality that sleeps under your bed, follows you around all day, spies on your neighbors, and talks to your friends on your behalf. So if the media is the 4th branch of government what does that make software? The 5th, 6th, 7th branch of government?

I’m coming to the Flatiron School from a carpentry job. Programming appealed to me because it looked like a similar craft that happens to pay more and happens to take place in a safe, climate-controlled space and happens to be a bridge to a lot of interesting projects. But it’s the interesting projects that really separates code from other crafts. Coders have voices. Mechanics don’t have voices. Carpenters don’t have voices. Coders have voices and microphones and 5.1 surround sound speaker systems. That kind of platform should be approached cautiously and used carefully. I’m worried, however, that many coders use their voices the way bankers use their extra cash. I’m worried that there’s a lack of seriousness when it comes to the real world.

And that brings us back to the original question:

What do web developers care about?

What do white men(that’s me) with google glasses(not me) think the world needs more of? I really want to know.

I also want to know if there is as much time and energy going into discussing how to use Code as there is going into discussing how to write code. Because there should be.

To be clear, I am not taking issue with anyone’s particular political or social ends. I am concerned with the structure of power. In this great land of checks and balances it seems like there might be another balance going unchecked.

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