My Secret Life as a Spaghetti Coder
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When I was younger I was "an arrogant know-it-all prick" at one point in the "middle years" of my programming experience, as many of you know from the stories I often relate on this weblog.

The phrase "middle years" doesn't give us a frame of reference for my age though. For instance, if I were 50 years old right now, my "middle years" of programming may have been when I was in my thirties. That's not the case, and I want to give you that frame of reference: I'm 28 at the time of this writing. The middle years as I talked about them would have referred to my late teens to early twenties. Maybe even up to the the middle of my twenties.

Old or young? By most standards, that's young.

And I know a thing or two about being set in your ways. We can all see the laugh I have at myself with the title here being "My Secret Life as a Spaghetti Coder" and some of the stories I've told as well.

In fact, let me add to the wealth of stodginess, idiocy, and all around opposite-of-good-developerness here:

I once said I preferred Windows to Linux. While that's not a completely shocking statement, the reason behind it was: I said I preferred Windows because 14 year olds work on Linux. Not because of any experience I'd had with it, but because of my fear of learning it.

Like with operating systems, your ignorance does not make a programming language suck. Although I've been tempted to say .NET sucks because of my early troubles with it, I've refrained, admitted my ignorance, and asked for help removing it.

Because of my prior experience being unwilling to learn, I was quite interested when I read this:
When you are young, you don't have that sense of self to protect. You're driven by a need to find out who you are, to turn the pages of your biography and see how the story turns out. If people around you are doing something you don't understand, you assume the problem is your inexperience and you go to work trying to understand it.

But when you are old, when you know who you are, everything is different. When people around you are doing something you don't understand, you have no trouble at all explaining why they are assholes mistaken.

. . .

If you want a new idea, you have to silence your inner critic. Your sense of right and wrong, of smart and stupid works by comparing new ideas to what you already know. Your sense of what would be a good fit for you works by comparing new things to who you already are. To learn and grow, you must let go of you, you must be young again, you must accept that you don't understand and seek to understand rather than explaining why it doesn't make any sense.

In a couple of paragraphs, Reg sums up almost precisely some of what I've been thinking and writing about for the last several months. He's so close, but misses a fundamental point: the old and young parts are incidental.

My hypothesis is that the level of learning and idea absorption you can attain has little to do with age. Instead, it is influenced more by your perceived level of experience. Normally, age is highly correlated to experience - but it doesn't have to be. In my case, when I was younger I thought I knew everything. Now that I've aged, I came to the realization I know very little.

My conclusion is not that different from Reg's, and this is not some scientific experimental contest, so let me explain why I feel the difference is worth noting: If we blame our reluctance to try new things on age, we are dooming ourselves to think of it as some unchangeable, deterministic process. By thinking of it in terms of perception of experience, we admit to being able to control it with more ease. (My belief is that we have control over what and how we perceive things.)

In other words, we lose our ability to blame anyone but ourselves. That's a powerful motivator sometimes.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Please be kind enough to let me know.

Hey! Why don't you make your life easier and subscribe to the full post or short blurb RSS feed? I'm so confident you'll love my smelly pasta plate wisdom that I'm offering a no-strings-attached, lifetime money back guarantee!


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