Before Programming – Ignorant

Before he takes the first step, the programmer does not know that programming exists. He is aware of computers, but has never considered how they actually work. He feels the process of making a video game is somewhat akin to making a film, or perhaps writing a book. If someone were to ask him how that actually works, his brain would immediately shut down, as if you asked him why string theory requires ten dimensions.

Stage 1 – Awestruck

The programmer become aware that programmers exist. He is not entirely sure what they do, but he know it involves typing things in, and possibly moving a mouse. Somehow there are “programs”, or perhaps “code”, he is not sure. Regardless, for our stage 1 programmer, people who actually do these things seem like gods, omniscient in their mastery of impenetrable yet valuable and (finally) socially acceptable skills. While the nascent programmer feels some longing to achieve this mastery, it is as if he were longing to bend forks with the power of his mind – he’s seen it done, yet secretly believes it to be magic, inaccessible to mortals.

Stage 2 – Fumbling

The programmer writes his first program. In the olden days this would have been of the 10 print “hello”, 20 goto 10 variety, but in more modern times the possible starting points are varied. Perhaps Unreal Script, perhaps Dark Basic, perhaps JavaScript, perhaps even some master may initiate them directly into the dark arts of C++. How many roads may a programmer take? 101010.

Stage 3 – Discovery

A whole new world has opened up. Syntax becomes an enchanted garden, each new keyword hold mystery and delight. Wave of pleasure accompany the discovery of new powers like arrays, and subroutines. A whole new reality seems close at hand. The programmer seeks out others of his kind on the internet, discoveries are shared and wonders are related.

Stage 4 – Delusional

Intoxicated by his new power, suddenly the world is an oyster belonging our programmer. With the gradual appreciation of the power of programming, and the realization that code underpins everything, our programmer will feel limitless in power. All tasks see manageable and anything can be programed, for our programmer is now armed with the hammer of limited coding skills, and all problems look like the nail of N-Queens.

Stage 5 – Methodological

After perhaps years of delusion, some tragedy will befall our programmer. Perhaps he will get a job, and the skills he thought wondrous will prove to be of little worth. Or perhaps some personal project, such as a game engine, will be transformed by much sweat into a blob of worthless code, undeniably incorrect despite his seemingly god-like powers. Faced with this reality, one of three things happens: the programmer may give up in despair, they may lapse back into delusion, or finally they will discover “methodology”, and avidly begin to read books on this, and begin to “program” in UML. This stage is perilous, as the methodological world is similar to the mythological world, replete with Sirens, succubi, heroes and monsters.

Stage 6 – Pragmatic

More pain shall be endured. For, as the programmer will discover, there is no silver bullet. It’s complicated, and he’s beginning to realize this. An awareness emerges that the important things are getting the job done on time to a sufficient level of quality. He can now estimate projects reasonably well, not because of any methodology, but because he’s generally done something similar before. He’s got a lot of tools in his belt, and is suspicious of anything new. He may become curmudgeonly and bitter.

Stage 7 – Transcendent

The programmer finally becomes self aware. He now grasps how complicated it is, and recognizes the dimensions of the problem space. He realizes the bounds of his knowledge and experience. He is also fully aware of what efforts would be required to extend those bounds. He’s still suspicious of the new, but can now accommodate those new things into his arsenal. The programmer is at peace with himself, embracing the chaos of development as something as elemental and unchangeable as the weather. Canute cannot stop the tides, and not even the transcendent programmer can ship without bugs.

While all programmers may pass through the seven stages, not all will make it to transcendence. Many will become stuck at a lower stage, and either abandon their quest, or settle wherever they find themselves, churning away at what they know.

Not all programmers take the same path, and not all aspects of the programmer will proceed at the same rate, or even direction. With this unfortunate vagueness comes the observation that you can only recognize a stage when you are two stages above that stage. Thus, the transcendent programmer will never truly know he is transcendent (although he will suspect it) and must always be in doubt as to the pragmatism of his solutions, and the pragmatic programmer will be forever conflicted regarding his usage of methodology.