In a recent episode of Working, a podcast about how people do their jobs, David Plotz interviews Nina Kang, a software engineer (coder) for Google. I was very surprised by the topics they covered. The part of the episode which stuck with me the most was their conversation around the strict differences Kang sees between two of her passions: poetry and coding.
Rhetorical questions, repetition, rhyme, convoluted syntax; it’s so important in poetry to be able to surprise the reader. In coding you can surprise the reader for good effect, but you want to do it through new clarity and new concision.
See, I always had that Beautiful Mind-esque, romantic view of what it must be like to be a serious, professional coder. The genius code writer’s life must be so misunderstood, analogous to Jackson Pollack throwing paint on the floor to express great meaning, I always imagined. Not true, says Kang. In fact, she speaks about how her poet self and coder existence are often at cognitive odds with one another, where the more she does one, the harder it is to do the other.
Like many educators and parents these days, I’m one of those who’d love our kids to grow up as both poets and coders, figuratively, if not literally, speaking. Rather than taking Kang’s words as a warning against wanting your brain cake and eating it too, I took them as a reminder that our children are entering a time when traversing context has never been as complex as it is now. When it’s time to drop a verse, can they demonstrate eloquence and elaborateness? And then, in times when we need to speak a language which eliminates ambiguity in favour of transferable clarity and concision, will our kids be able to write a masterclass algorithm? I hope you are as confident and hopeful as I that they will.
Listen to the full episode below, and/or subscribe using your favourite podcasting app (mine is Downcast).