Friday, December 19, 2008

I programmed today and it was glorious: Musings on a road not taken

I had some data work on my medical malpractice project that needed to be done today. I probably should have delegated the work. The guy from our statistics office even offered to do this. But I have learned that delegation often takes more work than doing it yourself, due to transaction costs (moral hazard, sticky information, delays). It was about 2 hours of repetitive manual data manipulation and I decided to write a perl program to do it myself: it was glorious.

I haven’t written any code in years. I had forgotten how satisfying it was. It made me consider the road not traveled. I could have been a programmer. I really love it. And I used to be damn good. Which sounds awful to say, but there’s that 10,000 hour theory, that it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. And my mom started me programming when I was 5. So sure, it was mostly print statements and for loops and copying programs out of the back of Boy’s Life magazine for years, but by 9th grade I was taking college level classes, and by college, I was getting commendations and breezing through graduate classes almost as an afterthought. I had gotten three calls from google over the years for interviews each of which I turned down.

In the end, writing the program took two and a half hours, but I have no regrets. It was far more fun than repetitive data manipulation and I am left with more capital that can be used in the future (a working computer program and programming human capital). And even if I had gone the programmer route, it probably wouldn’t have lasted. It seems like most programmers spend much of their career resisting the pull into management, a battle that inevitably they lose. So no regrets. But just fun to ponder.

(I also wonder if I would start my kids on programming at age 5. In some ways, the ability almost seems antiquated like buggy whip making. Though so is geometry and we still teach that.)
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