I used to think that the most important ingredient of programming was knowledge of the coding languages involved. Java, Python, C, C++, Ruby on Rails...all different methods for computer scientists to communicate with the vastly complex machines under their care. Going in, it seemed like my hardest job was going to be keeping straight which of the plethora of languages to choose. "Not so, young Padawan," said the Jedi Masters of Duke Computer Science.
As I proceed from Youngling to Jedi Knight (Computer Science 101 to 201), the focus shifts from the learning of a language to the transfer of thought from one mind to another. The coding language of the Padawan, Java, is secondary. Even if a student has no experience, they are expected to hit the ground running and pick it up virtually on their own. It’s as though the Jedi Council wants us to ignore the groundwork and go straight into a full-on Vulcan mind meld.
In fact, it seems more and more as though Computer Science is about an art of communication beyond mere words and commands. When speaking to a computer there is a level of clarity necessary that eclipses inter-human communication. It’s as though you’re trying to convince the most capable mathematician in the world to solve a proof or analyze a set of data but are limited to speaking at the level of a six-year-old. There can be no ambiguity. There can be no error. There is only a step by step progression from input to output. Question leads to solution and if you are able to fully understand a piece of code you are equipped with the mental armaments to solve the same problems as a Macbook Pro with 8 GBs of memory and a 2.7 GHz Intel Core i5 Processor (the laptop on which I am currently typing this piece).
All this to say, sometimes the looking beyond the obvious implications of a situation opens up whole new fields of wonderment. Seeing past the bland exterior (“yet another boring assignment/lecture/discussion”) with the goal of teasing out the scintillating details makes everything more enjoyable. You could be in the most difficult or trying of courses, but your attitude can transform anything it touches. Your negativity or boredom will multiply with itself like a cancerous emotional leech. Likewise, your curiosity and enjoyment will shine out until it’s impossible for you not to enjoy yourself, especially with a powerful emotion like gratitude. In fact, gratitude for the deeper aspects of things that you’ve only studied superficially before can by itself be a transformative force in your life.
But don’t just change your focus because I say so. Do it because science says so! Being grateful for the things around you positively impacts your health, emotions, social life and productivity. By practicing and training a positive attitude when it comes to the things that often drag you down (be that coursework, lectures or projects), you’ll find yourself becoming a happier person in all ways. Others will want to be around you because you radiate positive energy. You will find that you are more focused and productive as the things that used to irritate and distract you fade away into oblivion. You may even find that you are merging with the Force, and occasionally your form may flicker blue and you’ll see holographic images of Yoda and Anakin Skywalker floating beside you. (Okay…one of those was an exaggeration.)
My point is this: the skills we acquire in the course of our studies can be both more abstract and more satisfying than we believe. Everything that we learn can be translated back to a style of thought. Art, history, science, literature. Words and images and numbers are really just human thoughts made concrete. No matter what you are learning, appreciation of the beauty of that thought will enhance your life and make every day more enjoyable.
I’ve learned that coding is a lot more than just sitting in front of a computer screen, typing away for hours on end. It is an art of thought, of clarification and simplification, whereby a Jedi (coding) master can transform massive problems into painless solutions with just a wave of his hand and the words “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” Likewise, all areas of study hide opportunities for discovery or problem solving. If not one then certainly the other, and often both.
Jack Dolinar is a Trinity sophomore. His column, “simplifying success,” runs on alternate Fridays.
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