My previous ruminations on my attempts to learn Oberon-2 has made me think about what motivates people to program, given the native intelligence to do so.
My cohort at my place of employment provides an interesting contrast to me. He has a lot of energy and a very active mind. He started out on computers as an operator in the ’70s running the IBM machine (a System/3, I believe) at the very place we are now. Interestingly, I found at the same time he had bought a SOL microcomputer as a kit, which he then proceded to assemble. This was while he was yet a teenager. He then learned to program it. He went on to get engineering degrees, continuing to program in whatever programming language was necessary to run the machine he was working on- not necessarily a computer per se, even. He has tweaked a text editor to do some very sophisticated things.
Obviously, he gets a charge out of making the machine that he is working on work. He was doing it before I had ever seen a real computer in person, even though he’s younger than me. I think he is the sort of person who would program even if he wasn’t being paid to do it. The more complicated the task, the better; but he seems to be drawn more to seeing what the system can do more than to any particular mundane, normal business application.
On the other hand, for me computers are an annoyance; they sometimes get in the way of computing- that is, the solving of problems. I have no patience when a computer goes belly-up in the middle of something I’m trying to accomplish. I learned programming when I was 30, past the age of youthful exuberance and loaded with family responsibilities. I would have been in trouble if the programming language available as the way I could support my family had not been RPG, or perhaps COBOL or BASIC.
My orientation has never been on the technical side of things. A simple set of instructions for assembling a bookcase throws me for a loop. Once I was trying to install a set of windshield wipers. There were no words in the instructions, only a series of diagrams. It took me about 15 or 20 minutes to figure out the instructions. My expertise is in logic. I learned to read at an early age, and I can see patterns of ideas very quickly. I can see solutions to problems very quickly; but I have a very narrow focus; sometimes this results in my missing the “forest” (solution) because of looking too closely at the path between the “trees” (the details). I can be very original in finding solutions, as long as the goal is clearly defined, preferably by someone else. I do better building on other people’s ideas than originating my own.
So I get no pleasure from the gory details of computing. The C programming language annoys me because it seems like you jump through hoops to do what you want to do. “Print” becomes an exercise in control characters; in BASIC, “PRINT” is just that, print. And C has loose ends; I don’t like a language with loose ends. C is too close to the metal- or the silicon, if you will.
So I like a programming language with clarity. C may be clear to some people; it is not to me. The same goes for C++, Java, and any number of other languages you could name. I like order; perhaps that’s why I tend to gravitate toward the Wirthian languages- Pascal, Modula, Oberon. I want a language that will help protect me from mistakes by making at least the gross mistakes illegal. I feel uncomfortable with a language that allows you make a variable numeric at one point and alphanumeric at another point in the same program, as some scripting languages do. I am not adventurous in that respect.
So when it comes to screen displays, I prefer to have the system do the work. That is not a hard and fast rule; I once built an AS/400-style data entry screen using GWBASIC because I thought line-by-line BASIC data entry was so gauche. But in general I prefer to program and let the system take care of the screens.
But sometimes I wonder. I do also like system- level things, like writing my own program-file cross reference program. I would get geeked when my partner would suggest various functions for my program, like being able to click on a file name in a program source and actually look at the data in the file or the file’s descriptions or what fields are in the file. I wanted to make my AS/400 do some things his PC could do.
So different people are motivated by different things. My partner enjoys the process. I do too. Sometimes, I guess, it’s better not to worry about “why” and just appreciate the pleasure.