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Hello World: Shining a Light onto the Culture of Computer Programmers


Attendees working on Apple Inc. laptop computers participate in the TechCrunch Disrupt London 2015 Hackathon.

"There are deep similarities between the type of mental work that goes into coding and the type of mental work that goes into writing," according to tech journalist Clive Thompson.

Credit: Luke_MacGregor/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Almost every aspect of our daily lives is now shaped in some way by computer code. Yet the average person on the street has no idea how this all works or just how much influence developers now quietly wield in society. Tech journalist Clive Thompson is on a mission to change that with his new book, Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World.

Before he was a tech journalist, Thompson was a high school hacker who taught himself to code on early personal computers like the Commodore 64. His prior book, Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, pushed back against the doomsayers convinced that new technological tools are rotting our brains, arguing that such things actually boost our cognitive abilities. With Coders, "I wanted to give the average person a glimpse into who coders are, why they have the priorities they have, what their passions are, what their blind spots are," he said. "So that the average person can understand a little bit more the warp and woof of this digital world that coders have created for us."

Ars: You ended up becoming a writer rather than a professional coder. In many respects, coding is just another kind of language, yet many writers find it intimidating. Do you find the two to be similar?

Thompson: People who are writing code are speaking. They're speaking to a machine, but they're speaking. There are deep similarities between the type of mental work that goes into coding and the type of mental work that goes into writing. Writers are trying to figure out how to structure a novel, an article, a book. Coders are trying to think about the structure of this thing they're trying to build and how one function is going to feed into another, and how the data structure is going to change. Both groups love having 12 straight hours with no interruption so they can just be in the romantic trance of getting their work done.

From Ars Technica
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