Pleasure In Programming

We’ve long known that a programmer’s productivity depends largely upon how much he enjoys his work environment and the task that he’s been assigned. We know that various things that make the environment nicer assist productivity, for some seemingly ungraspable reason.

To me, at least, this has long been a mystery. Why is it that a programmer, given total understanding of his field, excellent training, and high intelligence, could yet produce better in a more enjoyable environment? It would seem to have nothing to do with the interaction between a person and a machine, as programming seems to be.

Well, in Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, L. Ron Hubbard talks about pleasure, over and over. One of the things he says is:

There is a necessity for pleasure, a necessity as live and quivering and vital as the human heart itself. … The creative, the constructive, the beautiful, the harmonious, the adventurous, yes, and even escape from the maw of oblivion, these things are pleasure and these things are necessity.

Talk to anybody who worked at Netscape in its early days, and they will tell you that there was a sense of adventure in what they were doing. Talk to some of the people who work on Google’s greatest projects, and ask them about how pleasurable they find their jobs. Ask the Apple engineers how enjoyable it was to create the iPhone, or to design Mac OS X. Ask the world’s greatest user interface designers if the harmony of a perfectly usable, good-looking interface isn’t something that makes them happy.

Or just ask me why I have spent the last four years of my life working on Bugzilla.

The world’s greatest creations don’t come from the desire to make a quick buck, or the fear of a manager’s wrath. They don’t come merely from some programmer’s desire to prove how smart they are, and impress their peers. And they definitely don’t come about from organizations where programmers sit, blank-faced and void of thought, forced to stare at a computer to the exclusion of all else for eight hours a day, deprived of the pleasures of life. No, true creation flourishes in environments that bring into being that necessity “as live and quivering and vital as the human heart itself”–pleasure.

-Max