I’ve been watching The West Wing on Netflix lately and often one of the principal actors will rattle off the perfect quote for the situation. While working at the University I’ve met a few people who are able to quote the greats in their field, though rarely verbatim and often the result is to simply show they know the quote rather than a mastery of the situation. I don’t see that a lot within the web development profession.
Perhaps it is because my chosen field is relatively young, we do not have the luxury of 200+ years of speeches to pull from as is the case in The West Wing, or perhaps its because the greatest developers are often hidden behind their code. There are certainly a few cases that disprove my point. Many in the Ruby community look to _why1 and all the work he did in advocating Ruby, quoting from his Poignant Guide2. The recent suicide of Aaron Swartz has pulled people to his writing3 and I’ve seen many quote his work. I think we’ll see even more of this as the Save Publishing4 bookmarklet continues to gain users. However, most developers won’t spend time reading lengthy writing by other programmers. However, with social coding sites we are seeing a different trend emerge.
Just like the great speech writers of history who spend hours reading historical speeches, reciting inauguration addresses, and listening to world leaders, we developers spend our time looking through shared repositories on sites like Github, Bit Bucket, and Google Code. We line ourselves up with programmers who code like we want to code and practice making our code look like theirs. There are strong personalities in our profession and attached is an equally strong sense of style in development. The result is not verbatim quotes, but instead an alignment of coding style. All of our coding practices originated from someone’s idea, from how we name variables to whether we use presenter classes to any other number of development choices. What is important is that we do not stifle our own voice while learning from these greats.
I don’t spend as much time as I would like reading speeches and writings of histories greats, although I am interested in such things. I do, however, spend a lot of time reading the code of developers more talented than myself and I learn from them. We may not have hundreds of years to look back over, but we have a vast amount of knowledge we can look at now. Taking the time to dig in deeper, showing interest in the body of work we pull from, displays a passion for the process and a desire for greater understanding. This is important.