on computing being fun

"I think that it’s extraordinarily important that we in computer science keep fun in computing. When it started out, it was an awful lot of fun."

That snippet is from the Dedication written by Alan J. Perlis for Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, aka the SICP book.

I'm convinced that programmers (like myself) who bypassed the science in computing, at least partly did so because what we saw looked dull. At least, duller than just programming right away.

I really do agree. It's totally important that computer science keep the fun in computing. Good advice to stick in a computing book, right? Let's keep reading.

"Of course, the paying customers got shafted every now and then, and after a while we began to take their complaints seriously. We began to feel as if we really were responsible for the successful, error-free perfect use of these machines. I don’t think we are."

But, look at the damage that can be done when people who write programs don't think they're responsible for keeping their programs to a minimum of errors.

I assert that a clear distinction must be made between play and production. Move as fast as you like in programs you make for play. But if you're going to deploy to production, those customers depend on safe, reliable programs.

This dedication was written before 1990. Since then we've seen what happens when we "move fast and break things" in the wrong places: power plants, advertising, and so on.

In the rest of the Dedication to the SICP book, Alan writes this about computers:

"I think we’re responsible for stretching them, setting them off in new directions, and keeping fun in the house."

You can totally do that. When you're a maker experimenting with chair designs that are not meant to be sold, you can have as much fun designing wacky chairs that push the limits of chair-making.

But when you're putting a customer in your chair, don't let the chair collapse under their ass.


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