Ellen Ullman, software engineer and author, gives a brilliant description of the coding urge in the opening chapter of her autobiographical book Close to the Machine:Technophilia and its Discontents:

There are obviously many differences between this account and Joseph Weizenbaum's theories of the compulsive programmer. Most significantly, Ullman is not describing programming as a solitary act. Rather, it is a transcendant experience, one which allows people to connect consciousness on levels that are not otherwise possible. This joining, this union is obviously a strength to the programmer. Not only can programmers in a team solve things collectively, but they can serve as a system of checks and balances to make sure none of Weizenbaum's sweeping frantic last-second revisions happen. Still, like all things it has a downside. Ullman quickly points out the price people pay for these incredible connections:


This attitude is eerily reminiscent of that of Gibson's character Case. Gibson, however, also portrays programming as a solitary activity with an emphasis on self-accomplishment and competition. To Ullman, programming is not addictive because she can force her will on the computer, but rather because of the connections and relationships it allows her to form with other people. The machine is just a medium for a achieving this goal, a hub to bring experts at a similar trade together. In fact, I'm pretty sure the same thing could happen any time a group of plumbers with true expertise got together to work on a tricky project, or chemists, or mathematicians, or any number of experts in just about any field. Yet Ullman has an answer for everything, and later in the book points this out:

Ullman has hit the nail right on the head: there is something different about machines. They are entirely our creation, crafted to our molds, honed to our standards of precision. Through them we exercise a sort of control on the universe. They make sense, and probably will continue to make sense indefinitely. They are predicable and controllable, and our mutual abilities to predict and control them bring us together on an equal footing in a way few things can. They're not perfect, of course, not by any means. But, then again, neither is the world, and maybe through machines we can bring a little more perfection into it. Don't these sound like motivations we can all understand?

  authored by mip@netspace.org