“Software as capital”

This book is pretty interesting so far: Software as capital: an economic perspective on software engineering. He has a nice statement of bit rot in economic terms, for example.

I think one thing that really appeals to me about this book is that it’s helping paint one of the pieces of the puzzle of my life.

If I’m anything, I’m a creature of learning. Baetjer points out quite explicitly something I’ve been coming to realize slowly over my career: software development is, more than anything, a process of social learning. A software developer enters the world of the user and helps establish a process to out all the strange little bits of knowledge hidden in the corners of every sort of human endeavor. Code is a way to structure this learning so that it can be shared, studied, remembered, and, maybe most importantly, incrementally accumulated as those bits of knowledge come out.

When I was in school, I could never really take notes. I found that it was easier to pretend to take notes than to just sit there; partly, that kept me awake, partly, it was a social ritual. But it was never much of a learning tool. How could I engage with my notes any better than I could engage with the lecture? But code is a different sort of record of learning. Maybe it’s that compilers and the actual execution of the code keep us more honest and force us to be more thorough. Maybe it’s the fact that the visual structure of a computer language on the screen fits its semantic structure a lot better than with human languages. Those aspects and the discipline that grows around them make it a lot easier to slowly build an effective learning repository that elicits the abstract structures of the knowledge while not losing any of the little details. I love the feeling I get when I’m in the middle of a big software system… I’m not sure what’s a good analogy to help explain what that means; perhaps everyone’s familiar with the feeling of really knowing the geography of the city they live in. The feeling when someone asks you a question about where something is, half of your brain activates instantly and simultaneously with a complete map of the route from here to there, with alternate routes and associative connections to attractions and landmarks along the way and estimates of how long it will take to get there. The feeling that it’s inside you as much as you’re inside it. Those sort of feelings arose only by accident in school; software development is a pretty reliable methodology for generating this very deep sense of understanding.

So surely that has something to do with why I continue to be a software developer…

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