My Raison de Programmation

Posted by marielfrank on July 25, 2017

Why programming? I’ve been asked that question fairly often over the past couple months. At a certain point, it just seemed obvious to me. Perhaps a bit of background will clarify.

Math At 11 years old, when my friends were going to be astronauts or ballerinas, I was going to be a mathematician and professor at MIT. That was my plan. One excellent teacher had made math fun and I needed no further convincing. At 14, when my friends were watching TV and playing video games, I spent a summer at math camp to live and breathe geometry, because why not?

My parents (perhaps unsurprisingly) nurtured this unusual interest. For holidays, they would give me books about the history of women in math and or on hilarious mathematical theories. But my mathematical trajectory came to a screeching halt when I discovered linguistics.

Linguistics Alongside my love of math had burgeoned a passion for learning languages. But more than focusing on becoming fluent in a single language, I relished pondering how and why different languages were the same or different. Linguistics, my college major, allowed me to explore these questions.

Linguistics turned me into a straight up grammar nerd. Let me be clear: I am not one of those people who corrects you when you end a sentence in a preposition. Rather, I am the sort of person who gets excited about the slight syntactical distinctions between the regional slang expressions “mad”, “hella”, and “wicked.”* I am the sort of person who would (and did) write a 10 page paper outlining the use of metaphor, metonymy, and intertextuality in MF DOOM’s hip-hop lyrics. Linguistics transformed the way I think about work; nearly anything can be a math problem if you look at it the right way.

Puzzles When I was a marketing strategist, my company’s CEO wanted each employee to talk about their “why” for doing things. I love learning, but learning was never fully my “why.” After some serious consideration, it hit me: I love solving puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles had recently come back into my life–a childhood activity I’d neglected since the advent of the internet. Solving puzzles, jigsaw or otherwise, is an activity that brings me tremendous joy and ease. It’s the reason why linguistics was so much fun. It’s the reason why, as a teacher, I would spend my break time on the computer in the teacher’s lounge working on Javascript puzzles to alleviate some stress. It’s the reason why even as a marketer I found ways to push my focus onto puzzle-solving.

So let me revisit this question of “why programming?” Programming was an opportunity to combine my love of math, language, and puzzle-solving into a single occupation. It’s no wonder to me that so many of my linguistics classmates went straight into computer science. I’m glad to have finally joined them.

*All are used to signify “really” or “very,” but New York’s “mad” and California’s “hella” have the additional meaning of “a lot” or “many, as in “there are mad people who like cheese at this party.” While New England’s “wicked” would be misunderstood to mean “bad” when placed directly before a noun, the expression can also denote that something is “great” or “awesome” as in “That beer is wicked!”