Metaphor is key

I’ve never been great at left-brain thinking — math especially. Reporters are notoriously bad at math, so that was one more thing that helped me fit into this profession.

But the further removed I’ve become from the feeling of stressful confusion that dominated my experience in math and other classes that generally served as precursors for those who went into computer science careers, the more interested I’ve become in the prospect of learning code. Computers aren’t going away.

Getting past the jargon of programming will be a huge hurdle for me. I love deciphering jargon — good journalism writing is being able to cut through jargon and clearly explain concepts to readers — but up until I really understand a concept, it’s difficult for me to connect the dots for myself, let alone readers. That’s why Greg Linch’s post on computational thinking was so helpful.

Specifically this passage, from Jeannette Wing’s article that Greg pulls is very helpful for getting in the right frame of mind:

“When your daughter goes to school in the morning, she puts in her backpack the things she needs for the day; that’s prefetching and caching. When your son loses his mittens, you suggest he retrace his steps; that’s backtracking. At what point do you stop renting skis and buy yourself a pair?; that’s online algorithms. Which line do you stand in at the supermarket?; that’s performance modeling for multi-server systems. Why does your telephone still work during a power outage?; that’s independence of failure and redundancy in design…”

Metaphors like these will greatly help me de-mystify the definitely mystifying world of computer programming and instill some much-needed confidence when I’m tackling topics like this.

I also felt super mellowed out when reading the Zen of Python post. Many of these mantras work for life.

Beautiful is better than ugly.
Explicit is better than implicit.
Simple is better than complex.

Especially in regards to the “explicit is better than implicit” piece, I’m getting a sense that writing code is a bit like doing the work of an observant reporter — one who shows rather than tells — but it’s even more akin to writing a screenplay. When doing screenplay writing, every action is clearly denoted and explicitly stated. Actors in a horror never “feel scared” in a screenplay. They start to sweat. They clench their fists. They dart their eyes around. Their intention and thoughts are only conveyed through action.

It’s a very different way to think about writing than what many of us are used to, but learning it has helped my journalistic writing.

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