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Here's All the Best Stuff from the 31,302-Word Essay on Code in Bloomberg Businessweek, So You Can Pretend to Have Read It



Writer and programmer Paul Ford is a freaking genius—and a hard worker. How else do you explain his massive essay on code, which takes up the entirety of the new issue of Bloomberg Businessweek? Yes it's 30,000-word-plus article on coding and the coders who code it. It covers the omnipresent, ill-understood basis of everything from OkCupid to Tinder to Grindr to countless other things that aren’t hookup apps. Now, we are neither geniuses nor hard workers. But we are really fast readers (375 words per minute, according to a widget on the Bloomberg site). So, as an act of compilation, we've done the reading for you! Here’s all the gnomic insights, trenchant observations, and laugh out loud jokes from Ford's article—which, FYI, is only a hair shorter than The Great Gatsby.

—A computer is a clock with benefits.

—When you use computers too much—which is to say a typical amount—they start to change you. Ford has had Photoshop dreams, Visio dreams, spreadsheet dreams, and Web browser dreams.

—If you can sell the software, if you can light up the screen, you’re selling infinitely reproducible nothings.

—If coders don’t run the world, they run the things that run the world.

—The coding language K is modeled on another language called APL, which stands for A Programming Language. Programmers are funny, like your uncle. They hold the self-referential and recursive in the highest regard. Another classic: GNU, which means GNU’s Not Unix. Programmer jokes make you laugh and sigh at once. Or just sigh.

—You can write elegant, high-level code like F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the computer will compile you into Ernest Hemingway.

—It’s a good and healthy exercise to ponder what your computer is doing right now.

—It takes a good mathematician to be a computer scientist, but a middling one to be an effective programmer.

—Technology conferences are where primate dynamics can be fully displayed.

—There has been much sexual harassment and much sexist content in [technology] conferences. Which is stupid, because computers are dumb rocks lacking genitalia, but there you have it.

—Programming, despite the hype and the self-serving fantasies of programmers the world over, isn’t the most intellectually demanding task imaginable.

—The creation of a good computer language is the work of an apex programmer. To have produced a successful language is acknowledged as a monumental effort, akin to publishing a multivolume history of a war, or fighting in one.

—How often are you going to be multiplying sevens and cats? Soooo much.

—Think of C as sort of a plain-spoken grandfather who grew up trapping beavers and served in several wars but can still do 50 pullups.

—Code can be a black box, with tentacles and wires sticking out, and you don’t need to—don’t want to—look inside the box. You can just put a couple of boxes next to each other, touch their tentacles together, and watch their eldritch mating.

—Being an advocate for Smalltalk is a little like being very into Slovenian cinema or free jazz. Some of its advocates are particularly brilliant people. I’m not one of them.

—Python people, generally, are pretty cool.

—Programmers are often angry because they’re often scared.

—Dream of 10x programmers if you will. But Ford says not to hold out hope that one will come to work for you. You can’t hire them for the same reasons you can’t coach the Chicago Bulls and you aren’t often called upon to date supermodels of your preferred gender. They’re not interviewing at your crappy company for your crappy job.

—The industry is always promising to eat itself, to come up with a paradigm so perfect that we can all stop wasting our time and enter a world of pure digital thought. It never happens.

—Congratulations! You just built Amazon! Of course, while we were trying to build a bookstore, we actually built the death of bookstores—that seems to happen a lot in the business. You set out to do something cool and end up destroying lots of things that came before.

—Java. Not exciting, hardly wearable, but very predictable. A language for building great big things for great big places with great big teams. People complain, but it works.

—Don’t ever count Microsoft out. Its great corporate skill has always been to take the sheer weirdness of computer ideas and translate them for corporations, in the language of Global Business Leadership.

—Poor, sad, misbegotten, incredibly effective, massively successful PHP. Reading PHP code is like reading poetry, the poetry you wrote freshman year of college.

—The modern OS is a feast of wonders: fast video, music players, buckets of buttons. Apple may be the best imaginary button maker in history. Just the bezels are a work to behold.

—Frameworks can feel a little insulting, because they anticipate your problems and are used by thousands of people. They imply that yours are common, everyday problems, rather than special, amazing mysteries that require a true genius to solve.

—Part of the job is remembering that 4 + 20 is 24 and 4 + “20” is “420.”

—In time, as the relationship between you and a programming language blossoms, you come to realize that what truly characterizes a language is not what it does, but how it tells you what broke.

—Too much of what you know today will be useless in six months. Every hard-fought factoid about the absolute best and most principled way to use the language will be fetid zoo garbage by the end of the year.

—Tell Ford that you program in Java, and he will believe you to be either serious or boring. In Ruby, you are interested in building things quickly. In Clojure, Ford thinks you are smart but wonders if you ship. In Python, he trusts you implicitly. In PHP, and you sigh together. In C++ or C, and he nods humbly. In C#, and Ford smiles and assumes you have nothing in common. In Fortran, and he asks to see your security clearance. These languages contain entire civilizations.

—You probably already do code.



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