What Is Code?

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It’s for you to understand what lies beneath these words, your website, that mobile application, Facebook, YouTube and more.

Every Saturday, I share links with good friends, Alistair Croll and Hugh McGuire. The process is simple: Each one of us must choose one link for the other person. Alistair is more a techie, data and modern-day philosopher. Hugh is an old school author and book worm with a penchant for technology. I’m just a marketing dude who loves the words. It’s an eclectic mix of links, and it’s always refreshing. Last week, Hugh chose for Alistair the cover story of Bloomberg Businessweek, The Code Issue. It’s not really a cover story. It’s the entire magazine. Seriously. It’s close to 40,000 words. It’s an incredible read. So much so, that I went out and purchased a physical copy of the magazine for my library. I can’t remember the last time that I did that for a magazine. The story was written by Paul Ford. He’s a programmer who has an amazing way with words.

Like this…

“I love computers, but they never made any sense to me. And yet, after two decades of jamming information into my code-resistant brain, I’ve amassed enough knowledge that the computer has revealed itself. Its magic has been stripped away. I can talk to someone who used to work at Amazon.com or Microsoft about his or her work without feeling a burning shame. I’d happily talk to people from Google and Apple, too, but they so rarely reenter the general population. The World Wide Web is what I know best (I’ve coded for money in the programming languages Java, JavaScript, Python, Perl, PHP, Clojure, and XSLT), but the Web is only one small part of the larger world of software development. There are 11 million professional software developers on earth, according to the research firm IDC. (An additional 7 million are hobbyists.) That’s roughly the population of the greater Los Angeles metro area. Imagine all of L.A. programming. East Hollywood would be for Mac programmers, West L.A. for mobile, Beverly Hills for finance programmers, and all of Orange County for Windows. There are lots of other neighborhoods, too: There are people who write code for embedded computers smaller than your thumb. There are people who write the code that runs your TV. There are programmers for everything. They have different cultures, different tribal folklores, that they use to organize their working life. If you told me a systems administrator was taking a juggling class, that would make sense, and I’d expect a product manager to take a trapeze class. I’ve met information architects who list and rank their friendships in spreadsheets. Security research specialists love to party. What I’m saying is, I’m one of 18 million. So that’s what I’m writing: my view of software development, as an individual among millions. Code has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works.”

It’s a magical piece.

When people ask me about my kids, I jokingly say that I’d like for them to learn three language: English, French and Code. As the world evolves, I’m not sure which order is most important anymore. Yes, this issue of Bloomberg Businessweek is something that everybody should read. Most won’t. It’s long, which means: TLDR (Too Long Didn’t Read). This past week, Charlie Rose had on the magazine’s editor, along with the writer to discuss the story and the importance of code in our society… and our future.

It’s 25 minutes… and it’s worth the watch: Charlie Rose – What Is Code? with Josh Tyrangiel and Paul Ford: