What Do you Mean You Write Code EVERY DAY?

Every so often, I ask folk in the department when they last wrote any code; often, I get blank stares back. Write code? Why would they want to do that? Code is for the teaching of, and big software engineering projects, and, and, not using it every day, surely?

I disagree.

I see code as a tool for making tools, often disposable ones.

Here’s an example…

I’m writing a blog post, and I want to list the file types recognised by Jupytext. I can’t find a list of the filetypes it recognises as a simple string that I can copy and paste into the post, but I do find this:

Copying out those suffixes is a pain, so I just copy that text string, which in this case happens to play nicely with Python (because it is Python), sprinkle a bit of code:

and here’s the list of filetypes supported by Jupytext: .py, .R, .r, .jl, .cpp, .ss, .clj, .scm, .sh, .q, .m, .pro, .js, .ts, .scala.

Note that is doesn’t have to be nice code, and there may be multiple ways of solving the problem (in the example, I use a hybrid “me + the computer” approach where I get the code to do one thing, I copy the output, paste that into the next cell and then hack code around that, as well as “just the computer” approach. The first one is perhaps more available to a novice, the second to someone who knows about .join()).

So what?

I tend use code without thinking anything special of it; it’s just a tool that’s to hand to fashion other tools from, and I think that colours my attitude towards the way in which we teach it.

First and foremost, if you come out of a coding course not thinking that you now have a skill you can use quite casually to help get stuff done, you’ve been mis-sold…

This blog post took much longer to write than it took me to copy the _SCRIPT_EXTENSIONS text and write the code to extract the list of suffixes… And it didn’t take long to write the post at all…

See also: Fragment – Programming Privilege.

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

4 thoughts on “What Do you Mean You Write Code EVERY DAY?”

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