Coders’ Primal Urge To Kill Inefficiency — Everywhere

For software engineers, lack of friction is an aesthetic joy, an emotional high, the ideal existential state. It’s what drives them, and what shapes our world. An excerpt from an upcoming book on coding, via Wired: The thrust of Silicon Valley is always to take human activity and shift it into metabolic overdrive. And maybe you’ve wondered, why the heck is that? Why do techies insist that things should be sped up, torqued, optimized? There’s one obvious reason, of course: They do it because of the dictates of the market. Capitalism handsomely rewards anyone who can improve a process and squeeze some margin out. But with software, there’s something else going on too. For coders, efficiency is more than just a tool for business. It’s an existential state, an emotional driver.

Coders might have different backgrounds and political opinions, but nearly every one I’ve ever met found deep, almost soulful pleasure in taking something inefficient — even just a little bit slow — and tightening it up a notch. Removing the friction from a system is an aesthetic joy; coders’ eyes blaze when they talk about making something run faster or how they eliminated some bothersome human effort from a process. This passion for efficiency isn’t unique to software developers. Engineers and inventors have long been motivated by it. During the early years of industrialization, engineers elevated the automation of everyday tasks to a moral good. The engineer was humanity’s “redeemer from despairing drudgery and burdensome labor,” as Charles Hermany, an engineer himself, wrote in 1904.

[…] Many of today’s programmers have their efficiency “aha” moment in their teenage years, when they discover that life is full of blindingly dull repetitive tasks and that computers are really good at doing them. (Math homework, with its dull litany of exercises, was one thing that inspired a number of coders I’ve talked to.) Larry Wall, who created the Perl programming language, and several coauthors wrote that one of the key virtues of a programmer is “laziness” — of the variety where your unwillingness to perform rote actions inspires you to do the work to automate them.

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