I’ve been thinking about this myself a fair amount lately, so I apologize if I maunder on a bit. The “TL;DR” version of the story is that I bought a copy of Sublime Text ages ago to use as a LaTeX editor (I picked up LaTeX during my ur-nerd phase, roundabouts high school, and never looked back—WYSIWIG editors make me wince and moan and whine, now and forevermore) and became frustrated that there were certain things it wouldn’t do, so I learned Python to get access to its API and make it do them. After a while, I’d built up a weirdly active GitHub profile full of these weird little projects, and a local startup happened to come across it while looking for an extra pair of hands.
But I’ve been thinking about whether or not getting back into programming constitutes some kind of out-selling w/r/t my writerly ambitions. It’s certainly easy to look at it that way, but I’m not totally convinced. For one thing, I’m still writing—not as much, sure, but I’m still doing it. I even finished the Westboro project, albeit to little fanfare and less acclaim. And I’m still reading. And I’ll be back in school eventually, I imagine. So there’s the fact that they’re not mutually exclusive to consider.
Even with that aside, though: I’m feeling a little… guilty? About having spent so much time willfully ignoring this area of my brain and mind and capacity. I had this skill, or this potential skill, that I’d really spent years cultivating, till one day, like a spoiled child, I decided I was bored with it and stuffed it in a drawer. Effectively squandering not just a lucrative and practically useful base of knowledge but a part of my personal self.
In large part, the justification has to do with where I suspect the limits to my talent in this domain lie—that is to say, with the fact that I don’t think I’ll ever be a “great” developer, whereas I do have ambitions towards something approaching literary greatness. (Itself a shameful obsession-confession, but there it is.) Which is maybe more legitimate, and less mercenary, than it sounds, because it’s not just a question of laurels and accolades but also a question of where I can make the most significant contribution—not just a question of being valued but of being valuable.
It’s true that those limits are falling away so quickly now that I’m devoting serious work to exercising this long-neglected muscle that it’s hard to say where I’ll plateau, but I’m much more certain that I will. Somewhere. And the prospect of devoting the whole of my life to something I’m just not that good at is like can’t-even-look-at-it-straight nightmarish.