Writing and Programming: More alike than you may think (Part 3)

This is the last of three posts about some of the similarities I’ve noticed between writing and programming. You can catch yourself up by reading part 1 and part 2.

As I’ve mentioned in both of the previous posts, I’m not trying to make linguistic and programming codes the same thing. And I’m not trying to force some sort of artificial connection between the two.  What I am trying to do is bring together principles from both that might allow us to understand each of them better.

Programming code and linguistic code are undeniably distinct. We can’t compare Ruby or Java to English in the same way we can compare French or Tagalog to Russian.  There’s a big difference, right? But fundamentally, isn’t the purpose of both programming and linguistic codes to do something for a human being? They communicate messages, provide information, enable actions.

You could argue that we use computer code to communicate with computers and linguistic code to communicate with humans. But is that really an accurate description? We don’t actually talk to computers–we input messages that prompt responses from them. And those responses trigger actions that complete a task or provide a service… for a human being.

If you look at both computer code and linguistic code from a people-centered perspective, they aren’t that different after all.

I’ve heard many, many times that technology people just can’t write and humanities people can’t program.  Their respective brains won’t work that way.  Well, why not?  Of course I’m not saying all developers need to immediately start trying to publish articles and all English majors need to start writing web apps (although neither of those would be an especially bad thing).   But I have to wonder… is this divide actually real? Or something we’ve created, reinforced, and now believe? What if we stepped back and instead of looking at what makes up computer and linguistic codes on the language or syntax level, we look at the approach to writing those codes instead?

Maybe, just maybe, if we are able to identify meaningful relationships between the two, we can encourage programmers to become better writers and writers to become better programmers.  If nothing else, would clearer communication skills, increased productivity, and better products be such a bad thing?


3 thoughts on “Writing and Programming: More alike than you may think (Part 3)

    • It all seems to come down to understanding how to communicate–whether through words, design, demonstrating logical processes, etc… And I definitely agree with you. There are a a lot of very well written (as well as entertaining and information-rich) blogs written by programmers.

  1. Pingback: Writing and Programming: More alike than you may think (Part 2) | Laurissa Wolfram

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