Nathaniel Knight

Reflections, diversions, and opinions from a progressive ex-physicist programmer dad with a sore back.

That's the Job

A few nights ago, in the wee hours of the morning, I came to be staring red-eyed at a list of programming languages. I'm a generally optimistic person, I enjoy learning these sorts of things, and I appreciate the things that the tools on this list had to offer. Despite all that, I couldn't contemplate investing in any of them with anything but dread.

This had nothing to do with the merits of the tools on that list. I was in the waning moments of an irrationally anxious episode, questioning my ability as a programmer, the sustainability of this industry, my choice of career. I certainly wasn't sleeping, which is what I ought to have been doing. I haven't been a programmer for as long as some folks, but even a relative whippersnapper like me can feel buried by the avalanche of new tech, stymied by the exacting nature of working with these infernal silicon devices and the software we write for them.

The incident that precipitated this moment of angst was a SQL view that I encountered at work. Some changes had been made to this view and I was tasked with validating that they were correct. Now, I consider a ten line SQL view to be a substantial piece of code, and a hundred line view is approaching the limit of I'm comfortable with. The view in question was an order of magnitude bigger than that. It was also part of a system which has probably saved lives. This needed to be done, and we needed to be confident that it was done right.

Eventually, what let me close that list and get some rest was the realization that this is the job. As a programmer, sometimes you need to be smart and creative and put together a clean solution with no wasted parts using exactly the right tools. But other times, when folks are depending on you to fix something important, your job is to open the thousand line SQL view, take a deep breath, and figure out how you can do the task in front of you with the tools you have.

Remember that. Expect it. And be proud when you do it well.