If you could have infinite coding speed, what project would you work on? (October 3, 2011)
I love contemporary art. It exists within its own universe, driven by the principles artists sometimes invent on the fly. It’s an incessant journey towards pure aesthetics while trying to ignore consumer, political, religious and social values, a constant search of meaning. Exciting stuff.
It so happened that I’m a founder and a programmer and gallery visits and books usually limit my exposure to the art world. But every time I encounter some new insight on the artists’ way of doing work I try to make parallels with programming. For example, would a practice similar to one of copying masters’ work — it does exist in art schools — help a young programmer’s development? If you sit and rewrite, say, V8 (if you’re into hardcore C/C++) or Sinatra (if you’re a Ruby ninja) while peeking at the original periodically, would that make you a better programmer?
While it’s not clear how useful this way of using your time is, we can afford another short thought experiment. Here’s a small quote of the very famous art curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist:
The most important context we, as developers, exist in, is the one scoped by code complexity (that increases as any project grows) and the actual time required typing those lines of code. What would be your project if you could get rid of those limits and have your project done and working as soon as you finish typing
Let’s assume we don’t gain magic powers together with infinite coding speed. I.e. if your problem is not Turing-decidable or does not have a clear solution yet (like the task of high-quality speech recognition, for example) or belongs to NP, we still can’t solve it.
Now that’s a tough one.
I once started writing a Twisted-like protocol framework in Haskell — my pet project some time ago. Six years spent doing telco development where having time to market in the range of months and not years is a huge win, and where requirements of software uptime and reliability are insane made me think that having a platform written in more expressive and rigid language might be useful. While it would be nice having this framework in no time, it could only be proven useful with the real-world constraints in place. Can we develop useful applications on top of this platform quickly? Nobody can say in advance. In other words, even with infinite coding speed, this project might be both a hit or a miss.
My current project, Scalar, mostly consists of UI/UX challenges. We’re trying to invent new way of doing complex calculation on iPad and as soon as we’re able to figure out how to present things on the device and how to allow users to interact with them, coding is pretty trivial. It’s clear that Scalar would greatly benefit from us having the infinite coding speed, but its total development time wouldn’t be reduced to zero. Moreover, its commercial success would be far from guaranteed even in this case.
At this point I started to wonder: could you turn at least any project into a hit by having the infinite coding speed? You can build something marginally better than Square, but you still have to spend time wearing suits to meetings with bankers. You can quickly build something that will combine Lonely Planet with Gowalla and Instagram, but you can’t speed up travel writers taking data out of Quark Xpress files and putting them into your database. Even with systems programming, reducing implementation time to zero does not seem to help. Could you instantly build something better than VMWare and win their market, for example? Not so sure. Or can you profit from implementing a GFS-like file system in no time? It looks like even the wildest dreamers with will hit the wall here.
If you could have infinite coding speed, what would your project be like?
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