Misplaced Sympathy (4th August 2008)

My programming ability leaves a lot to be desired. But when I write code, I worry about how hard it makes the machine work. If the machine has to work too hard, I feel guilty about this unfair burden.

Years ago I used to think everything was alive. If I slumped onto the sofa too strongly I’d apologise to it. Quietly, so nobody else would hear. These days I’ve grown past that. But maybe my sympathy for objects and machines is a relic of those childhood feelings?

The purpose of machines is to accurately carry out tedious and repetitive tasks for us. That’s why we create them. To feel guilty about making a machine work too hard makes no sense. Hard work is what machines are built for.

Making a CPU thrash a bit due to minutely inefficient redrawing of a control will cause a minimal increase in labour. In contrast, trying to boost my novice programming skill to overcome these slight inefficiencies causes a great deal of labour.

Of course, if code is so bad it makes an application hang for several seconds during simple operations, some changes are in order. But I should stop driving these out of misplaced sympathy. The users’ experience and the developer’s time are what matter, not the machinery’s labour.