Quite possibly the best title ever, Geek Sublime brings the poetic quality of Vikram Chandra’s fiction to explain the awe-inspiring world of code, “Software is hard because it tries to model the irreducible complexity of the world.” Although he compares many aspects of coding to the discipline of writing, Chandra provides ample contrast as well. “Coding sees cause and effect immediately…it either works or it doesn’t. Poetry has no success or failure, it waits to manifest.”
The beauty of Geek is that it breaks both fundamental and advanced concepts down so that even mere mortals can understand the nuances. Chandra even holds our hands to wade into the deep end of current controversies over how much developers should know about computing fundamentals vs. relying on pre-packaged templates. The debate is analogous to baking cookies from scratch vs. plopping them out of a pre-mixed tube.
Chandra compares writing code that works to what must feel like doing heroin for the first time with the added benefit that it’s a mostly benign addiction, “…you can slam this pleasure spike into your veins again and again and you want more and more, and more.”
He also compares his desire to truly understand the fundamentals of computing (logic gates, anyone?) and “bake from scratch” to the pre-modern quality of his writing—not in an epic or in an ironic nod to psychological realism, but to more fully integrate the self that’s evolved from his living in multiple cultures.
Chandra even sheds some light on the differences between US and Indian developers, contrasting the tropes and motifs of the Wild Wild West with the dark and mysterious “Orientalness" of pre-colonial India. He underscores the importance by opining that, “Fictions about history are not just distractions, they move individuals and nations into action and so they change history itself.”
Chandra’s detour into explaining the evolution of Sanskrit and associated language forms. is instructive, if a bit hard to follow at some times. I hadn’t realized how governed the language is by logic, culture, deities and yes, even beauty. He explains Sanskrit as an, “eternal, formal language…obsessed with correctness, precision, clarity.:
Sounds a lot like code.