Showing off code is hard

I recently created a Dribbble ‘follower’ account. Dribbble is a great website where designers show off small slices of their work.
I could spend hours just browsing and enjoying the nice stuff other people created. It’s nice that designers just need a few pixels on your screen to show off their work. Almost everyone can relate to their work and has an opinion on it. But if you write code for a living, like me, it’s a lot harder to show off your work.

People that don’t write code themselves have no clue what you’re doing in the first place. It’s just a bunch of lines in a language they don’t understand. Of course, the people using the web applications you create have a few ways to directly notice the impact of your code. For example, they can tell that it ‘it works smooth’, ‘never crashes’ etc. But that’s just the top of the iceberg, and most of the time, visitors and customers just take these things for granted. You only hear them when something bad happens, like crashes, data loss or downtime 🙂 It’s a pattern; front-end developers get more of the praise when something good happens, and coders take more heat when things go downhill. Devs might get a pat on the back for delivering solid code within the deadline. But in general, code is often regarded as a commodity instead of a craft, while I still find the thought process of creating software inspiring, fun and challenging.

But it gets even more complicated. It’s pretty difficult to show off code to our fellow devs as well. If I want to post some code snippets here, I’d have to add a lot of context before it starts making sense. I can’t just copy-paste some lines out and get ooohs and aaaahs for elegant LINQ-queries or tightly structured methods.
Open source projects are great – it’s common for a developer to have a Github account with a few open source projects in them. But creating and maintaining a decent open-source project takes a lot of time, determination and inspiration. It’s not something you do in just a few hours of spare time.
Sharing with colleagues is great, but we’re the www-generation so we want to share with the whole world.

At the moment, 90% of the work I do goes unnoticed. It’s buried in a codebase that’s silently buzzing on a server somewhere. It’s not very satisfying to write code and then forget about it. I know there’s more value to be gained from the work I do. But the process of extracting knowledge we can share and appreciate out of ‘anonymous’ codebases is hard and takes a lot of time. It’s difficult to put structure in our thoughts and create and share thoughts, snippets, libraries, patterns and projects. Personally, it even takes me way too much time to write a single blogpost. But even if it’s hard, quitting or whining is not an option. Progress starts with ourselves. Blogposts, open-source projects, conferences – we’re doing this stuff after our hours to create a community where we can share. I really appreciate the time people put in sharing, because I know how hard it is. Some people write thousands of great blogposts, and great new initiatives, projects and communities arise everyday. I’m confident that things will always get a bit better.

For me pesonally, staring at my feet was a mistake I made too often in the past. One of my goals for the future is to spend slightly less time coding, and a little more time sharing. If we don’t ‘market’ our work to our managers, our coworkers, the community and our clients, it might as well not exist. We have to show what we do and make clear why it matters. The key investment is time, and lots of it. But I’m convinced that it’s a good investment to make in the long run.

If you’re a developer, you probably experienced the feelings I’m describing here in some way. What’s your take? How do you show off your code? Comments or follow-up posts are appreciated 🙂