Programming Without a Computer

I think of this quote almost every day:

I was trying to understand why rockets were so expensive. Obviously the lowest cost you can make anything for is the spot value of the material constituents. And that’s if you had a magic wand and could rearrange the atoms. So there’s just a question of how efficient you can be about getting the atoms from raw material state to rocket shape.

– Elon Musk


Which I reworded and condensed to:

There exists an order of bits that’ll make the iPad do what I want, and my job as a programmer is to find that list of bits.

This fought against my competing idea:

Either what I’m trying to do is impossible, or I’m too dumb to figure out how to do it.

Every day was an exercise in motivation, and a balance between these two thoughts. A few features that gave me particular grief: scissors, gesturesperformance, OpenGL rendering, among others. Each took me weeks to figure out, and often a few weeks into their development I felt no closer than day one.

But then something fantastic happened: about halfway through Loose Leaf‘s development, I had some health problems that required me to dramatically change my diet and to start exercising. Health problems generally aren’t great news, but this one changed more than my diet.

As I walked about four miles each afternoon,  a wonderful thing happened that I didn’t expect: being away from my computer gave me time to think more completely about the problem I was working on. Since I obviously didn’t have my computer with my on my walk, I couldn’t dive straight into coding each half baked idea, which forced me to think deeper through each potential solution to prove that it’d work. When I finally got back to my computer later that afternoon, I’d have a well thought out plan of attack. This made the last half of the afternoon many times more productive than the entire afternoon ever would have been.

I honestly don’t think I could have built the scissors feature without taking that walk every afternoon. More than I could say has already been said about Deep Work and thinking without distractions, but this was it for me. Taking time away from technology – no computer, no phone, no iPod, no music – it let me find the solutions to difficult problems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *