A Game of Code

So code development can be remarkably like working out.

When you do it, it’s easier to keep going. The practice becomes self-sustaining, enlightening and enjoyable, making you feel better and better about yourself. But just as with exercise, a halt in your efforts can endure. It’s harder and harder to open the IDE (think studio for developing) and get in a few lines of code.

I hate to admit that I was strangely reluctant to start coding this new project. I had discussed it with Manuel and Andrew for a while, and originally envisioned a collectible card game. Because my friends live in the UK, I suggested that doing a demo on Android could make it easier to play test.

But discussion about the m300px-Demomanarket slowly changed our direction. And although we’ve only added the prefix “digital” to the collectible card game title, ipso facto… we are developing a video game.

After agreeing to it, I began to feel reluctance. Coding is exhausting, a mental strenuous practice of researching API (application programming interfaces) possibilities, reading through how-to guides, trial-and-error approaches to problem solving. There can and certainly will be days you drill down the details and exhaust all possibilities on how to solve some issue, only to arrive at frustrating dead-ends because of inexperience.

Today, I finally cracked my inhibitions and began working. Just some easy User Interface (UI) designs, I admit, but not without a few challenges and making me recognize some of the tools and approaches I will be taking to develop the game. Handling the Java-derived functionality is usually easy. And thus far, the User Interface specifications are either in the scope of my experience or just outside of it and won’t take long to crack. However I have entertained the possibilities of moving beyond the “card game” demeanor and embracing… something classic.

Part of this desire was sparked by a recent sale I’ve been conducting on eBay. I am preparing to move to Arlington, Virginia in a week, so I thought to unburden myself of old items that I no longer need. Mundane things, like clothes and unneeded kitchen goods, found their way to the local GoodWill. But books and old Playstation games were placed on sale, some of which selling quite handsomely despite being nigh twenty years of age.

As I didn’t wish to sell damaged and useless goods to my customers, I went ahead and tested my games against my old PlayStation 1. The majority of titles on sale were from SquareSoft, before its merger to Enix. In those days, Square had exceedingly good programmers and designers, their titles enjoyable and fun, a mix of traditional with the new processing power the console offered them. Some say this approach ended with the release of Final Fantasy VIII, when the focus on art and graphics shifted attention from meaningful innovation of core game play.

Recent indie titles, such as The Banner Saga, Risk of Rain and the renovated ShadowRun series, have proven to me that not only is their a market for old-school gaming, but forgotten fun to be had. And yet these titles did not require warehouses of artists either.

Now to be fair, I am aware that there is a good chance this project may never be finished. A few years back, I looked at documentation for Steam Engine projects on their wiki projects page. Many of them had great ideas but didn’t get off the ground either due to lack of technical talent, time or interest. It’s hard to invest it something like this when one is not getting paid. (Not to be cynical, but being a starving artist carries the downside of actually starving.)

Now I will set aside time once a month to discuss this project. A lot of details keep getting shifted around although we have a core idea that we’re sticking with. But we’ll see what happens next.

Being the Change We Need

Something has been bugging me lately.

Coding and technology related work is increasingly where the jobs are. This isn’t going to change, as the “world of tomorrow” has been here since the turn of the century. And as with any other economic shift, it has meant a change in the labor workforce.

One’s career is the true source of one’s independence. Besides the source of income to handle our physical needs, a great career also handles our spiritual concerns. Our need to feel that our efforts matter and we make a sincere difference in the world.

Which is why I’m concerned about the lack of women developers.

Because staring at a wall of text is boring.

Because staring at a wall of text is boring.

Various news sources and media have been talking about the forthcoming drought of women coders in the field.

Why? Depends on who you ask.

The usual narrative has been that it’s a boy’s club. Others are more subtle about it, saying that our culture has been influencing them to stop coding, engineering and sciences.

Personally, I think it’s a load of bunk. For one thing, I suspect that many women have taken a look at what being a developer means and decided that spending the majority of their work hours staring at a computer screen isn’t for them (it does get kind of tiring…) Many women I’ve met in the field have opted for project management, business requirement analysts, team leads and human resource positions. Positions with far more human interaction and critical decisions to be made.

And if someone is going to argue that our culture is responsible for it, I would point out how often developers get stereotyped as “nerds and geeks,” belittled and degraded. Titles that are not exactly savory or chic.

Maybe women took one look at that stereotype and decided they’d rather not earn that label for themselves. So perhaps our culture is responsible, but the fault lies not on gender lines but more in how culture is casting developers as a whole.

I don’t agree with why there’s a lack of women coders. But the fact stands that there is a lack of them. That worries me because society needs more developers. And women can find themselves disadvantaged, their independence threatened, if they don’t figure out how.

Fortunately, it’s never too late to learn.

That’s why, at work, I’m putting together a few boot camps to help teach coworkers from other departments to learn some of the basics and get started with developing in Java and other useful tools, and perhaps set them down a different career path. Guys are very welcome too, but I’ve made a conscientious effort to invite women to join.

I would invite anyone else with a few years development experience to do the same to help remedy this problem in their own circles. If anyone decides to take up this invitation to help me fix this problem, leave me a comment and we’ll touch base to exchange teacher materials.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Thanksgiving!