Judge the work

Watercolours are done—history. Oils have won. Anybody who is serious about making art has to paint with oils now.

Artists and artisans don’t choose their medium based on popularity or the odds of a big payday. It isn’t idealism; there are practical concerns. You don’t want to pick a medium that’s utterly esoteric. Beyond that, the concerns are likely to be about expressivity, joy, and practicality.

You need a foundation of practicality that’s dialled in to your personal means and circumstances. The materials and tools can’t be too expensive or hard to find. Moderately esoteric is fine if it helps you get the expression or joy you seek. Choosing an area less explored is joyful to those who seek exploration.

Joy is one of the base needs of a craft. Even novelists, who as a class excel at complaining about their craft, find joy in its actual practice. Most of the creative field do what they do out of a compulsion born from joy, not from addiction. They may hate it, but both love and hate—even pain—are orthogonal to joy. (That’s why psychiatrists earn the big bucks.) Artists do what they do because it gives them joy.

Joy also comes from expressiveness. Which is where we arrive at the heart of our problem when we’re trying to choose a medium. You need a canvas that lets you say what you want to say, in the way you want to say it. What you don’t do is try to choose a canvas based on whether it increases your odds of a six figure pay day. You might choose it based on the odds of a regular pay day, mostly out of a need for making the craft sustainable, not for getting rich. You do art because you have something to say.

Wander through Hacker News or any other developer forum and you’ll find them debating the various merits of this platform or another. The arguments they use are remarkably similar to that of the proverbial artisan above. That’s because that’s what we are: artisans. We talk of practicality and viability. We compare tools and debate capabilities. There’s little talk of whether this choice or that will make you wealthy—it’s a sure sign of a blowhard wannabe (or a ‘non-technical co-founder’).

All crafts are complex to outsiders—each in their own way. But it doesn’t take long for you to spot some cultural commonalities. Everybody worries about costs and viability because they really enjoy what they are doing and want to continue. They worry about their own capabilities and whether their tools expand or limit them. They debate compromises.

And all of the tools are compromised.

Python is slow. Javascript is messy. Closure is anchored to the JVM. But Closure is elegant. Javascript is flexible and ubiquitous. And Python is just fun. They may not be the most practical choices for every circumstance, but for some they give you exactly the voice you want.

Most developers make and create even when they aren’t being paid—provided they have the means and the free time. If software or web development collapsed as a profession overnight we’d still be left with a bunch of active developers coding in their personal time. Software and web development as a craft is equal parts vocation and a calling.

It’s a calling because, even at it’s most measured, it is a creative profession.

The software industry has remarkable scope for what platforms to use, which programming language to write in, how you architect a project, and how you solve each and every tiny problem that the project is made up of. Because there are often many right answers to each question, how a developer solves a problem will always be a creative expression. It is not a single monolithic medium.

Which is why it’s just plain dumb when developers like me let uninformed, click-baiting journalists drag us into a foolish debate on whether the web or any other given platform is winning or losing—living or dying. That journalists take a complex and evolving craft and present it as a cockfight between platforms is nothing short of profane.

They are hacks, not hackers. Letting ourselves get pulled into their meaningless little popularity games solves nothing and causes nothing but conflict.

Only the work and its impact on the audience matters. Judge the work, not the platform.

Oh, it’s a website? Too bad. Websites are done. Only apps matter now. If you’re serious, you have to make an app, not a website.