When copywriters code

I’m a hopeless romantic, if I have to say the least about myself. Robert M. Pirsig, in his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, classifies people into two types: romantics and classics. I’m the romantic. In the bluntest of terms, romantics are creative thinkers and classics are logical thinkers. Of course both types would have interchangeable qualities, but on a macro level, romantics dream up while classics drill down.

Now that I’ve established a basic, arguable nonetheless, definition of the term, let me emphasise. I’m a romantic, and I’m hopeless at that.

Romantics don’t think like machines. We learn to look at nature, to observe what’s around us, and interpret them in the most beautiful way, or in the most natural way. Classics, on the other hand, learn to look at something and analyse why something appears some way. We appreciate how a flower’s stem balances its five petals whereas classics calculate the stem’s ability to bear the petals. It’s a slight difference when you put it that way, but a much more alarming one when you look at it in a real workplace scenario.

I am a copywriter surrounded by software engineers. I’m a romantic in the midst of classics. I write stories, and they write software. We co-exist to help customers do better business. Now that’s a nice picture. But the real problem arises during a conversation, when the programmers talk about parse and encryption and my mind’s thinking about prose and enchantment.

It didn’t take long for me to realise I was out of place, and I had to learn to code to feel in place. I didn’t have to become a developer—I knew I never could—but I had to develop basic knowledge of how programmers use language. And so I began. I sat with a developer while they wrote a piece of program, and I observed in their eyes the frantic whizzing in their mind. They spoke to the screen in front of them, reasoning out the flow of script. The first line of code would run once before moving on to the second. Swapping the order of the lines would disrupt the entire program. Replacing a semicolon, adding an extra colon or an extra space would topple things in the most inconvenient way. (“Yay!” I yelled. “It’s the same with writing,” though the developers weren’t as excited.)

After a few days under development, I concluded that we romantics don’t learn to think the way computers do. Regardless of all technology innovations, computers don’t and won’t think like humans. As a non-developer I could see how I had to alter my way of thinking and approaching a problem to explain it to a computer. For a logical flow that I take for granted, the computer needs a line of script. When I think I’d fetch water, my mind knows I’d drink it. But if I told a computer to fetch water, it’d fetch it and keep it aside until I tell it—again—that it should drink half of it and save the rest.

We romantics don’t condition our minds to think one step at a time. That’s why it’s hard for us to learn programming at a later age. We think in blocks of actions, in phrases, in groups of words, and instructions. We read poetry that distributes one meaning in five lines. We process a poem as a whole to understand its meaning. We’re clustered thinkers because it’s ingrained in our minds. Classics, however, think in a sequence. That’s what a degree in computer science gives them. They take actions one step at a time. They’re more organised thinkers because that’s what’s ingrained in their minds.

My eureka moment: With enough practice, I could start thinking like a programmer, too. It felt like I had opened the door to a whole new world. I could speak to any computer, and tell it what to and when to do. The thought awed me, and terrified me at the same time.

Perhaps classics would feel the same way if they spent a few days reading Shakespeare.

Pantry Talks

Hi there! Sorry, I didn’t notice you. Though I wouldn’t have come in if I had. Great to see you — again.

I’m just here to grab a cup of coffee. Sure, we can talk. As long as it’s here and not in my place. I wouldn’t want you there flirting with my teammates.

Oh, work’s fine, thanks for asking. How’s about yours?

Must’ve been hard to input all those numbers, huh? Ah no worries, you won’t get fired for smoking weed at the parking lot. You were stressed, you say? Sure, it’s not as if that’s offensive or dangerous—or against the policy.

Nothing’s new with life, then? Quite obvious, since we had this exact conversation in the restroom a couple of hours ago. But you’re right. Anything can happen anytime, even though we’re just staring at screens behind glass doors.

Yeah, the weekend’s almost here. No plans yet, why do you ask? Oh, it’s a place south of here, huh? Sounds fun, a weekend hike with you and some friends I don’t know. Sure,
I’d love to make barbecue and talk about new movies. Not at all a waste of time.

No no, we can talk. It’s not like I have a memo to finish. Or work on the upcoming release.

Hell no, I’m not declining your hike offer because I have a date. And no, it’s not that I don’t like you either. I’m cool with you gossiping behind people’s backs. It sure is a fun way to blow off steam. You’re right, life’s short. And standing here talking to you makes me realise it more.

You know, why didn’t make eye contact as I came in here? No, I didn’t want to avoid you, but, you see, I’m stuck with an issue. Can you help fix it?

Wha — you just remembered you’re busy? You were just chilling out until I mentioned work. You shouldn’t be in the pantry at 3 in the afternoon if you have tasks over your head.

Oh, I see. Sure, sure, we all get distracted sometimes. So, you’re going now? Yup, I’ll catch you sometime later. And I hope sometime’s never.

Letters Everywhere

Codes are strange. Even though I can’t code, most of my friends are coders who laugh at the thought that codes are complex. For them, coding is passion. For me though, passion is writing.

They’re all letters, anyway.

Coder 2


This photo is for the Daily Post – Photo Challenge.