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The Incredible Generosity of Programmers

December 14, 2010

I’m learning how to code in C, because as a designer of video games, my inability to code is something I constantly feel – as an artist of sorts, I spend my life asking people who can paint to put to canvas what I see in my head. It feels all very “once removed”. I love the pure creative act of coding, of seeing what I’ve hammered into a text window turn into something else, and I can’t wait to understand code like many of my friends do. It will take discipline and years, and that’s awesome and okay.

It’s during this process that I’ve become aware of the incredible generosity of programmers. I post my code to my Facebook wall, and within minutes, I have “likes” and comments from numerous coders, many of whom are badass and legendary in their own right. In this, there is no exaggeration. Some go back to the early 80’s, others are assembly language PS3 engine coders, and still others are currently coding something on games we all want to play. I get private messages from many asking if I need help. Others skype me to review my code live when a particularly tricky problem presents itself. Even the person teaching me coding is patient with what I am sure are Baby Coder 101 questions, and as he spends time explaining new functions to me, I think of what that mind could be coding instead. On Twitter, the feedback is 10x that of Facebook. Industry coders are so phenomenally supportive, egging me on (even if they are excited for the potential trainwreck that may occur when I hit pointers).

This whole exercise has given me a wonderful window into the coder community. I am humbled, humored and grateful that these coders spend even a minute looking at my rudimentary code, and their generosity makes me question my own as a game designer. Am I as willing to help the fledgling game designer as they are me?


For those interested, I am using this book – Learn C on the Mac (Learn Series). It has been phenomenally helpful, but doesn’t get you coding and practicing nearly as much as I wish it did. So, I am presently finished Ch 6 and working on exercise after exercise before moving on to Ch 7 (Pointers). My mentor gives me problems to see if I can solve them in code. My solutions are not optimal, of course, and I can only program with functions I know, so actual programmers will see better ways to do things, improve my syntax and formatting, etc. That will come with time for me. Right now, the focus is on solving problems with code.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2010 1:19 pm

    Cool, I am still waiting that you respond to me something I asked you via Twitter…lol

    • December 14, 2010 2:36 pm

      Haha – ask me again here. I get a lot of pings on twitter.

      • December 15, 2010 5:10 pm

        Which compiler are you using for C++

        Are game designers the rock stars of video games industry?

        Thank you for your time.

      • December 15, 2010 8:37 pm

        Game designers are the game designers of the video games industry.

      • December 16, 2010 8:55 am

        Is that a NOPE?

        If you imagine two teams with the same level of preparation, resources, money, etc. The difference between a the best game is based in game design?.

        Certainly I don’t think art will decide that, or music. Even the code should be something standard.

  2. Michael Boyd permalink
    December 14, 2010 1:33 pm

    That’s awesome, i’m very lucky to have a great teacher and programming friends myself. I’ve always struggled with the very technical side of things. Its great that you have so much support.

  3. December 14, 2010 2:19 pm

    That’s great. Most geeky people (myself included) love to share what we have learned and love it even more when it is solicited. Remember to check out listservs too

  4. Billy permalink
    December 14, 2010 3:01 pm

    As a comment on the question of your generosity towards fledgling game designers, I recall a particular couple of months at SCAD. I remember almost every day during the break of a class I wasn’t actually taking I would ask you questions about a game I happened to be thinking about. Not only were your answers patient and incredibly helpful, there were a couple of times when you would call one or two other game veterans to give me particular advice.

    I feel like your generosity towards fledgling game designers has already been proven.

  5. December 14, 2010 3:11 pm

    The very next thing you should, Brenda, is learn a different language. Don’t wait too long, or get comfy with just C. The beauty of programming is that each language will have one or two nifty ideas that expand your horizons, but really, languages start to become less important than the logic.

    • December 14, 2010 3:22 pm

      That’s the plan. I am moving on to C++ after this. Then… 6502? (I think I am kidding.)

      • December 14, 2010 3:56 pm

        You haven’t lived until you’ve finished a game in 6502 assembly. Or maybe you haven’t live IF you’ve finished a game in 6502. I can’t quite decide.

      • December 14, 2010 8:34 pm

        I’d love to know what you think of DragonSpeak scripting, if you ever get a chance to try it. In some ways I consider its design and development to be the crowning accomplishment of my career. If you don’t have time to try it out I understand, though.

  6. Christian Abildsø permalink
    December 14, 2010 3:18 pm

    As Chris said above, I think it’s normal for those of us who are passionate about something to get excited when someone else is discovering what we’re passionate about. The moment of learning something brand new that you love is a pretty special moment, and I think it brings a lot of us back to the time when we made that discovery when we see someone else do the same. It’s part of what can make teaching so much fun.

  7. December 14, 2010 3:35 pm

    We programmers are basically people who love solving puzzles. (Abstract logic puzzles of the type you might see in an I.Q. test are commonly parts of programming interviews, in fact – it’s one of the few careers where that type of abstract problem-solving ability is directly applicable!)

    When someone posts a “puzzle” (i.e. code problem) for us to solve, we often can’t stop ourselves from digging into it and helping solve it – it’s kinda compulsive for us! (You don’t sign up to do this 40 hours a week unless you’re a bit addicted to solving these kind of problems.)

    So if you find us to be a very helpful bunch, just know that it’s a bit selfish too – your programmer friends doubtlessly love to see you entering and learning the world so familiar to them and want to support you, but I bet they also love solving the simple (to them) puzzles that you pose, for their own sake!

  8. December 14, 2010 3:56 pm

    Speaking for myself, Brenda, in my experience you’ve been terribly generous whenever I’ve had occasion to bother you with game design talk, whether on or off the net. Sometimes surprisingly so, like recognizing I was politely waiting for a chance to bother John at AHoG and pushing me to stop treating him like a legendary figure down from Olympus and just go join the discussion.

    I agree on the programming front, too. I came at design after a stint programming first, but I’ve always felt like the community is terribly great about helping raise new programmers up, and it’s something I’ve always tried to pass along myself. But I’ll add that I feel the same way about my time transitioning more into design over the last year, and with the industry in general. My campaign to better connect with the industry over the last year has really felt like it’s been met with a lot of welcome in general, and it’s really awesome.

    TL;DR: I agree on all fronts and think the answer to your final question posed is “yes”.

  9. December 14, 2010 4:03 pm

    I agree with the other respondents. The answer to your last question is Yes!

    You’re one of the most generous people, inside games and out, that I know. That’s why I think we all want to help.

  10. Anoni permalink
    December 14, 2010 5:35 pm

    If you like the common generosity, you are going to freak out if look at any free (as in freedom) software project.

  11. Adrian Lopez permalink
    December 14, 2010 8:36 pm

    As a programmer myself, I think the kind of generosity you’re seeing has more to do with who you are and what you mean to your programmer friends than with programmers in general. It’s not that programmers aren’t willing to help perfect strangers (I’ve learned a lot that way), but the level of support you’re seeing is unusual.

    I also think there’s something about game programmers, in particular, and perhaps especially those who learned their craft during the early days of computer gaming, that makes them especially happy to see in others the kind of enthusiasm they feel or once felt for their craft.

    I guess I’m a little bit jealous of you. You’re an experienced and successful game designer looking at games from a new perspective, showing the kind of enthusiasm someone new to game development might show, and all with the help of veteran game programmers. There’s something very special about that.

  12. Leon permalink
    December 16, 2010 9:44 am

    First I thought you must be a pretty popular guy that people will skype in to review your code. But then I saw that you’re a chick – which explains a lot.

    No, the coder community is not always that helpful …

  13. December 17, 2010 1:38 am

    Oh no Brenda did none of your programmer friends tell you not to learn C before learning C++? Seriously it ruins your mind because the languages are fundamentally different, yet enticingly similar. Go towards Scala and become a snob before coming back to C++!

    As for friendliness, I think it just makes us programmers really happy that other people love what we love, and want to learn. It’s a fundamental want to have you play with us — and programming is really just play. There’s even the competitive side of optimising code and what-not.

  14. December 19, 2010 8:07 am

    Ooh. Snap Brenda. We should swap stories 🙂

    I’m keeping a sometime (meaning not at all frequent) diary of it at

  15. May 6, 2011 8:05 am

    I come from a decently long background in both hobbyist games and the open-source community, and I’ve found your observations about the generousness of programmers to be true in an even broader sense… the existence of the open-source community itself is a testament to how generous programmers can be, and I constantly see the same sense of community spill over into other sectors of the programming industry too. The act of sharing code, whether under an open-source license or just sticking it in the public domain, is an incredibly selfless one, and yet thankfully one that seems commonplace in programming these days. I’d venture to say I’ve learned almost as much from studying open-source code as I have from people or online research.

  16. May 6, 2011 11:23 am

    I’m constantly surprised how dedicated and active coders are on the places like StackOverflow and pretty much any code-related forums. Its very easy to get help as long as you know how to phrase right questions.

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