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“Here’s what the keyboard just received—do with this what you will.” It’s simple now, right? It has to take these lines and circles and render them in a little box of pixels in the part of its memory that manages the screen.
The computer just goes to some table, figures out that the signal corresponds to the letter “a,” and puts it on screen. So far we have at least three representations of one letter: the signal from the keyboard; the version in memory; and the lines-and-circles version sketched on the screen.
You have a reputation throughout the organization as a careful person, bordering on penny-pinching. We are here because the editor of this magazine asked me, “Can you tell me what code is? A month into the work, I damaged the accounts of 30,000 fantasy basketball players. I’d happily talk to people from Google and Apple, too, but they so rarely reenter the general population.
The way you’d put it is, you are loath to pay for things that can’t be explained. This policy has served you well in many facets of operations, but it hasn’t worked at all when it comes to overseeing software development. You don’t want your inquiry to be met by a patronizing sigh of impatience or another explanation about ship dates, Agile cycles, and continuous delivery. The World Wide Web is what I know best (I’ve coded for money in the programming languages Java, Java Script, Python, Perl, PHP, Clojure, and XSLT), but the Web is only one small part of the larger world of software development. East Hollywood would be for Mac programmers, West L. for mobile, Beverly Hills for finance programmers, and all of Orange County for Windows.
Some things that aren’t yet computers—dental floss, flashlights—will fall eventually.
When you “batch” process a thousand images in Photoshop or sum numbers in Excel, you’re programming, at least a little.
Which means that people have been faking their way through meetings about software, and the code that builds it, for generations. This issue comprises a single story devoted to demystifying code and the culture of the people who make it.
Now that software lives in our pockets, runs our cars and homes, and dominates our waking lives, ignorance is no longer acceptable. There’s some technical language along with a few pretty basic mathematical concepts.
The computer and its multifarious peripherals are the materials. Consider what happens when you strike a key on your keyboard.
Say a lowercase “a.” The keyboard is waiting for you to press a key, or release one; it’s constantly scanning to see what keys are pressed down. Just as the keyboard is waiting for a key to be pressed, the computer is waiting for a signal from the keyboard.