The Pernicious Myth of the Code Poet

“Code is Poetry” is a cute motto. It’s also quite false.

The spirit of the slogan is harmless enough. It foregrounds the easy-to-overlook fact that software is written by real people. And it provides some solace to the software developer who is looking for soulful validation of what often feels like a rote, boring, soulless job.

But code is not poetry, and coders who considers themselves “poets” risk doing a disservice to themselves, and to the software they’re engaged in building. Art is beautiful, and we want our software to be beautiful as well. But, in the service of beauty, art is often inert, inscrutable, ambiguous – hardly qualities of good code. Perhaps more importantly, software developers invested in an image of themselves as artists are more likely to shun collaboration, iteration, and criticism, an attitude that’s especially harmful in free software communities.

By breaking down the myth of the code poet, I hope to find some new metaphors that we software developers can embrace for justifying to ourselves the work that we do.