May 6, 2014

This essay was written in early 2013 to be my contribution to Tim Smith’s Lustra Magazine. Unfortunately, circumstances dictated that the project never launched and this has been sitting in my Documents folder ever since. I ran across it today and wanted to share. Enjoy.

We’re lucky folks. By our industry’s very nature, the toolsets available to us are very good because we’re good at building them. That’s a luxury not afforded to carpenters or bakers. A carpenter can’t make a better table saw out of a 2×4 and a baker can’t make a better oven with flour and water. But we’re different. The things we build are made with other things we build.

It’s like a tweet I saw several days ago. Sadly, I can’t find it, but it went something like this.

Kid: “Was the thing you use to program made with programming?” Dad: “Yes, it actually was.” Kid: [mind = blown]

When you get down to it, this is huge. It’s no problem if you want a JavaScript component to work substantially different than it currently does — fork that sucker on GitHub and get to it! Want to make significant tweaks to your text editor? TextMate, arguably the best text editor of all time, is just waiting for you. Notice a bug or inefficiency in Ruby on Rails? Fix it and you too could have code in the Rails source.

The sky is the limit it and it’s awesome.

So, a couple of things. First, if we want something, we’ll build it. Second, there are a lot of us and we build a lot of things.

Blessings tend to come hand-in-hand with curses in my experience. Buy a Corvette and you can expect a substantial increase in your car insurance bill. Buy a new MacBook and you’ll be constantly worried it’ll get dented.

Have an endless supply of tools and you’ll never make anything.

I’ve just finished Execute by Josh Long and Drew Wilson. All in all a fantastic book. I wouldn’t say I agree with every single thing in it, but that’s for another time.

What it did best was explaining inspiration — how it works and how to manage it to your advantage. Inspiration is our most valuable asset when building things. With it at our backs, we can do a task twice as fast as it would take an uninspired us to do half as well.

Different people draw inspiration differently. Managing it is the trick. As Drew says in the book, whenever he gets a little tired of building out the backend of an app, he designs a marketing page or tweaks an interface. Design recharges him and gives him fresh energy towards the project.

Making, whether it be designing, developing or even gardening or sewing, is what inspires us. It’s what we as humans were designed to do. It’s our God-given nature and there’s not a thing we can do about it.

Picking our tools is a distraction. It’s time we’re not making, and more importantly, not being inspired. Bootstrap versus Foundation… SASS versus LESS… PHP versus Ruby versus Python… flat versus skeu… Mac versus PC…

It doesn’t matter.

Actually, I take that back. It matters a darned lot. It matters that you don’t get stuck there. It matters that you build instead of plan.

Pick something. Build something with it. Only then will you really know if you like it or not. If you get to the end of the project and want to try something different next time, do it. At least you’ll have some real experience to inform your decisions.

Stay inspired. Keep moving. Work hard. Leave things better than you found them. Make stuff.

Maybe even tools.