Coding Koans

In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport tells the story of a junior monk in New England who spends months working on a koan.  The process ends when he finally understands it; he goes to one of the senior monks and makes a gesture to indicate his understanding, which then initiates him into the upper ranks.  Until that point, they know that he doesn’t understand; even if he was able to explain the answer, or make a fake gesture, they would have known he hadn’t achieved that basic level of enlightenment.

Sometimes I feel like coding is a series of those sorts of koans.  It’s all very frustrating all the time; there are immense stretches of un-understanding, of ignorance, of conscious blindness, and then suddenly there’s a moment when you feel like you understand, and all you can do is do it.  You can also show your seniors that you understand a concept with a question, a word, even a smile, whereas before, nothing you could have done would have showed any sort of comprehension.

This is our existence.

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