I find myself less interested in reviewing technical books than I was a couple of years ago, and I think I have figured out why. I used to write a lot of code: for my job, for books I was working on, for open source projects, and occasionally for non-profits or friends. I enjoyed it, and was always looking for new ideas or technologies that would make my life easier and my apps sparkle.
But that was then, and this is now. Now, I write grant applications and curmudgeonly articles, not code. My only involvement with the stuff I used to care so much about is steering student projects, and even that is getting harder to pull off—I’ve fallen so far out of touch with today’s technologies (and the details of the projects I am supposed to be supervising) that I embarrass myself through ignorance with ever-increasing frequency.
I tried for a while to change my reading material to match the change in my role. Project management, software development processes, software architecture—I’ve read and reviewed a fair few books in these areas since 2005, but none of them have really stirred my soul. That’s partly because “soft” topics are much harder to teach in print than technology, but also because deep down, my heart’s not in it. I don’t want to be one of those slightly-out-of-touch managers I sneered at when I had one eyebrow dyed red and saw Stop Making Sense a dozen times in three months. I want to build things, dammit: elegant, useful things that do their job so well nobody really notices they’re there.
So what should I do? Find a job where I can get my hands into code again? Resign myself to sitting on the beach and watching the young punks surf the waves I used to ride? The first would be difficult: I’m not sure I’d add enough value to justify the salary I need to feed my mortgage without taking more time away from family than I’m willing to. But the second rankles. Cabinet makers and goldsmiths and other skilled artisans don’t have to give up their craft as they get older; why should I?
In thirty-five minutes, I’ll deliver my “HPC Considered Harmful” talk to HPCS’08 in Quebec City. This time tomorrow, I’ll be back at my desk in Toronto, revising yet another grant application, and wishing that I really, truly understood DrProject’s internals. In between I’ll spend some time with my wife, and feed my daughter breakfast. It’s a good life, really—I have so much more than I ever expected to. But some time in the next few days I’m going to look at the books on my shelf and wish I was knee deep in something that would give me a reason to read one line by line and cover to cover.
Later: Scientific American reports that blogging is therapeutic. Huh—who knew?