Nietzschean affirmation of endless learning. Oh the joys of being a programmer.
The point I will be making in this post will seem a bit left-field, but I am going to try to connect two seemingly unrelated topics. I’ve been in the Turing School of Software Design for 6 weeks now and I’d love to connect my wonderful experience learning how to program with a topic that I enjoyed learning about as a philosophy student at Amherst years ago: Nietzchean affirmation and the Will to Power.
But first off, let me say that today was an inspiring day at Turing. To start off the day, we had Zach Sims from Codecademy come in and talk about the early stages of his company and his own personal experience of being a beginner programmer. The programming challenges that Zach faced are the same ones that I and my fellow students at Turing currently face (wrapping our heads around a new way of thinking, high-level logical thinking, a lack of public well-written learning resources since the best programmers often aren’t the best instructors, etc.) and it was so inspiring to see someone devote their time and efforts to the cause of education, raising the ROI and quality standards of education, and helping others find more meaningful work after college outside of traditional banking and consulting jobs. He and his company seem to have a goal higher than just mere economic profit and it was refreshing to see.
After Zach, Jeff Casimir, the founder and pedagogy lead at Turing, talked about the endless learning that is required and expected from programmers, the impossibility of ever knowing everything, and the inevitability of Imposter’s syndrome. He said, “In this room, you’re never done. No program is ever done. You work is never complete.”
Heads fell and heads rose at the completion of that statement. I sensed that some felt dread, while others looked ahead to their future turmoil. It occurred to me how a person interpreted Jeff’s short speech was the litmus test of who was cut out to be a programmer.
Princeton professor and renown Nietzsche scholar Walter Kaufmann wrote that Nietzsche “celebrates the Greeks who, facing up to the terrors of nature and history, did not seek refuge in ‘a Buddhistic negation of the will,’ as Schopenhauer did, but instead created tragedies in which life is affirmed as beautiful in spite of everything. Schopenhauer’s negation of the will can be understood as him saying "no” to life and to the world, which he judged to be a scene of pain and evil. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia English Dictionary, Schopenhauer believed the will and desire of man to be malignants, evils to be terminated via mankind’s duties: asceticism and chastity.
Unlike Schopenhauer who positioned himself as the ultimate nay-sayer of life and man’s will, Nietzsche positioned himself as the ultimate yes-sayer. One of the key tenets of his philosophy is the concept of “life-affirmation,” which embraces the hardships and tragedy of the world in which we live over the ideals of a world beyond. He was more concerned with affirming the hardships of reality and finding joy in the world we live in in spite of all the tragedies, instead of hedging life with the possibility of the life beyond. He admired the Greeks who he felt “transmuted” the world and human life through art, the forces of life (Dionysian), and their love of form and beauty. A person who is able to overcome and find joy in life exhibits a Will to Power which enables a person to not shrink away from the world and its terrors but impose his/her own values on the world. Through the Will to Power, a person can live deliberately with purpose and joy in an otherwise meaningless world.
So, how does this tie in with programming and Jeff Casimir’s speech? Well, my view is this: it seems that most of the students here at Turing are able to affirm, in the Nietzchean sense, the hardships involved in programming. The heads that raised up at hearing Jeff’s point about the endless work and learning required of programmers were up for the challenges that lay ahead. Personally, I too am excited about these hardships. In my past career as a trader at Trillium Trading, I felt that there was a shortage of interesting work and things to learn. The firm had us first “master”, a loose usage of the word, a simple model that takes a few months to learn and then repeat it endlessly in this Nietzchean-esque but non-affirmed eternal recurrence. I desired more: the opportunity to continuously learn, improve, and master a craft. I heard Jeff’s words as exactly that opportunity and it seems like most of my fellow students heard it the same way. To the say the least, I look forward to my future 6 months here at the Turing School of Software Design and all of the toil, frustration, and hair-pulling that goes hand-in-hand with endless learning.