Angry Software Engineers

If I were even one-fourth the writer Harlan Ellison is I wouldn’t be a software engineer. Yet while the skill sets differ, the craft, the art, and the trials and tribulations are similar. In “Somehow I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas, Toto” anthologized in The Essential Ellison, he tells of one dark experience with Hollywood:

Six months of my life were spent in creating a dream the shape and sound and color of which had never been seen on television. The dream was called The Starlost, and between February and September of 1973 I watched it being steadily turned into a nightmare.

The late Charles Beaumont, a scenarist of unusual talents who wrote many of the most memorable Twilight Zones, said to me when I arrived in Hollywood in 1962, “Attaining success in Hollywood is like climbing a gigantic mountain of cow flop, in order to pluck the one perfect rose from the summit. And you find when you’ve made that hideous climb... you’ve lost the sense of smell.”

In the hands of the inept, the untalented, the venal and the corrupt, The Starlost became a veritable Mt. Everest of cow flop and, though I climbed the mountain, somehow I never lost sight of the dream, never lost the sense of smell, and when it got so rank I could stand it no longer, I descended hand-over-hand from the northern massif, leaving behind $93,000, the corrupters, and the eviscerated remains of my dream.

Ellison’s parting words to writers is just as applicable to software engineers:

It is the writer’s obligation to his craft to go to bed angry, and to rise up angrier the next day. To fight for the words because, at final moments, that’s all a writer has to prove his right to exist as a spokesman for his times. To retain the sense of smell; to know what one smells is the corruption of truth and not the perfumes of Araby.

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