The Art of Handmade Code

As I lay in bed early this morning unable to sleep, I started thinking about why I chose web development as a career. Why did I, who preferred art, books and anything crafty – all tangible items made by hands, prefer to work at a career that was so intangible as to be technically nonexistent. Websites in reality don’t exist. You can’t hold a website, hang it on a wall, cut it or glue it to something else.

Unlike art, books or craft, websites don’t stick around. They come and they go very quickly. No one will frame and hang a website in the Louvre. 500 years later, people won’t be restoring a website and paying an admission fee to ooh and ah at a website in person. When archaeologists of the future uncover a city that’s been lost for thousands of years, it won’t be websites they find.

In addition to not being there in time and space, web development requires so much left brain thinking, memorisation and maths. All things I didn’t care for in school. I loved art class, history and science – again all tangible, creative paths. I did not care for math at all – although I did well in geometry because it was mostly visual.  Chemistry, which was science but mostly math, wasn’t my thing. Code is a sort of computer chemistry.

But then I began to realise that perhaps code, while intangible and non-existent in the real world, really was handmade after all. Did it not require creative thinking as well as the logic? Wasn’t there an inherent beauty in clean markup? Was I not proud when a particular feature, which was unknown at the start of the project, came together to work perfectly?

My code comes from my fingers moving across a keyboard  just like my knitting comes from my hands moving two needles, my art from my hands moving a pencil, a needle or a paintbrush. Is not the 1s and 0s that make up a computer therefor my canvas? The language, the medium? Like I may choose wool for a jumper or acrylic for my paint, do I not choose HTML for my monitor, web standards and semantics for the screen? Perhaps then websites are more than “just the frame” or the “material”. They’re a fleeting look into the artist of the now. I think I code because I love my hands moving across the keyboard. Because I love seeing the parts I make come together into a functional, working thing. You could liken my coding to knitting a jumper – where many parts have to be sewn together, pieces to make a whole. Was not the sidebar a collar? My JavaScript a sleeve?

While its doubtful that no one will remember my websites long after I’m gone, or create an exhibition of them at a museum, that doesn’t make the the website, the code, any less handmade. Instead, it’s just become one thing in a long list of things I love to create.