Patrick C. Keaveny

The Wordy Coder

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What’s My Edge?

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People sometimes tell me that one day I’ll have to “decide” between Journalism and Computer Science.

During one particular whiskey-soaked evening, soon after I graduated College and somehow ended up in a small commune in Johannesburg, a friend asked me if I thought about when I would have to decide between Journalism and Computer Science.

At the time, I didn’t really give an answer, partly because I had never really considered it before, and partly because my memories of said night are hazy at best. Since then, I’ve actually met more and more people who ask me whether I’ve made a decision between the two or if I lean more towards one than the other. I guess while College is a time to just let loose and do everything, once you graduate people expect you to refine what you do into a workable life mantra.

But despite the subtle nudges I get from people, I’m starting to wonder, do I really HAVE to decide?

For one thing, it’s pretty difficult to discern which one I’m better at or which one I like more. I sometimes joke that coding is good for my brain, while writing is good for my soul, but what’s difficult is that I honestly don’t know which one I’m better suited for.

When I was in high school, I had this mission of learning every instrument in the orchestra. I started on sax but also learned clarinet, flute, a little bit of trumpet, guitar, bass, and joined the drumline. At some point, one of the other band members said, “why not just try to be really good at one instrument?”

Which is a valid point. There’s barely enough time in life to become a master at one thing, let alone many. So when College came around, although I was interested in Literature, Philosophy, Biology, Music, and Journalism, I realized that I would probably have to pick just one and stick with it. I chose Journalism partly because one of my high school teachers encouraged it, and partly because it was the only course of study that didn’t give me night terrors.

So I was resolved to do just journalism and become a really, really good writer. But then I walked into my first journalism class and my teacher said, “you can’t just be a journalist anymore. I have a PhD in Journalism and I’m outshone by bloggers in a basement. If you want to be a journalist, you need to have an edge.”

At the time, I was taking an intro to Computer Science class and started thinking to myself, “what if this were my edge?”

So I ended up with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, with a focus in Journalism and Digital Design and Development.

Which was perfect for me. Through my last two years of College, when I was knee-deep in the higher level Computer Science and Journalism electives, I felt like I was firing on all cylinders and really maximizing my skills. There was one particular moment, after finishing a programming project and beginning to work on an article I was writing after collecting several interviews where I thought, “YEAAAAAHHHH.” 

After College, I got a more Journalism-oriented job, doing video, photography, writing stories, and interviewing people. And while this was satisfying, there was something that was missing. Something was keeping me from being fulfilled, and I didn’t know what it was…until I started coding again.

And somehow, that gave me what I was missing. I would spend my days writing, and my nights coding, and it felt perfect. I loved being able to tell a story by combining words and sentences to create something meaningful. I loved using variables, classes, objects, and code to create something that brought an idea to life through technology.

These days, I split my time in equal parts writing and coding. Whether it’s writing/coding for work, blogging, writing fiction, building fun websites, doing coding exercises, or just trolling the internet for tips on how to be a better coder or writer.

Which, going back to my initial point, I’m left to wonder… why exactly do I need to decide between the two? I like to exercise and be active, but I also like to be a lazy pile and binge TV shows, should I give one of those up? I love System of a Down and Tool, but I also like Katy Perry, should I decide between those two genres? Why should I decide between two things that make me equally happy?

I used to think my edge was being a writer who could code. That’s not my edge. My edge is I am BOTH a writer AND a coder. I love doing both, and I’m good at both (at least I like to think so). So why choose one when I can do both?

And that goes for everyone else out there, deciding between different courses of life. Especially in this growing inter-disciplinary world of ours, people now have a myriad of skills rather than a singular one. If you can, make as many of your skills work as possible. But never feel like you should give up something you enjoy and are good at just because there’s no job for it, or because society subtly tells you you have to.

It’s what I’ve done, and I’ve fought tooth and nail to keep it that way, and I couldn’t be happier.