I turned 50 today. To you, the thinking reader, I wanted my birthday gift to be a short version of why I code @ 50. The vast majority of people who know me have no idea that I write computer programs on an almost daily basis. I do not expect you to touch computer code unless that tickles your fancy, but I thought that my ‘why’ might help you trace out paths with everything that you can do so that you too have a more joyful life.
No one thing you do should be your limiting label (I still don’t label myself ‘a runner’ or ‘a finance expert’) because, no matter how positive, they end up being misinterpreted by those who see the world with a strong sampling bias (which, unfortunately for humans, is 99% of the world).
So, why do I code at 50?
Along with hyperlinks, here are some of the reasons…
Q U I C K I E S
Falling in Love
Just another Hobby
S E L F – I M P R O V E M E N T
1234AI and Beyond
Use it Anywhere & Everywhere
The Path Ahead
Falling in Love [top]
Falling in Love – It was 34 years ago when I fell in love. With flow charts, algorithms and pseudocode. For solving problems and implementing solutions. One of my best friends from secondary school and I enrolled in, what was then, not a cheap computer programming class. It was the only one we knew of in the city of Mumbai at that time. That class was unusual compared with a similar class in 2019 – for the entire month, we did not get to even see a computer. The teacher had a blackboard in his living room at home, and we had pen-and-paper to solve problems. At the end of the month, he allowed us 30 minutes each on his very slow personal computer as the ‘practical session for the course’. That final 30 minutes was a waste of time for me, but the thinking during all of the other afternoon lessons in that hot Indian summer month of May 1985 was what got me – attracted for life.
Takeaway Message? It is better to be in love with what you do! But, if you are not, don’t fret. You can always fall in love with what you do. As my awesome dentist says, and I totally agree with her, you can become passionate about what you do, if you invest your thoughts, and sense of responsibility, ownership and pride in the many tasks that are important.
Just another Hobby [top]
Just like watching documentaries is a hobby of mine, so is computer programming. It does not even crop up on many versions of my CV or professional profiles.
Takeaway Message? You may not be a rockstar musician whose hobby is also a lucrative profession, but if it is something you enjoy, it will make your life a life-worth-living.
Self-Improvement is a concept that has no limiting boundaries, except the ones you place on yourself. By nature, I am someone who is always looking to improve in everything that I do. Computer programming is just one more skill, like playing an instrument or swimming, that one can always look to get better at.
Here are some areas that programming computers has helped me focus on improvement in: Communication, Self-Reliance, Lifelong Learning
Communication [top] – Like wasted time and the spent arrow, the spoken or written word cannot be taken back. Precision with words will always describe your thoughts or ideas more accurately than words used loosely or arranged to convey messages vaguely. Appropriateness of sentence structure is critical to get a message across.
Being constantly aware that a single error in your computer code can create problems that might go unnoticed for a while but create large problems later, or generate disastrous runtime crashes soon, helps me actively think about my non-programming language use for communicating with humans. (And that’s a mouthful!)
Whether it be this in this article, or if I speak to you on the phone, I will always make a conscious effort to be better understood.
Takeaway Message? We can all improve our communication skills. If you regularly train the machines around you to do what you precisely desire, it might help you be focused at other times when communicating with humans. Your machine does not have to be a computer. Even a sewing machine or a baking oven can be your controllable machine. Attention to detail with every task will make you more conscious of the details of how you communicate your messages to others.
Self-Reliance [top] – Whether you are a student, working or retired (or, maybe like me, all of those at the same time) you are likely to be interacting with information that guides your decision making. The information is usually ‘data of some kind’. As a professional in Finance, I am never completely reliant on others to write some computer program to get my research ideas tested, trading plans executed or investment performance checked. I may delegate tasks to others to ease my own load, but I am never held to ransom by any individual, a tech department, or some external vendor, or to their schedules, workloads or attitude. If any of them act pricey, I say a simple “FU” (in my head) and do it myself.
Takeaway Message? The yogic principle of self-reliance can be extended to all aspects of your life. Whether it is the ability to prepare your own meals when your cook is unwell, or carry your own bags when a coolie is not available, increasing confidence in your own skills through attention to the details when in action will leave you unperturbed by the unreliability of others. Rather than trying to be controlling of others, develop greater self-reliance with the help of lifelong learning and constant skills upgrading. PuruTheGuru has often stepped in to be a unisex hairdresser, a phlebotomist, an electrician, a fashion photographer, a plumber and even a distance running race-pacer 😉
Lifelong Learning [top] – This is the easy one to explain. For someone who is always looking to learn something new, a field like computer technology, that is rapidly evolving at all times, is an easy interest to choose to pursue. It is safe to say that no matter how much I learn, I will always know only a tiny fraction in that space. It’s difficult to say that about Ancient Greek Philosophy.
Takeaway Message? If you enjoy learning and are committed to it, even Ancient Greek Philosophy can be a worthwhile daily pursuit. Remember, it is definitely not about the knowledge gained without context. (Who cares that you know the names of 100 species of flowers!) Learning is valuable when you can use it for a more beautiful life. [see: Life can be Good with French Fries].
Here are some examples of how lifelong learning through coding have helped me – Agile Principles, Design Considerations, Creativity, AI and Beyond.
Agile Principles [top] – are great for the age we live in. With the geographical distance between teams not being an impediment, reducing waste in time, emotion and money is possible during software development life cycles. [Read: about Agile]
Takeaway Message? Beyond computers, working on any new project is so much easier if one focuses one’s mind on a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Design Principles [top] – I was not naturally blessed with a brain that was great in design and my early orthodox education in India did not help. I have now had more than 3 decades of needing to think through design from initial concepts and vague goals to a successfully implemented product or service from the software being built. Now, I am able to do the same with other aspects of my life beyond computer programming.
Takeaway Message? If you spend more time than you think is necessary on the design phase, you will spend less money than you budgeted for during the execution stage. You can see how I use this even for MDFx.
Creativity [top] –is killed in just about every system of schooling, whether it be in India, Hong Kong or the UK. Those who are creative around you are so despite the general education system, not because of it. Like with design, I was lucky to be able to spend time on many projects thinking of creative solutions that could be implemented and pushed into production. All this was without needing to leave my computer desk and comfortable chair.
Takeaway Message? If each of us is naturally creative, and our education systems appear to kill that creativity early in our formal education, it is still always possible to nurture and grow it back again. Remember: Creativity is a skill that can be improved.
It also helps to never forget that a quitter never wins, and a winner never quits!
AI and Beyond [top]– With buzzwords like AI, Deep Learning, Machine Learning, Big Data, Data Science floating around many people around you will use them as just that – buzzwords. I have spent considerable lengths of time both learning these in detail and using them in projects. Nothing stops me from continuing to stay updated with developments in them.
Takeaway Message? You can keep learning and stay abreast of things that truly matter for a joyful life if you decide to. True power lies inside you. It may not be easy to harness it, but difficult is not the same as impossible!
Money [top] – The vast majority of code I write is not for any immediate financial benefit – a lot of my programming hours are spent for one or more of my hobbies. When a paid project being proposed excites me, I will say “yes” regardless of the size of the fee. Sometimes it is a lot, and sometimes it is not. Money is a useful byproduct. Love is still the dominant driving factor.
Takeaway Message? Don’t study something only because you’ve been told that there’s a lucrative career in it. I have seen many dull professionals in the Indian software industry, incredibly boring financial professionals around the world, and medical doctors who find it difficult to talk intelligently about anything beyond their hyperspecialization.
Balance [top] – There was a time when computing time was expensive and it was important to write elegant lines of error-free code that would execute fast. Today, with computing power (and data storage) being cheap, you need to think of how your own time is very expensive. Getting that balance right is important.
Takeaway Message? I have said this before – Balance is True Mastery! Who cares that someone else’s elegant code is half as long as yours, to do the same thing? Your processors are cheap and fast. Your time is expensive. Forget about ultra, uber and hyper… think about your ROTI.
Use it Anywhere & Everywhere [top] – I have written computer programs as an experimental physicist, as an engineer, as an actuary, as a trader, as a hedge fund manager, as a finance researcher, as a website designer, as a competitive athlete, as a sports scientist, as a polyglot, for pollution research, for medical diagnosis and wellness, and even for marathon running animations.
Takeaway Message? If you pick up a skill like cooking and enjoy being creative in it, you will be able to satisfy yourself with any ingredients in any kitchen. You don’t max on life when you blame your tools. Stay inward-focused, and self-improvement becomes a way of life. Anywhere and everywhere.
The Birthday Celebration[top]
I rarely celebrate my birthday in any special way, mostly because I try to live life to the max every day – but, perhaps, with a definition different from how most people think of ‘living life to the max’.
I enjoyed some computer programming that I had to do today but I also did other things into which I invest what is most precious to me – my time! I swam in the sea, I ran a few kilometers, a session of strength training in an indoor gym, and a short pool swimming session. I started my morning with three language lessons, I spent some time on photography through the day and although I did not make it to a dance floor, I motorcycled on roads flanked by Monsoon rice fields. The rest of the day was spent staring at a computer screen working on multiple projects across various domains with diverse collaborators many thousands of miles east and west of where I was. Ah, and, yes, I took a break from all of the above to eat my Healthspan extending Brunchnner, to enjoy the sunset by the Arabian Sea, and to publish this note for you.
As always, I hope you found this note useful. If you did, please share it with your family and friends.
Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.