Programming is a game with an inventory

An excellent game about managing inventory. And the occasional dungeon.

An excellent game about managing inventory. And the occasional dungeon. Via

In some video games, the player has an inventory – a set of virtual items that he/she possesses in the game world. Just like in the real world, virtual space is often limited, and we’re forced to discard and sort.

Some of us are naturally inclined to clean, to discard things until we feel organized again. That natural instinct defends us from asphyxiation under mountains of stuff.

Programmers have an inventory as well. Though that inventory is purely mental, it is no less of a burden to organize. While coding, I’ve squirreled away these nuts in the knotholes of my brain:

Thinking about my programming work as juggling mental inventory leads to several useful ideas:



Toolbox (wikipedia)

1) Keep a mental toolkit next to your brain (aka your L2 cache)

If you were a carpenter, you wouldn’t try to hold your hammer, nails, pliers, a saw, and a wrench in your hands all the time – you’d drop something. Similarly, if I tried to remember all the information I needed to do my job, just in my head, I would (a) drop things and (b) get exhausted quickly.

*(As totally obvious as the above sounds, I regularly try to remember far more than my brain can hold, and pay these totally obvious consequences on a regular basis.)

Just like a carpenter needs a toolbox, a programmer needs a info toolkit, pieces of paper or virtual sticky notes, to hold the information we regularly need to do our work and retrieve it quickly. I print out cheat sheets; Gas uses Evernote.




2) Aim to build the IKEA of APIs (or languages)

If you’re building an API for a programmer, they will have to carry extra mental tools to use what you’re building. If you can build the IKEA of APIs, something accessible using simple, readily available tools they already have, your users will be delighted and thankful.

It’s OK to require more tools, especially if your language is going to be 90% of where a user spends their time (SQL comes to mind, though it’s not a perfect example). However, think about how your programmer will hold the tools they need to use your API!




3) Respect those who use your apps

The same goes for app users. Most popular apps/applications do not actually require that much inventory accumulation, but there are quite a few that do. It’s not wrong to require the user to juggle a lot of tools (especially if you want to challenge your users, like a game), but be aware of what you demand!



Inspired by reading 1/3rd of this essay: I Am Overencumbered

Image credit, 2

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