I am not a tinkerer

I am not a tinkerer.

I have never been the type of person to take apart a toaster to see if I could put it back together. I would never read the manual for a Ti99 just to see how it worked.

When I was twelve, I was a great tap dancer. I competed with a dance company where the second youngest person was 18. I loved it so much. But soon after, my father made me quit because I didn’t want to be a professional dancer, so what was the point. Whether or not that’s the best way to raise a child is a different topic, but that one story pretty much sums it up -- everything I did and do needs to work towards a goal. It needs to move me forward in a tangible way.

I don’t code for code’s sake. That's just not me. I code to build something, to solve a problem. I don’t really do hobbies, because I find them pointless. I am not a tinkerer.

So when I hear things like “curiosity drives innovation,” it really bothers me. Not because it’s wrong, but because it’s exclusive. It’s exclusive to the tinkerers, to the type of people who do things just because.

Without the context of a clear problem to solve or a goal to achieve, answering the question “How does this work?” doesn’t speak to me. Because frankly, I just don’t care. My driver is not curiosity. I don’t ask questions for curiosity’s sake. I ask questions because I need the information to achieve a goal.

When I first discovered programming, I spent a lot of time wondering how I never knew about it. How was it that such an incredible thing never came into my life sooner? When I thought of the people I knew who were coders, most, if not all, had discovered it at a very young age in the informal manner of tinkering. They just wanted to see how it worked, and so they fiddled and poked and made things happen. I never fiddled, so did that mean coding wasn’t for me? If I’m not the kind of person to read a Ti99 manual just because, maybe I wasn’t meant to be a programmer.

When I first started learning to code, this thought kept me up at night. When I’d get really stuck and everything was broken, it ate me alive.

This idea that if we were just curious enough, we would have found programming at an early age is biased towards the type of person that is motivated by tinkering. It puts the blame on those of us who discover coding later in life for not being curious enough to have found it sooner. It implies that curiosity is the most important driver. 

If you’re a tinkerer, and you found coding because you poked and prodded, that’s awesome. But that’s not the only, or even necessarily the best, way to have found it.

Curiosity can indeed drive innovation, but it’s not the only driver.