I’ve always loved that moment when someone shows you the thing they built for tracking books they’ve read or for their jewelry business. Amateur software is magical because you can see the seams and how people wrestled the computer. Like outsider art. So much of the tech industry today is about making things look professional, maybe convincingPaul Ford, ‘Real’ Programming Is an Elitist Myth to let you into the App Store to join the great undifferentiated mass of other apps. That’s software. When people build their own Airtable to feed the neighborhood, that’s culture.
Reading this article, I’m reminded of all the promises that were made back in the era of the first personal computers and the software that they spawned. Promises that were backed up with actual paper documentation to help get you going. And of course there was hand-wringing from those who feared that their well-paid jobs would be jeopardized by these ‘amateurs’. Languages like BASIC and Pascal were looked down on. Software like VisiCalc, WordStar and dBase were frowned on.
Sadly, the avenues available to those wishing to build personal applications are more limited these days, in both quantity and capability. I think it’s important to encourage people to make use of the available tools, and not be afraid to have a go. Not only because doing so can potentially improve people’s lives, but because it will continue the virtuous circle that will produce new generations of ‘amateur’ programmers who can bring new thinking and new solutions to the world.