A software engineering lesson from Hemingway

A software engineering lesson from Hemingway
Photo by Peter Herrmann / Unsplash

Hemingway created the "five-finger exercise" for those learning to write well. The idea is named after the five-finger exercise practiced by piano novices. But this same idea can drastically improve your software engineering skills.

Hemingway pointed out that we shouldn't just write conclusions directly. It's important to discuss the original observations that led to those conclusions. Others can thus "experience" what you experienced.

The internet is filled with "broad but false" facts without the corresponding observations. Consider statements like "Python is a simple language," or "Java engineers get paid more than others," or "If you are a data scientist, R is a must-have in your toolkit." These statements lack context and are not true all the time.

For example, a newcomer copied a few lines of code off of StackOverflow and got something working, and thus claims that "Python is a simple language." For him, the definition of a simple language is "how simple was for me to copy and get it working." You might have a different definition for what constitutes "simple."

The next time you learn something, use the five-finger exercise to observe facts and then draw your own conclusions, rather than accepting ideas at face value.