Why I code
on Code, Op-ed
Indeed, his solo contribution to research tools we all (can or should) use is truly phenomenal— Josh Larsen (@drjoshlarsen) January 20, 2019
I recently got very kind feedback on my code contributions to the ecology community. This remark made me think about why I code, and contribute this code as open source projects. The answer is as much practical, personal as political.
Obviously, the tools I create first and foremost serve me in my own research. More so this serves the larger research community. This is big motivator in coding things. Distributing them is then a relatively easy next step with current day tools such as github.
Much of my open source contributions also have a distinct therapeutic and implicit political components to them. Life in general throws people curveballs at times. Academia, with all the uncertainty of grant applications and short term contracts layers a complete lack of stability on top of this. Much of my code is a way to create a semblance of control over my personal life, i.e. things with a guaranteed outcome not vague promises, 2 year contracts and posturing which might result in a job etc. This way I retain my sanity, when all else remains in flux (often to detriment of my own personal mental health and that of my partner).
I think my software serves the general academic community given the positive feedback and downloads that run into the thousands. At the same time it confronts an academic system with its lack of stability and overall kindness within it, proliferated by faulty metrics and values. My open source software, free for all to use and see, contrasts with a petty pretige based winner take all mentality which hoards data, code and knowledge.
As Aaron Swartz was fully aware of, all code is political. My code is therefore functional misery in writing, a solemn refuge from, and a ‘J’Accuse…’ to, the vagaries of academia.