05/06/2020

6min read

#thoughts

Technology and originality in 2020

Over the last week, this topic has been very recurrent in my life - in the LinkedIn newsfeed, in conversations that I’ve heard and even several close people are speaking about it.

A great friend of mine, Ricardo Franzen, recorded a video (in portuguese) talking about it - “A criatividade ainda existe ou é tudo plágio?” (“Is creativity still there or is it all plagiarism?”).

His thoughts are driven to the world of photography, but we can bring it to the world of musics and the arts, to the world of technology and even to the content we’re daily producing. The line that separates inspiration and reference from plagiarism and copying is very thin - for some people, it’s almost invisible.

I also was impacted by Paulo Luan M.’s text (in portuguese), about “O problema de quem faz Bootcamps na visão de quem contrata” (“The problem of who does Bootcamps in the eyes of those who hire”). These two contents brought up something I’ve always cared about, but I see a lot of new professionals today who don’t have a concern about - intellectual property.

I already want to make it very explicit here that I do not want, in any way, to condemn and/or crucify bootcamps. Although I never made one, I follow several channels and sources of content about development very closely.

In fact, I’m negatively surprised by the low number of reliable Brazilian development sources - we have the potential for much more!

Even because, if I wanted to speak ill of someone, I’d be being very hypocritical; my criticism is directed only to the act of just copying and not creating. And I want to show you the reason.

I work as a front-end developer for a while, and I’ve been involved a lot with open source - an initiative based on collaboration. Altought the codes are open, they also have a license and they’re designed/created by someone - many of those licenses do allow copies and distribution, so it’s important to be aware of these points.

But, still on the plagiarism issue: I’ve also done some mentoring throughout my career, especially on development. I always instruct those who were listening to be inspired by things they liked - a page, a website, a system - but, never to copy it. Because, copying is too easy. And in the real world, in the job market, nothing has ever been and will not be easy.

Paulo’s “criticism” about bootcamps is valid - althought I never made one, I see that the final results of the project is always the same; redoing the X app or Y website interface/feature…

This is good and bad at the same time; good becase there are people who are teaching and people who are learning. And bad becase the primary part of the creating process of creating things is overlooked: creativity. In the end, what bothers me about it is that we may be creating “functional illiterates” within the world of technology.

Functional illiterates? Yes - automatic people who just do things; but can’t understand the essence nor the logic under the hood.

Unfortunatelly I’ve seen a lot of professionals who participated in these bootcamps, but for some reason (there may be several reasons) failed to capture the essence or the reason for choosing X or Y when developing - or they may not have developed or improved enough their skills to be able to refactor an if/else block with object literals - we can find this example daily at our jobs.

Or, leaving the code level - people who can’t understand the value delivered behind a feature, or how the way they (those people) writed a code can positively or negatively influence the way the user interacts with the product.

As Franzen said in the video, our creativity is nothing more than a summary of everything we’ve seen and lived - our life experiences, the people, the sounds we’ve heard and the smells we’ve feelt… Everything gets stored and at some point boom 💥 - it creates a new spark that will ignite an uncontrollable fire inside our head - and we call that fire creativity.

When we - I don’t exclude myself from this list - copy something, we stop exercising our brain; in the long run, this will make us lazy. Lazy to research, to “think outside the box” (I don’t like that expression, but there are people who love to hear it), to propose new ways. People want new solutions, but are too lazy to try new paths.

Being more direct about technology - of course it’s cool when we “recreate” the interface of a well-known product, or when we’re able to replicate something we like. The feeling of capacity is good.

But even better is when you create something of your own - when you merge N references but add your “spice”. The feeling of capacity is doubly better.

On GitHub, the world’s greatest open source platform, you can find repos like florinpop17/app-ideas, which has a lot of apps ideas for you to create - it’s not replicating nor reproducing, it’s creating. For each project, you’ll have the stories that need to be followed with some references on how to solve the problems.

Simple, isn’t it? And way much funny.

I’ll give you two personal examples about how it (reference x plagiarism) works in practice:

Design Titles x Developer Titles

I visted the site design titles and found it super cool. This site shows, in a humorous way, satirical titles for designers.

Then, I went to look for a website that would do it for develoeprs - and, directly, I didn’t found one. It was when I “created” developer titles, which basically does the same thing but is aimed for developers.

I wanted to make it very similar, on purpose. Even today I’m thinking on how to change this cake recipe, because I literally changed only one ingredient - at the end of the day, the creativity effort was extremely low, as well as the learning I had doing it.

full-numbers

“full-numbers” is the name of a more recent project. I improved an existing code and added new features - it converts numbers written with digits (100) into the long form (or full form) (one hundred); with multilanguage and currency support.

This project emerged as an anwser to a problem that was found in my current full-time job, thinking about accessibility, since in some cases the sentence “U$ 200” were transcribed to “U DOLLAR SIGN TWO HUNDRED”.

It’s available on npm: https://www.npmjs.com/package/full-numbers.

The effort was greater - both in creativity and in writing the code. The learning I had during this project was proportional to the effort - I’ve learned how to deal with multi languges and how to control singular and plural numbers (i.e. portuguese and spanish languages have different names for hundreds).

Both projects are open source, feel free to contribute!

Anyway, what I want to show here is that we need constantly to get out of our comfort zone, get ouf of the easy and take a chance - get out of the copy and create new references.

Througout the history, technology and entrepreunership greatest names have came out from this bubble of copying, or from doing the same things over and over again; they took a risk. At the end of this text, the advice I can give you, regardless of your area and your expertise level, is “take a chance”.

Take the risk of creating something on your own, of changing the outdated shape of others. Take the risk of not copying/plagiarizing.

There’s a metaphor that compares us, people, with salt - salt makes all the difference in a dish, be it haute cuisine or our daily beans.

If you put it too little, the food is “bland”; if you put it too much, the food just tastes like it - and if the salt loses its flavor, it serves no more than being thrown away. (You can find this metaphor on Matthew 5:13)


I originally wrote this text on LinkedIn, in portuguese. You can read it there too!

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jlozovei | 2021