Who Is More Creative?

Not so long ago I had an interesting Messenger conversation with a great friend of mine that is a developer lead for one of the three top game companies. All started when he was telling me about the skills he was looking for to hire new developers. We both agreed that all software areas demand a lot of creativity, but the perception of creativity can be very different depending on the software area you work.


Let me explain my point. During the old times of VB 6/Visual C++ 4.0 (if I’m not wrong), I used to be a C developer that created DLLs for Visual Basic 6 developers, and my friend used to be the same. We reminded the perception our managers had at that time: those who were considered creative were the Visual Basic 6 developers working on the user interface, dragging and dropping buttons, resizing them, etc.—even those who didn’t know anything about user interface guidelines! Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there weren’t creative VB 6.0 developers. What I’m saying is that for people with basic computer skills or no computer skills at all, a great user interface sounded like pure creative work when compared to a C DLL that took a lot of creative effort to create, but didn’t have any “visual” interaction.


I remember the frustration it caused us and other folks in the same position.

When I was younger, I used to think the same about maintenance developers. For me it was like they weren’t creating anything new. Since I couldn’t see new features as the product of their work, it was easy to believe their work didn’t require creativity. Big mistake! The day I ended up doing some urgent coding maintenance I learned how wrong I was!


Now, let’s suppose, for instance, there’s a game developer in a room showing a game demo with a cool animation that he/she did and a database developer demonstrating a fancy and revolutionary algorithm to search information in a database, using a simple console window to demonstrate the algorithm executing. Let’s say there are ten people watching the game demo and the database algorithm. Assume the ten people don’t have any programming knowledge. Guess who is going to be considered the creative developer?

It’s easy to escalate the discussion out of proportion and cross the software boundaries. As a software developer myself, I’m biased to think that software developers are the most creative guys out there. J However, I bet the marketing folks think the same about themselves. Other professionals—like artists, actors, chess players—might also think the same about themselves.  So, if it’s difficult for a software developer to “measure” the creativity of other software developers from another domain, it’s even more difficult when professionals from different areas do that.


To summarize, it’s easy to create a misconception about how creative someone is, over evaluating or under evaluating the “creativity level” if we don’t really understand the kind of work a person does and the kind of challenges a person has to face when doing her/his work. Also, it’s easy to create a misconception when you trust only what you see, like the user interface, when talking about software, to judge someone by his/her creativity. I don’t know about you, but for some managers I had in the past, when working for other companies, a beautiful user interface used to test a basic algorithm had more chances of being seen as cool (the algorithm) and creative than a poor interface used to test a very fancy algorithm with innovative ideas embedded.


Like those who don’t work with computers, we tend to see creativity only in terms of software features or graphical user interface, but most of the time there’s creative work done just under the hood.


Comments (6)

  1. Dane Watson says:

    I think all developers are special & creative.

    The problem is it’s like those jokes where the teller ends with "you had to be there" – it’s just not the same unless you’re the one that sat there for 8 hours or days trying to figure out the best way and then that epiphany hits and it’s clean & simple.

  2. e.v.e says:

    Yukihiro Matsumoto (creator of Ruby programming language also known as Matz) once said "Man is driven to create; I know I really love to create things. And while I’m not good at painting, drawing, or music, I can write software."

  3. Eduardo says:

    We tend to say that it is a Windows cultural problem, even knowing it is not. A program with many bells and whistles probably will sell lots more than a simple (and better) one, unless the audience is really educated, which seldom happens. I think it works the same with Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. The same goes to consultancy, for example. If you visit your (conventional) client in a nice car and looking trim (clothes, hair, etc.) he will probably automatically consider you deserve your higher rates than if you visited the very same client dressed casually.

    What we see is usually what counts. We may repent later, but it will be later. Sometimes it’s worth to spend some time embellishing the user interface *after* the real code has been written and tested in order to have your work valued.

  4. ujn says:

    It’s always nice to know that somebody else thinks the same))))  

  5. AnthonyMallgren says:

    I think that creativity portrays an abstract activity (art), while development is more about applying pre-existing knowledge in elegant ways to advance the collective knowledge of a field (science).

    While someone who knows the techniques and history of art may not be able to paint a picture, it would be hard for me to believe someone who is well versed in the area of development could not program (granted, bias learning can definitely affect one’s ability to dev).

    Likewise, there is a direct correlation between knowledge and the ability to develop. This breaks down once you enter the world of art. Some third graders can draw much better portraits than life long artists. I’m not sure if I would place money on any pre-college grad against the likes of ScottGu.

    I agree with you that developers are definitely creative, although I understand when a UI designer is considered to be more "creative". Same reason programmers are considered to be "math and number guys" versus artists.

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