04 October 2021

Learning how to cook as a software engineer

cooking as code

The busy New Yorker who never cooks and lives off of takeout is definitely a thing. During the pandemic, I‘ve made a point to spend more time learning to cook meals beyond breakfast and pasta.

Initially I made the mistake of being too much of a software engineer about it all. Computers are exacting, compilers require that code actually compiles, code formatters make everything consistent. Additionally, code can live forever and often needs to be architected to scale. I would make all my measurements as exact as possible to the recipe, I’d scrape every last bit of sauce out of a bowl or can, the timer was precise, I’d agonize over what exactly was medium-high on the range.

In contrast, one of the beauties of cooking a meal is that it’s consumed exactly once (if not over a night or two as leftovers). There’s no build up of technical debt, because the product is gone. Since you have to make it each time, being proficient is necessary and it’s OK that you didn’t spatula every last drop out of that can of tomato paste. You also learn that the measurements and times are really just guidelines, as if the cookbook is shrugging at you with a smile as you read its directions (I am aware that baking is a different story…)

With the above realizations and some foundational knowledge—such as preparing & cooking chicken, cooking rice—I was able to transform cooking a dinner from a daunting task into something I could enjoy.

If I had to try and compare cooking and coding, I’d say it’s more like a hackathon than building a real application—time is a real constraint, the product isn’t meant to be something that lasts, however it is meant to delight people. I sometimes fall into the trap of being a tech person trying to force their understanding of the world into matching tech, but maybe I can just enjoy cooking as the wonderful, completely different, and essential thing it is!

Bonus - for a cookbook that really embraces the approach I described above, I’ve had great success as well as some learning moments with a number of recipes from the NYTimes No Recipe Recipes cookbook.

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Peter Coles

Peter Coles

is a software engineer living in NYC who is building Superset 💪 and also created GoFullPage 📸
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