The Beatles were ahead of their time. This is widely-known, rarely refuted, consistently confirmed. What isn’t so frequently discussed and seems to have somehow gone decades without making any sort of splash in the tech world is the fact that one of The Beatles’ most famous songs is about software development. A Day in the Life’s original title was intended to be A Day in the Life (of a Software Developer), but the parenthetical partially obstructed Ringo Starr’s head on some test promotional material for the album so it was left on the cutting room floor.
The Beatles lyrics weren’t always straightforward, particularly in their later years, and were often filled with symbolism, similes, metaphors, and mystery tours. I’m going to do my best to dissect A Day in the Life through the eyes of a developer and do what I can to relate it to my day-to-day work experience in the hopes that we can all understand what the boys from Liverpool were really trying to tell us with this classic tune.
Verse 1: “I read the news today, oh boy”
In the opening verse, Lennon mentions he “read the news.” Clearly, he is alluding to his morning routine, as reading a newspaper is oft-regarded as a morning habit. A developer’s morning routine can vary immensely. I have two young children and my wife goes to work before they wake up, so my mornings consist of getting the kiddos ready for the day and dropping them off at school. I’ll typically check my emails and fire up Slack during this time as a way to prep for my work day. Some of my coworkers have already arrived at the office, but quite a few others haven’t even hit the snooze button yet. Oftentimes as a developer, your day starts when you need it to.
Verse 2: “A crowd of people stood and stared; they'd seen his face before”
The crowd. Staring. Recognizing. Repeating. Indubitably, this is a scrum meeting. These daily (at most) or weekly (at least) meetings are typical to most projects I’ve been on, and while at times tedious, their benefit cannot be downplayed. The formality level can vary by employer or even by project, but ideally they’re used as a quick way to get the whole team together to give updates on what they’ve been working on, what they’ll be working on next, and any blockers they are facing. Everyone loves them.
Verse 3: “The English Army had just won the war”
Lennon certainly had a way with words, didn’t he? With this single line, he captures the intense mixture of emotions experienced during hours of coding. After my morning scrum meeting, it’s time to start clanking keys. On some days, this can be as satisfying as a gentle breeze across my face on a warm summer afternoon. The logic flows like a stream, and it feels as if there is no problem I can’t solve.
However, on other days, I’m left staring despondently out the office window, picturing my laptop falling elegantly to the pavement below as I accept the dark truth that I am incapable of programming and, in fact, have the intellect of a cantaloupe. But, when that problem is solved, that code is cracked, that red error screen decides to stop loading, it does feel as if, after hours of battling with documentation, my editor, my test suite, and myself, I’ve won a war.
Verse 4: “Found my way downstairs and drank a cup”
Here we have bubbly ol’ McCartney coming in for a verse. Paul’s lyrics aren’t nearly as allegorical as John’s, as demonstrated here by this on-the-nose description of my early afternoon habit. Caffeine is the mistress of many a developer, myself included, and after a few hours of coding I’ll typically recharge with a cup of delicious Folgers. This gives me the mental and emotional fortitude to plow ahead if I’m currently embroiled in a battle with my code, or on the flipside jump starts me into the next issue I’m faced with after solving the previous one. There are some developers who don’t drink coffee or caffeine and I make sure to stare at them until they blink to verify they’re human. So far, no androids. So far.
Verse 5: “And though the holes were rather small, they had to count them all”
John’s back at the mic to take us home. I think it’s obvious here he’s discussing an essential part of any developer’s life: code reviewing. Code reviewing is a perpetual part of my day, whether I’m reviewing my own code for errors, or I’m going over a team mate’s code before giving it my stamp of approval (which is undoubtedly one of the highest honors one can achieve). Inspecting someone else’s work is a great way for me to get a peek at different coding habits and learn some new tricks, and it’s always good to have someone else cosign on my code so I’m not solely responsible for the havoc wreaked once my updates are merged.
So here we are, the end of the track. Or is it? After the piano fades and your puppy cocks her head to the sound of Ringo blowing the dog whistle, you get the haunting:
Final Lyric: “Never could see any other way”
While the delivery gives me the heebie-jeebies, the sentiment perfectly sums up how I feel about life as a software developer. I had worked in a few other fields before landing in this one, and there isn’t one aspect of my work life that hasn’t improved since making the jump. There is a real sense of being part of a team, not just on projects, but across the office overall. If I’m ever stuck on an issue or facing a problem that’s making me feel cantaloupy, I know that I can get by with a little help from my friends.
(Editor’s note: Most coworkers do not consider John “a friend” but comment that he is “okay, I guess”)