Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

I moved from coding to writing, and found the magic in between

Hundreds of years ago, Leonardo da Vinci knew that the arts and sciences are both better when they come together. Contributor Prajwala Dixit writes that we can still learn from that experience today.

Leonardo da Vinci knew that the arts and sciences are better when they come together. We should, too

Prajwala Dixit started her career as an engineer, but switched paths to pursue her passion: writing. (John Gushue/CBC)

High school in the India of the early 2000s was an intense time. The rat race was on, and I, a Grade 10 student, was one of those running in it.

Eleven exams and a decent score later, a question haunted me — arts or science? At 15, I had to decide whether I wanted to give up physics or English.

Tough choice.

And it didn't help that the socio-economic construct in India wasn't accepting of the arts. It was seen as more of a hobby.

Pragmatically, I chose the sciences, worked really hard and pushed myself through six more years of undergraduate and grad schools of engineering.

But 10 years of dedicating myself to the sciences led me, professionally, nowhere. I didn't break into engineering here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It was a challenging time and tested my resolve to stay here.

Engineering ring-less, I moved from one gig to another, eventually landing myself in the most exhilarating and challenging job of all: motherhood.

Working asa  full-time parent meant jumping from textbooks like High Performance Computer Architecture to children's books like Goodnight Moon and Barnyard Dance. It meant forgetting Java and C++ to relearning how to recite the Panchatantra.

It meant understanding that the animals of Panchatantra could do the Barnyard Dance. It meant creating my first piece of literature.

It meant jumping from engineering to English.

To the naked eye the arts and sciences are varied but for someone who has straddled both worlds, the common threads run deep.

Art is like science. It is measured, deliberate in choice and well crafted.

Science is like the arts. It is untamed, fearless and daunting.

Familiar beats of creativity

As a computer engineer, I was programmed to program.

From writing code (not very different from writing a short story, since there is a beginning, a middle and an end, and it's designed for a purpose) to debugging it (read as "editing" in creative writing) to running a test (which means sending it to your editor or close circle for feedback and knowing it will come back with a million track changes), rejigging based on results (which means pure frustration and wondering why you ever started writing the God damn thing to begin with) to then reaching that glorious moment when the program does exactly what you wanted it to (or, in other words, looking at a piece of your writing and thinking that's decent for the world to see), I have found the beats of creativity the same in engineering and English.

Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of human anatomy have been valued through the centuries for both their artistic and scientific merit. (Royal Collection/Vancouver Art Gallery)

Perhaps, I understand both worlds because they're filled with eccentrics like myself.

Odd schedules, crazy amounts of determination (or simply stubbornness), the never-ending search for money to somehow reach the end and still survive and copious amounts of coffee are the greatest hits of both engineering and English, therefore making both worlds an odd concoction of a variety of peculiar personalities.

Pretending to be God (at least for a moment)

Writers like to think we're the gods and goddesses of our worlds. Anything is possible.

Except not.

The characters suddenly start speaking to you and you stop "creating" them. They take control of their story and you end up becoming a mere conduit for their emotions, rendered powerless at the hands of the beast you believe to have created.

Someone who understands this plight is a computer engineer, a coder specifically. The start is hope and ego-filled, which soon crashes when your program seems to have a mind of its own, and decides to do things you never intended it to do. The rest of the process, you bow down to the prowess of not only the code but also the machine running it, praying fervently that it delivers what you promised to your boss or client.

Dixit says artistic and scientific endeavours have more in common than people think. (John Gushue/CBC)

I came to St. John's to study engineering but today find myself pursuing English at MUN, making the 15-year-old me hope that the world ahead doesn't bifurcate these two fields, allowing the generations ahead to enjoy the spoils of both fields from a young age.

Yes, there is a push towards STEAM from STEM (in other words, adding the arts to science, technology, engineering and math) but more needs to happen to understand that one feeds the other.

It is when both have succeeded and both have intertwined that society has thrived creating the best works of both realms.

Don't believe me? Then turn back the clock and then look at some of the best innovators of our time. Ask yourself, what was Leonardo Da Vinci?

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Prajwala Dixit


Prajwala Dixit is a journalist, columnist, playwright and writer in St. John's.