Skip

"How I Became a Programmer"
August 18, 2007 7:45 PM   Subscribe

"How I Became A Programmer" veers between linear biography and brain dump. The piece meanders through its theme, stopping along the way to flirt with word origins, family politics, the senior prom, Japan, airlines and military recruitment. Reading it, I felt trapped inside inside an extremely quirky -- yet recognizable (in a too-close-for-comfort way) -- mind. About half the time I yearned to tell him that he needs an editor; the other half, I was grateful that he didn't have one. Mostly, I'm amazed he HAD a date to the senior prom!
posted by grumblebee (52 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I didn't mean to be so insulting in my last sentence. But when I was in school -- which was back before Bill Gates make geeks palatable -- guys like that (e.g. me) didn't get dates to the prom. ALL my friends were into computers and not ONE of them had a date.
posted by grumblebee at 7:48 PM on August 18, 2007


"I often say that anyone can learn to program, but you have to be born a programmer."

ugh.
posted by basicchannel at 8:05 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Who is this person and why should I care about his boring story?
posted by mrnutty at 8:13 PM on August 18, 2007


I have no idea who he is or why you should care. I just know I had a hard time stopping myself from reading the whole thing.
posted by grumblebee at 8:16 PM on August 18, 2007


Sounds like a good entry for your own blog.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:17 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


"I often say that anyone can learn to program, but you have to be born a programmer."

I think there's a certain amount of truth to this. Anyone can learn what variables and conditionals are, but there's a certain kind of brain that's really well-suited to being a capital-P Programmer. Maybe you don't have to be born with this kind of brain. Maybe you can turn a non-programmer brain into a programmer brain with training, but if that's so, it's not easy.
posted by grumblebee at 8:18 PM on August 18, 2007


Sounds like a good entry for your own blog.

Careful dude one of these days someone's gonna spike the haterade.
posted by grobstein at 8:19 PM on August 18, 2007


Sounds like a good entry for your own blog.

I can't write like that. I know -- as we all do -- that I can be long-winded, but I was trained out of that meandering sort of writing at a really early age and I can't do it. I have a strong, inner, editorial voice that compels me to stay on track. In a way, I think it's sad.
posted by grumblebee at 8:20 PM on August 18, 2007


"Careful dude one of these days someone's gonna spike the haterade."

Is this something I would have to be on hiatus to understand?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:21 PM on August 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


back before Bill Gates make geeks palatable

My friend Scotty once said (after watching me and my friend Rich have a in-depth discussion about the virtues of various series of baseball cards) 'Everybody's a geek for something.'

Sports fans are geeks*, guys who screw around with cars are geeks, record collectors are geeks, craft loons are geeks, foodies are geeks. These are all activities that contain tons of details and lore and the more of that lore you know the more interesting and enjoyable they become. So it's not so much that geeks are more palatable now, but that everybody's gotten in touch with their inner geek.

*sports fans are the geekiest of geeks: costumed heroes, merchandise, incredibly arcane statistics, endless debates about minutia and a huge library of literature. It dosen't get much geekier.
posted by jonmc at 8:21 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


'Everybody's a geek for something.'

Sadly, I don't think that's true. I've met people who don't get passionately into the minutia of anything.
posted by grumblebee at 8:22 PM on August 18, 2007


I'll stop drinking haterade when it stops being so tasty!
posted by mrnutty at 8:23 PM on August 18, 2007


The author is Mike Lee, the "toughest programmer in the world" and one of the developers working at Delicious-Monster.

I met Mike for the first time last wee at the C4 conference and he is certainly a character.
posted by schwa at 8:23 PM on August 18, 2007


I've met people who don't get passionately into the minutia of anything.

Maybe they just didn't mention it to you. And of course, there are degrees of geekdom.
posted by jonmc at 8:25 PM on August 18, 2007


Man, that C4 conference sure knew how to invite all the people who would write it about it everywhere.
posted by smackfu at 8:26 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


"The author is Mike Lee, the 'toughest programmer in the world'"

Hm. I guess somewhere there's a "toughest Barbie collector in the world".
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:26 PM on August 18, 2007


Johnmc, I'm talking about a very specific cultural shift, and it's a pretty simple one.

When I was a kid, computers weren't perceived -- by most average people -- as PROFITABLE things to get into. And none of the other things we geeks were into (sci-fi, etc.) had cache. Then, suddenly, Microsoft took off and Gates became a billionaire.

Shortly after that, this woman told me she thought I looked like Bill Gates. I felt offended, and then I realized that it was a compliment. (It still doesn't please me. That's NOT what I want to look like. But it was pretty clear that she meant it as a compliment, and that she found him impressive. She was a pretty mainstream girl. I could imagine someone like her saying something like that five years earlier.)
posted by grumblebee at 8:27 PM on August 18, 2007


Hm. I guess somewhere there's a "toughest Barbie collector in the world".

The last guy who tried to find him is buried under the Dream House, I'm told.
posted by jonmc at 8:28 PM on August 18, 2007


Saw this via John Gruber's blog and was just about to post it.
posted by gwint at 8:29 PM on August 18, 2007


grumblebe, I get what you're saying but the operative word is 'profitable.' Some people follow the smell of money, and over that last couple decades, that scent led you to GeekWorld, or at least the computer province therein.
posted by jonmc at 8:30 PM on August 18, 2007


smackfu, yeah odd that. I mean, who knew so many geeks had blogs...
posted by schwa at 8:31 PM on August 18, 2007


Maybe they just didn't mention it to you.

This is interesting. Do you really believe that EVERYONE has some pet hobby that they geek out to? I can't prove that they don't. (You're right. They may keep it secret.) But my gut tells me that passionless people exist.

I've heard some people admit this about themselves, sometimes sadly.

I've seen people get mystified by passion in others. "Looks like someone has too much time on his hands."

I've worked with people who make a half-hearted effort at work and who then go home, make dinner and watch TV. And they're not uber-Star Trek fans or anything. They watch what's on. If their favorite show gets canceled, they don't cry or write to the network. They shrug and change the channel.

I think these people get happy and sad and scared and angy -- just like anyone else. They just don't get into examining anything on a micro scale.
posted by grumblebee at 8:33 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wait, he's tough because he drinks beer? God damned dorks.
posted by The Monkey at 8:34 PM on August 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


and there's also the fact that in North America and Europe use computer technology in some capacity in their work life (and probably recreationally, too) so a skilled geek is a valuable adept as much as a plumber or a mechanic.
posted by jonmc at 8:35 PM on August 18, 2007


No, I personally wasn't let to GeekWorld by money. I was led to it by Hal 9000. I saw "2001" in 1969. I was born in 65 and that movie was one of my first memories and seriously had a major part in forming me.

My dad was a Comp Lit professor, and I guess because IU alphabetized everything, his office was next door to Comp Sci. As a kid, I would sneak into the lab and listen to the sound of the punch cards as if I was listening to music.
posted by grumblebee at 8:36 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


there's work somewhere showing that people who use consistent models of the world are more likely to be good programmers, so in that sense they are born/made (ie measuring this before teaching them predicts whether or not they learn programming well).

[googles...] A cognitive study of early learning of programming
posted by andrew cooke at 8:36 PM on August 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


Wait, he's tough because he drinks beer?

I think he's because he's big and fat.
posted by mrnutty at 8:37 PM on August 18, 2007


Andrew cooke, what are consistent models of the world? Do some people have inconsistent models.
posted by grumblebee at 8:38 PM on August 18, 2007


This is interesting. Do you really believe that EVERYONE has some pet hobby that they geek out to? I can't prove that they don't. (You're right. They may keep it secret.) But my gut tells me that passionless people exist.

Don't be so literal. Nothing is true of everyone and like I said, there are varying degrees of geekdom and if your life is dominated by work or family, that may leave less time for geeky pursuits. And their geeky interests may not be traditionally 'geeky' ones like computers or star trek. Maybe they just follw a sports team or an author or radio show. And you can get geeky about something 'mainstream,' too. An obsessive Billy Joel fan is as much a geek as an obsessive Captain Beefheart fan, in a certain sense.
posted by jonmc at 8:39 PM on August 18, 2007


Sorry if I came off as overly literal. I get that you accept that there will be exceptions. But I think you're making a really interesting claim. If I understand you, you're saying that it's natural for people to obsess about some pet subject.

I really want that to be true. It's what I find most attractive about people. And I don't really care all that much what turns them on, as-long-as it's SOMETHING. I really want to believe that everyone -- or almost everyone -- has some thing that they study under a microscope. I want to live in a world populated with people like that.

I just don't share your conviction that that would is this world.

Still, I do agree with you that there are plenty of people who ARE unacknowledged geeks in their own quiet ways.
posted by grumblebee at 8:44 PM on August 18, 2007


The author is Mike Lee, the "toughest programmer in the world" and one of the developers working at Delicious-Monster.

That dude looks a bit young to be the toughest programmer in the world.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:47 PM on August 18, 2007 [3 favorites]


Barack isn't black enough. Fifty isn't street enough. You are not geek enough.
posted by basicchannel at 9:07 PM on August 18, 2007


Maybe because he got hit by a car, or because he had a difficult childhood. Geez, let a guy have his hyperbole. Let up on the hatepedal a little.

His writing style and subjects remind me of Craig Mitchell's She Hates My Futon (warning: long and engrossing) or some of the old stories on kthor's A Short and Happy Life.

I liked this story, too, Grumblebee. It has almost nothing to actually do with programming, and much to do with a person examining how he found his way in life.
posted by dammitjim at 9:09 PM on August 18, 2007


This comment isn't self-referential enough.
posted by cortex at 10:00 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm with grumblebee. I think there are plenty of people in the world who really aren't passionately into anything--just think of the "I'm bored!" crowd. And further, I think people without some deeply engrossing interest tend to focus that energy outward, worrying about other people's passions rather than enjoying their own.
posted by maxwelton at 10:04 PM on August 18, 2007



"I often say that anyone can learn to program, but you have to be born a programmer."

ugh.


I am confused. Are you ughing at the truth to this statement? Because it's completely true. I was coding as I was coming out of the womb. I solve programming problems in my sleep, and then eat them for breakfast. Uphill, both ways. In a brainstorm.
posted by fusinski at 10:40 PM on August 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


b1tr0t, thanks for that link--I remember marveling over it ages ago and it's nice to read it once more.
posted by retronic at 1:27 AM on August 19, 2007


The blog is called motherfucker, and it says: My name is Mike Lee and I invented blogging.

This might be a fun guy, or he might be an asshole. No real middle ground here.
posted by beno at 1:48 AM on August 19, 2007


You know, geeks don't even qualify as tragic. They're just stupid. After all this time they're still so naieve and immature that they don't get irony. And so, unlike everybody else who is willing to wink and giggle in their various affections, geeks put up long screeds about their God-given victimhood and never, ever, ever, shut up about that most horrible ideals, their four long years in the bleakest wilderness -- high school -- that so utterly shaped their every thought. As they completely lack any real desire for growth, uncertainty or risk, one can't help but feel that such arrogance is just wasted on such losers.

And people wonder why the Romans fed Christians to lions.
posted by nixerman at 3:49 AM on August 19, 2007 [4 favorites]


Wait... nixerman... we're you being ironic?
posted by Leon at 4:25 AM on August 19, 2007


And none of the other things we geeks were into (sci-fi, etc.) had cache....

Many geek toys have cache. What they lacked was cachet

</petpeeve>
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:28 AM on August 19, 2007


this->post[63948]->comments.add(new comment());
mr_crash_davis: "Hm. I guess somewhere there's a "toughest Barbie collector in the world."."

jonmc: "The last guy who tried to find him is buried under the Dream House, I'm told."
No matter how hard I try, I just keep imagining Mr. Waylon Smithers, Jr.
grumblebee: "When I was a kid, computers weren't perceived -- by most average people -- as PROFITABLE things to get into. And none of the other things we geeks were into (sci-fi, etc.) had cache. Then, suddenly, Microsoft took off and Gates became a billionaire."
Maybe this is partly to blame. It took a long time for computer technology to advance to the point where a layperson could see their potential. Gates happened to be at a nexus, where that potential shifted from obscure to undeniable.
posted by mystyk at 9:37 AM on August 19, 2007


Maybe this is partly to blame.

Photoshopping certainly helps a layperson see the potential of computers.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:42 AM on August 19, 2007


Although Mike Lee doesn't flat out say it in the article, on of the moral of his story is the importance of having a mentor. If you're new to the biz, and want to turn things up a notch, you can go it on your own, but having a mentor will give you much needed feedback, challenges and someone who can help you when you're in over your head.
posted by furtive at 9:45 AM on August 19, 2007


Craig Mitchell's She Hates My Futon (warning: long and engrossing)

You forgot to mention unfinished. I had that page bookmarked for YEARS, faithfully checking it, reading that "THIS IS NOT THE END, I'm going to be writing at a much quicker pace now!" message at the bottom of chapter 23, waiting for the next damn installment that never came. Argh! It's been so long since I read it that I'm kind of afraid to go back and reread it, just to get engrossed in it again and then annoyed at the fact there's no ending.
posted by Kosh at 10:37 AM on August 19, 2007


"I often say that anyone can learn to program, but you have to be born a programmer." / Ugh.

Why does this statement (which I also believe to be true) seem to attract so much derision, when nobody bats an eye at similar statements like "Anyone can learn to play the piano, but only someone who is born with an innate connection to music will ever be a musician". "Anyone can learn to paint, but artistic talent is something you're born with."

Is it because a non-artist can appreciate the final painting by looking at it (though another artist would better appreciate the effort/technique that went into it), but the programmer's work product is hidden behind the i/o?

Is it because many children struggled through art classes and piano lessons, before hitting the recognizable plateau of absent talent?

Is it because talented programmers often make a lot of money (while doing a job that from the outside looks easy), are often treated with kid gloves, and yet many of them get away with having crappy attitudes and dressing like slackers?

Programming is not syntax, it's not algorithms, nor a collection of loops, variables and i/o routines. Programming is a way of thinking, combined with a comfort with a set of tools. The tools and syntax can be taught pretty easily (this is why capital P programmers can pick up a new language so quickly). It's the way of thinking that's more innate (and then requires years of refinement -- the same way a talented child prodigy becomes a famous pianist). The Programmer has spent a lot of time writing code for the sheer love of writing code -- often at the expense of social outlets.

Beyond a sheer love for code, programming almost requires anti-social levels of impatience, laziness and hubris (the three virtues), and I've never met any Programmer who didn't exhibit these from an early age.

When you were a kid (say, under 10), did you take apart the family VCR, remove the broken tape, and then put it back together without anyone noticing? Did it even cross your mind that you might not be able to put it back together? Did you unplug it first?

Have you ever accidentally stayed up all night working on code that wasn't written for someone else (not for classes, not as a contract... just for fun)? Was there a time in your life when this happened regularly?

The answers to those questions will tell you more about a person's likelihood of being a Programmer than will their resume, certifications, degrees, or even their code.
posted by toxic at 1:20 PM on August 19, 2007


I think people react badly to the phrase largely because it's not uncommon to hear it from self-important douchebug fuckaboos who are sure they are born programmers despite the fact that they clearly aren't.

It's one of the downsides of the continuing obscurity of programming-as-art to the general public: if what you (like to pretend you) are really good at is unkennable by the average joe, they won't know you're blowing smoke up their ass; and because they don't know, they won't tell you, and you won't know either. It's a tricky situation because it fosters the illusions of deluded asses. And good programmers won't hang around with those assholes long enough to set them straight because, really, who would want to?

So, yeah. There are born programmers, just as there are born musicians; and their are hacks in both fields. I've known both types in both fields. The difference is that the average person needs about one minute of casual exposure to a bad musician in action to know (and tell them, if that's the way it goes down) that they suck. Programming, though, is so goddam abstract to observe that no non-programmer would ever know the difference between a born talent and a bullshitting hack.
posted by cortex at 5:45 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's simple, toxic.

People who are born and raised in democratic societies have the flawed notion that nature follows the same rules--that everyone is actually born equal, despite a preponderance of genetic evidence to the contrary. Thus the "If he can do it, so can I!" attitude: that with enough money, education and time, you too! can do anything someone else can do.

When everybody is somebody, nobody is anybody.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:52 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


He seriously seems to think that vi made his dick big.
posted by fleacircus at 11:17 PM on August 19, 2007


:set bigdick
posted by b1tr0t at 6:12 AM on August 20, 2007


People who are born and raised in democratic societies have the flawed notion that nature follows the same rules--that everyone is actually born equal, despite a preponderance of genetic evidence to the contrary. Thus the "If he can do it, so can I!" attitude: that with enough money, education and time, you too! can do anything someone else can do.

Or maybe some of us know the danger in classifying an activity that can be taught as something that only SPECIAL people can do. Especially since said specialness is frequently thought to be mostly the provenance of a certain type of person (whether your stereotype runs to male, white/asian, bad at sports, can't communicate, whatever) who is born with this special ability. I don't think everyone in the world can be a good programmer, but I don't think it deserves to be considered an elite club, either, and I damned well don't think that any of us benefits from trying to exclude people before they've even had a chance to try.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:16 PM on August 20, 2007


Why does this statement (which I also believe to be true) seem to attract so much derision, when nobody bats an eye at similar statements like "Anyone can learn to play the piano, but only someone who is born with an innate connection to music will ever be a musician".

Because musicians may think it but programmers brag about it.
posted by smackfu at 7:49 AM on August 21, 2007


« Older Space Beds Rock   |   Real life Digg/Youtube/LiveLeak style comments Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post