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Video The Grumpy Programmer has Advice for Young Computer Workers (Video) 120

Bob Pendleton calls his blog "The Grumpy Programmer" because he's both grumpy and a programmer. He's also over 60 years old and has been programming since he was in his teens. This pair of videos is a break from our recent spate of conference panels and corporate people. It's an old programmer sharing his career experiences with younger programmers so they (you?) can avoid making his mistakes and possibly avoid becoming as grumpy as he is -- which is kind of a joke, since Bob is not nearly as grumpy as he is light-hearted. (Transcript covers both videos. Alternate Video Link One; Alternate Video Link Two)

Robin Miller: Bob Pendleton, you call yourself the Grumpy Programmer. Which came first? Grumpy or programmer?

Bob Pendleton: I’d say grumpy.

Robin Miller: Really? So, you became a programmer because you were grumpy?

Bob Pendleton: No. No, I got grumpier after being a programmer for a long time.

Robin Miller: Which is how long?

Bob Pendleton: Started at 19 and I’m almost 62.

Robin Miller: Wow.

Bob Pendleton: For 40-some-odd years.

Robin Miller: Okay. Most of our audience members, shockingly, are somewhat younger than yourself. So, using the benefit of your advanced years and huge experience, tell them how not to get grumpy.

Bob Pendleton: How not to get grumpy? I would say lots of exercise, meditation, a good lover and don’t program.

Robin Miller: All right. So, let’s say these poor guys are already in a circumstance here where programming is the most money they can make.

Bob Pendleton: Okay. The number one thing is don’t put your ego into it. I once I knew Art Evans, the guy who wrote the story about “Always Mount a Scratch Monkey” who once said, you tend to fall in love with what you make love to. And that’s especially true of a programmers, you spend months, weeks, years writing a piece of code, you tend to fall in love with it. And that’s the worst mistake you can make. Every piece of code is basically a mistake from the beginning. You can’t know exactly how to do it when you start it. And no two pieces are the same if they are worth writing. So, you just have to assume you are going to make mistakes. You are going to have to throw away big chunks of it. You are going to have to start over sometimes. And what’s the concept? Keep a beginner’s mind. If you think you know what’s going on, you are wrong no matter what and keep rambling like this for a while, but

Robin Miller: So, let’s move to this. What languages have you worked with and which ones were the worst and which were the best? I’m talking about from your mental health perspective.

Bob Pendleton: Okay. I’ve worked in probably half a dozen assembly languages. Fortran, COBOL, ALGOL 60, Pascal, C, C++, Simula 68, TRAC, LISP and a whole bunch of others. The best from my mental health?

Robin Miller: Yeah.

Bob Pendleton: Probably, LISP. Or maybe Scheme. Done both of those. Scheme is a little more easy to understand. Assembly language can be a lot of fun, but probably LISP. Yeah, definite.

Robin Miller: I have a friend, an old friend named Marty Connor and he agrees with you. He loves LISP.

Bob Pendleton: Yeah. Here’s a test to take. I once went into an interview and the guy who was interviewing me was an ex-English professor. He said, what kind of poetry do you like to write? Now I’m a programmer, why would you ask me that? Well, the answer is, an awful lot of programmers are writers, musicians, artists. And so I told him, I like to write haiku sequences. And he says, you’re a low level programmer, you’d like to write assembly language or low-level code. And I said, yeah. And he says okay. And he took out his book and he wrote it down. He had something like 200 people he had interviewed. And he knew what kind of poetry they all liked to write and if they didn’t like to write poetry, he’d only consider them if they were exceptionally good at a musical instrument or at some kind of visual art. But he preferred poets.

Robin Miller: Code poets.

Bob Pendleton: Well, it works that way. I was actually studying creative writing, my second major in college. When I got fairly – I had been taking computer science and math classes because I’m crazy and one day, I read through some algorithm and I had the same experience I got from reading a truly great poem. And in my poetry writing class I was taking at the time, I turned in a poem and one of the students says, that’s poetry, but it’s symbolic logic. And I reread it and realized it was actually in poetry form – a recursive algorithm.


Robin Miller: The best Perl programmer I know personally – or maybe one of the best – is a guy named Chris Nandor. He went to college, studied journalism, and he is a heck of a musician, so there?

Bob Pendleton: Oh, hey. Some of the best programmers I’ve ever met were anthropologists and English majors of various sorts. And when I was in college, both undergrad and grad school, about 2 o’clock or 3 o’clock in the morning all the instruments would come out. The rear door guard was a fantastic fiddle player. And the computer science faculty and everybody else would bring out their instruments and they jammed from about 2.30, 3 o’clock till around 4 or 4.30 and just set the whole building ringing with music.

Robin Miller: Where was this?

Bob Pendleton: University of Utah.

Robin Miller: Oh, good, I’ll tell people to go there; people go to the University of Utah, it sounds like fun. There have been changes, you haven't been going to college for a while, right?

Bob Pendleton: No, no, I went back, took a long online course a few years ago, but no, I’ve got two kids in college and it’s here in Texas and it’s completely different. Also the University of Utah at the time I was there, there was a computer science department, but they never felt comfortable with the name, and when, oh gosh, the guy who founded Adobe, Warnock, right?

Robin Miller: I don’t remember the name.

Bob Pendleton: But he went there and he donated a bunch of money so they could build a new building and they became the school of computing. If you go down there now, they give you a computing degree, not computer science. It’s very hard to justify the term computer science actually.

Robin Miller: Really? Well, let me ask you another question, change of subject, you’re not young, have you found

Bob Pendleton: No.

Robin Miller: No, neither am I, you’re within a year of my age.

Bob Pendleton: Okay.

Robin Miller: But probably older, I have to be younger than somebody.

Bob Pendleton: Okay.

Robin Miller: But age discrimination in employment, have you encountered?

Bob Pendleton: Oh, absolutely. I got laid off on my 49th birthday and haven’t been able to find a full time job since.

Robin Miller: How about finding freelancer contract work?

Bob Pendleton: A little bit for the – almost enough to survive for the first four or five years and then I switched over to teaching part time, because they won’t hire full time people if they can possibly avoid it, and so then I taught until, well my health started giving out, one day my wife said, Bob you’re retired. And I go, oh okay, that means I can stop trying to get a job. So now I’m the Grumpy Programmer.

Robin Miller: But do you still work?

Bob Pendleton: Well, at home.

Robin Miller: Also like me, I am working right now.

Bob Pendleton: I have no paid employment.

Robin Miller: Oh, okay.

Bob Pendleton: Haven’t for a couple of years.

Robin Miller: Okay.

Bob Pendleton: It’s really, really hard to find.

Robin Miller: So, I gather what we’re saying here to the young ones is sometime around your 40th birthday, you might consider a career change, am I right?

Bob Pendleton: Yeah, I had the opportunity to go into management in my early 40s and I hated it and so I went back to programming and that’s about the only way you can stay employed in a technical field after that or if you can get a job with the federal government or a state government, they will actually keep you employed forever because they don’t pay very well, but they have great benefits.

Robin Miller: And I used to have job stability, I don’t know, Texas, Florida, it’s not stable working for the government.

Bob Pendleton: Texas, actually my wife works for the State of Texas and even during the worst part of the recession, they didn’t have really huge lay-offs, mostly they just stopped hiring people and stopped replacing people, so as long as you kept working you kept your job.

Robin Miller: I assume that was in computer fields as well.

Bob Pendleton: Especially, they have a real hard time hiring people. Other places, if you specialize in COBOL, on MVS on IBM Mainframes, you can go to work for any of the Fortune 50 and work until you die, because they just can’t hire people to do that, nobody wants to learn it, nobody coming out of college knows anything about it. And nobody wants to do it, but there are literally mega lines of COBOL code out there running everything, the whole billing system and even most of the rest of everything at – all of the phone companies, it’s COBOL.

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The Grumpy Programmer has Advice for Young Computer Workers (Video)

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  • Re:Transcript... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cute Fuzzy Bunny ( 2234232 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @08:22PM (#47761583)

    I learned that many programmers are musicians or good at various art forms. Which surprised me because I was a good programmer and can't play a musical instrument or do anything artistic at all.

    I learned that if you're a coder, you'd better have a career change lined up before you're too far along into your 40's.

    I learned that when you're older if you lose your job, good luck getting re-employed.

    I learned that if you want life long income from writing code, you'd have been well off to learn legacy languages and operating systems and get a job with a large business or the government. In fact, doing that now would leave you with a lot less competition for highly specialized work and you'd largely be competing with old farts for jobs.

    I learned how to reduce stress.

    As a code writer from the 70's through the early 90's and the manager of programmers through early 2000's, followed by watching almost everyone I know who did it lose their jobs in their early 50's and go through hell to find work, seems like all of that is not only reliable but pretty important.

    That's without going back and re-reading the transcript.

  • by Cute Fuzzy Bunny ( 2234232 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @08:27PM (#47761613)

    Kids don't have to cost very much. Billions of them are raised around the world for next to nothing. Living below your means and having a good retirement account is a very good idea.

    But yeah, marriage is a piss poor idea. You have no idea what you're going to get. My ex wife held her breath for 5.5 years of dating and everything was wonderful. Which ended within days of the ring going on her finger.

    The old saying is true: marriages fail because men think that everything will stay the same and women think everything will be different.

    I survived financially because most of my assets were earned before we married and weren't community property. There's a reason they call it financial death.

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!