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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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  • First sentence (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HairyNevus ( 992803 ) <hairynevus&gmail,com> on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @04:52PM (#47760239)

    "Bob Pendleton calls his blog "The Grumpy Programmer" because he's both grumpy and a programmer."

    Thanks, Rob!!


  • Transcript... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @04:52PM (#47760243)

    The transcript reads like a conversation between two guys with almost nothing to say. I'm honestly not sure what my takeaway from this should have been. Guy was a working programmer for 30 years (unemployed for the last 12+), and now he's... ...a guy making small-talk in a video?

    Help me understand what I missed.

  • by dtmos ( 447842 ) * on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @04:58PM (#47760277)

    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.

    One piece of advice I always give younger engineers and programmers is to be increasingly vigilant about your career as you age. In the last decade or so before retirement one is very vulnerable to layoffs, because one's salary is high and one's formal education was a long time ago.

  • Re:Transcript... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @05:08PM (#47760367)

    You've missed that Slashdot has become a steaming turd of inconsequence.
    Will the last fucktard to leave please turn off the light?

  • by oldhack ( 1037484 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @05:19PM (#47760469)

    I'm one of these grumpies. Some of what I had to say may be useful to the wet-behind-the-year dopes. Not likely, though, because, back when I was at their age, I didn't listen to the old geezers, and that both helped me as well as screwed me.

    So, given the rapid speed of change in the landscape of IT industry, I have to wonder how relevant our experiences and lessons would be to the young'uns.

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

    by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @05:53PM (#47760723) Homepage Journal

    The transcript reads like a conversation between two guys with almost nothing to say.

    Because a real grumpy programmer doesn't fucking talk on a fucking video. A real grumpy programmer uses text, just like he always did, to write about how those hipster fucks who think they have even half a fucking clue deserve get run out of town on the Rails they rode in on.

    A real grumpy programmer still fucking hates Microsoft, but can't be arsed even to hold down the shift key long enough to type a '$' - even though those monopolistic fucks in Redmond deserve it. Develop my ass, Ballmer.

    A real grumpy programmer knows what C is for, but the pissant little twerps who bitch about the lack of strong typing in Perl can go get fucked, because fuck you, that's why. And fuck your Web 2 Point fucking Oh, and fuck your Twitter and fuck your fucking FuckBook.

    And that, my child, is what a real grumpy programmer looks like, because get the fuck off my fucking lawn you ignorant little turd polisher.

  • by mabu ( 178417 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @06:16PM (#47760885)

    I am not sure there's much advice us older programmers can give new developers because the industry is a lot different now.

    In the old days we were often tasked with solving a problem, and we were more-often free to use whatever tools and technology were best, and we also thought of development environments as tools, which we could switch out if the application required something different. We also did all our own testing. I recently worked with a younger programmer on a project and it was miserable. He couldn't give me 20 lines of code that didn't have a bug in it, because he was dependent upon having some QA person test his work and an IDE that would hilight every mistake.

    Nowadays there is so much abstraction going on in programming, people don't really seem like they're programming as much as they're using some sort of GUI development tool and plodding through innumerable amounts of API documentation and going on witch-hunts to try and figure out why something that's documented to work, doesn't actually work. I remember a big Oracle project I was on where my software wouldn't work properly and I couldn't figure out why. It took me several months of bitching on usenet to finally get a rep within Oracle contact me privately and tell me I wasn't crazy, they knew about the bug and just weren't acknowledging it. In the old days, there wasn't as much of that going on. Programming was simpler and less bureaucratic.

  • Re:Transcript... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Zapotek ( 1032314 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (soksal.sosat)> on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @09:00PM (#47761783)

    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.

    Music is basically counting and patterns, something that should come naturally to most programmers. The music theory jargon can easily go over your head at the beginning but you don't need to dive into it to actually play music at a basic level, and after you get some practise and a feel for it, the more advanced stuff start to make sense.

    The hard part is actually getting some level of technical proficiency over your instrument of choice, dexterity is rarely useful in real life but it's the basis of playing most instruments.

    If you can whistle a tune you can play music, getting control over the new medium (the instrument in this case) is the biggest issue, as the learning curve is highly steep and the fact that you'll initially sound like crap doesn't provide adequate positive re-enforcement, something necessary to any learning process.

    Also, the fact that the cheap learner instruments sound really bad and are much harder to play than the expensive awesome sounding stuff doesn't help either.

    PS: I'm an amateur self-taught guitar player, maybe someone with actual training can provide a better perspective.

  • by Art3x ( 973401 ) on Wednesday August 27, 2014 @02:22AM (#47763037)

    I liked the part about poetry. That rings true. I came to programming from writing. They have a lot in common.

    I am not sure there's much advice us older programmers can give new developers because the industry is a lot different now.

    Experience counts. It's wiser to hire someone with 25 instead of 5 years experience. I generally get better results from the elders, whether they are my server admin, plumber, or barber. The years round off rough edges, and they're just more relaxed. They may be grumpy, but they always seem ready to make a joke. In their work they are more methodical and deliberate. They seem to be working slowly, but they finish sooner. They're mainly just less frantic, less wasted motion, more thoughful. There's no problem they can't figure out, eventually. They also are more likely to be the ones to insist on doing the job right, or thoroughly, more than the customer is asking them to. They are more likely to describe something as elegant or know what the word means.

    This obsession with youth is sort of like how everything's new "on the Internet." Eventually the gleam will wear off, and society hopefully will realize that it's better to hire old people, just like it's better to hire master plumbers, 60-year-old architects, and gray-haired graphic designers. Steve Jobs, for NeXT's logo, paid $100,000 to Paul Rand, who was 72.

    I recently worked with a younger programmer on a project and it was miserable. He couldn't give me 20 lines of code that didn't have a bug in it, because he was dependent upon having some QA person test his work and an IDE that would hilight every mistake.

    I'm a web programmer in my 30s, but I use vi, psql, and --- well, that's about it.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.