12 Dec 2010
Today, one of my age-old theories about the fundamental nature of the Lasso programmer came into focus for me. With my title "The Artist Developer" I am not intending to use the word "artist" as in "graphic designer", so let me explain...
Before I explain, let me go back many years to where Treefrog's original owner and my close friend had disappeared into the depths of Japan to lead research team with a robotics company. This caused an instant change to Treefrog in Canada as well - we moved out of the basement and into a "real" office, where we were deluged by Asian developers who wanted a better life in Canada.
This is where I got to spend time with "real" software engineers.
When the dust settled, sitting on my right was a truly brilliant software engineer - one who had collected several PhD's in China, married a PhD in software engineering, and had years of experience engineering various high-level conceptual things - like running servo motors with dynamic H-infinity curves. (One weekend, for fun, he went home and rebuilt the Linux kernel to run 50% faster - but never released it as he was afraid of political/employment ramifications of doing open-source programming).
The guy on my left (who didn't speak much English) had just finished building the Chinese fly-by-wire system for the Chinese air force. Mission-critical software engineering requiring months of precision research and development - where a single bug could start a devastating war.
Here I am, poking away like a chump with an early version of Lasso, trying to get tables to align for the local hockey club, while the guy beside me is building an integrated controller for a multi-stage stepper motor system's acceleration dynamic.
These two guys were both brilliant software engineers. And to this day, I love them and their families dearly. But they do nothing but program. Day in, day out, social interaction is minimal - they have no other interests other than using the scientific side of their brain and growing it dramatically in order to do more software engineering.
Like a man with one massive arm, and one puny one.
Earlier this week, I was having fun describing the various followers of various languages to a non-techie, based on my experiences with programmers in the past. Note that I fundamentally believe that a programmer can use any language - but choose to associate themselves with a particular group of individuals as a matter of cultural identity.
Perl programmers all seem to have extraordinarily long frazzled hair, wear old metal band t-shirts and seem to all be tall and thin. Microsoft developers all seem to wear bad polyester shirts and ties which fit poorly and have boyish haircuts. PHP developers all seem to be 12 years old and are still carrying their skateboards. Ruby programmers... well, I've never met one in real life.
Now as everyone knows (and talks about over and over) - Lasso came from, in effect, a group of technological innovators (everyone here has read Crossing the Chasm, I hope) who were also considerably invested in Macintosh technology (read: Filemaker). This was strongly attached to the early Macintosh stigma of being a computer "for artists".
(Aside: if another person says to me "oh, of course you use a Mac, you work at a design company", I'm going to punch them in the throat. Apple is bigger than Microsoft now, you idiot.)
Lasso programmers, as a whole, seem to be much less technologically awkward, much more "social" (though not in a butterfly way, but in a supportive way). Most of us don't even dress too badly.
And that's when it hit me (again): Lasso developers are - for the most part - artists. This is a group of highly talented individuals, who are capable of doing remarkable things with engineering and technology - but also see things from the intuitive and emotional sides of their brain.
Lasso programmers are part of the rare group of programmers/developers who are not only capably of seeing things through the vision of mathematics and schema - but through elegance and beauty. Not just through integers, but through emotion.
We are the Renaissance programmers.
"The terms Renaissance man and, less commonly, Homo Universalis (Latin for "universal man" or "man of the world") are related and used to describe a person who is well educated or who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields... ...[and that] people should embrace all knowledge and develop their capacities as fully as possible. Thus the gifted people of the Renaissance sought to develop skills in all areas of knowledge, in physical development, in social accomplishments, and in the arts." - WIkipedia
Our commonality as a group is not that we are mostly Mac people, but rather than we are not just programmers. We are the best parts of life - beauty, innovation and creativity - in one. And in this, we find union and community.
How can this be? How did this happen? Let's look at some interesting facts;
Bill Doerfield - the original owner of the language - is a musician. He just released a new Jassical record (http://www.billdoerrfeld.com/)
Kyle Jessup - the first employee of Blueworld - has a degree in Art. He and his wife (mostly his wife) are talented ceramics artists.
Jono Guthrie - now a key developer - once had a record contract with a very well known band in New Zealand as a bassist.
M I L E S - (where is he?) is a talented dancer.
Jolle - a talented actor and director, right?
Someone at the Amsterdam conference played TWO instruments at the same time. Anyone know who this was? Where I can get a recording?
Sean Stephens (Me) - 5 records, of which four hit top-10 on Canadian college radio stations. (Check your iTunes for Sean Stephens and the Chaos System).
I am thus going to start by calling this new era of LassoSoft the "Renaissance". Not because we have done anything yet - but because our ranks are filled with the most social and most versatile of the developer communities - the artist developers, the renaissance programmers. The developers who have chosen to not just excel at math and nerdiness - but excel in the larger wonder of human life.
If you know any more artists in our midst, will you let me know?
I cook up some mean smoked meat.
I have one observation I'd like to share though. On the Sunday night in Amsterdam a bunch of us got together and somehow found us a pub. While waiting for a pint to pour, I had a look around at the "artists" in our group and pondered the nature of the work that we do. I realized that I had known some of these fine people for over ten years, and that some of the work I had witnessed in the past had seriously impressed me.
The whole Lasso thing is much like a Lego set, but for computers. What it allows us to do is basically up to our own imaginations. The approaches that I've seen by Lasso developers have seriously impressed me in the past, and in turn I have formed a great respect for them.
At that point, it gelled that the majority of the people in that pub, could have written Twitter. Ironically it was the time when this very application was going through rumours of billion dollar valuation. I found the potential of such a group to be astounding.
I once read from someone that "code is poetry". I hope the artists in the Lasso world get to reap the benefits of using such a language. Using Lasso as a tool for business can be a very wise choice. My business is based upon that.
Yep, that sums it up pretty well. Many of us "lasso'ers" come from a more artistic background as opposed to the hard-core programming site. Kinda funny your take on this, I did a similar posting about myself a while back: http://thingsithinkithunk.com/2010/06/09/renaissance-man/
How well put! This is what I am trying to tell managers around me when they ask what I do and why I am mixed up in so many projects (not just coding). The new job-term for this 'speciality' is: generalist. These kind of people seem rare, because everybody 'has to have a speciality', like doing queries all day or sorting papers. But 'generalist' often implies that you know too little of everything and so the term degrades someone's potential because people simply do not understand. So now there is hope! I can point them to your blog post and say: hey, read there, that is what I do and why I do it so-and-so. Thanks! I feel recognized!
That would be Nikolaj de Fine Licht. A video of his impromptu performance at the Amsterdam Lasso Developer Conference is on the LassoSoft YouTube channel.