August 21, 2007

Mike Lee

Mike Lee's story, How I Became a Programmer, is not the standard narrative of desire, school, and a job.

Aside from my Japanese heritage, things I inherited from my father include my looks, my Y chromosome, my handwriting, my fascination with computers, and my size. After the divorce, when I was in second grade, my mother and my redneck stepfather saw to it that I was continually and severely punished for all of these things.

All, that is, except for my size. That didn't manifest itself until much later in life, and it's not obvious I get that from my father. Aside from having to know my mother's family are all rail thin, you have to stop and think about what the selective breeding of a warrior class does to a person's capacity for growth.

If my parents had ever fed me it might have become an issue. As it was, I was among the shortest kids in my school until I turned 16. That was when I got a job and started eating. Now I'm 6'3" and weigh 300 pounds. My step-father was a career alcoholic and would be pushing 70, so he's probably dead. Certainly it's better for all involved if I continue to believe that.

What Lee's journey doesn't quite make clear, though, is how nebulous our conception of "programmer" has become. He's not a computer scientist, but then again, how often do we have occasion to analyze an algorithm? He's not what we used to call a coder, either: those jobs, where they exist, have fallen below minimum wage and been exported to other continents. He writes a lot about learning APIs: of his first WWDC, he recalls that

Student day kicked my ass. I couldn't keep up with the example project, which was using NSTableView with bindings. It took me all night in my hotel room to finally get it working. The presentations, including Wil Shipley's now famous talk, were simultaneously inspiring and discouraging.

My feeling is the Lee's "programmer" is what we used to call a designer.