Nerd Corner #33: Coders at Work, Tokyo and more! 😷

Hi All,

What I am reading 📚

Over the weekend I was faced with a dilemma: stick to the book I was reading (yes, still Girard’s work) or pause it for a while and start a new book from my reading list, a book that had been in my mind for a while: Coders at Work: Reflections on the Craft of programming.

The main issue was not the fact that I’d pause one book and start another, but that there’s an opportunity cost with every book we pick up. There are so many interesting books and articles out there that every time we choose to read something there’s something else that we will never put our eyes on.

So, to keep things short, I picked up the book and it turned out to be pretty good! I couldn’t put it down until I was done with it.

The book consists of a series of interviews that Peter Seibel carried on with some of the most influential and prolific programmers and computer scientists of our time. From Donald Knuth and Guy Steele to Simon Peyton Jones and Jamie Zawinski, they provide a glimpse of the lives of these remarkable people.

Nerd Corner 🤓

Coders at Work goes deep into nerd territory so it is fair to devote this section to it.


  • All these interviewees are doers. Regardless of their background and credentials, all of them have spent (and some continue to do so) endless hours tinkering and hacking with computers.

  • Their paths are very serendipitous. None of them really had a plan to become programmers, they just enjoyed what they did and were curious about computers.

  • Almost all of them think of programming as very similar to writing. The best programs are well structured, coherent and enjoyable to read.

  • All but two of the interviewees (Simon Peyton Jones and Joe Armstrong) spent part of their careers in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. It would be interesting to see if this trend continues with the next generation of programmers as remote work becomes more ubiquitous and location becomes less important.

  • Of 15 interviewees there was only one woman: Frances E. Allen the first woman to receive the Turing Award ("The Nobel Prize of Computer Science"). Historically, the tech industry has been dominated by men, but I'm hopeful that by spreading the word about women's remarkable efforts this trend will soon end.

  • Most of the interviewees never did formal proofs of their programs. The vast majority didn’t even bother to write too many tests in their programs. This was quite surprising to me.

Favorite Quotes

[On writing and programming] As far as the overall ability to express a thought, they're very similar. Not rambling, having an idea in your head of what you're trying to say, and then being concise about it. I think that kind of thinking is the overlap between programming and writing prose. - Jamie Zawinski

Not knowing something doesn't mean you're dumb—it just means you don't know it yet. - Jamie Zawinski

Optimization is fun because it's not necessary. If you're doing that, you've got your thing working and nothing else is more important and you're either saving money or doing it because it's like a Perl golf. - Brad Fitzpatrick

I characterize functional programming—that is, purely functional programming, where side effects are somehow really relegated to a world of their own—as a radical and elegant attack on the whole enterprise of writing programs. Things that are radical are by definition not evolutionary from the state of where things are. - Simon Peyton Jones

When the limestone of imperative programming is worn away, the granite of functional programming will be observed. - Simon Peyton Jones

Music, graphics, mathematics, and text. Those are about as old as humanity. Clearly there are powerful ideas there that are independent of computers—the computer just provides a way to explore them that might be hard without the computer. - Dan Ingalls

Computers incorporate some powerful ideas and can bring some powerful ideas to life. The wonderful thing about computers is they bring mathematics to life. - Dan Ingalls

Cool Finds 🤯

  • I was blown away by this picture of a moving train in Tokyo. It is simply sublime. If you like it, you should check the rest of @jungraphy’s Instagram 🏯.

  • As Italy goes into lockdown (and other countries will likely follow suit soon), I found this time-lapse of the early stages of the pandemic quite telling. The scary part is that we seem to be only at the beginning of it.

  • Venture Capital is big and powerful. This chart shows just how much


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