Episode 18

RC 17 – Interview with Dave Thomas from the Pragmatic Programmers – Part 1


April 20th, 2010

31 mins 30 secs

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About this Episode

Dave Thomas is one of the founders of the Pragmatic Programmers. He is a signatory of the Agile Manifesto. He's written several books, including: The Pragmatic ProgrammerProgramming Ruby (The Pickaxe Book), and Agile Web Development with Rails

This discussion covered a wide variety of topics, including how he picked up Ruby, learning new languages, and building businesses.

I think one of my favorite parts were his description of how he came to write his books Programming Ruby and the Pragmatic Programmer. For me it was valuable to get that type of view into some of the early documentation on my primary programming language.

I also appreciated his insight into building code better, rather than building better code. He offered insight into code that is appropriate to the task that is being built. He offered the following questions as qualifying whether you're building code better:

  • Does it do what the customer wanted?
  • Can it continue to provide value so in the future?

This sort of purpose driven development is really the whole point of what we do as programmers. Thank you Dave for pointing out that the important thing is keeping the practices that allow us to adapt to changes in the ecosystem our applications run in.

Dave also shared with us that talent in programming is important. Like musicians, you need talent to be able to perform. You can only get so far pushing your way through programming. Can you think about things as explicitly as a computer?

More importantly, rather than the introverted programmer who doesn't communicate, a good programmer has the ability to translate the customer's requirements into computer instructions. You need the ability to communicate clearly and represent the computer and its capabilities to the customer.

One of the most important things you can do is find a good set of mentors. Someone who can teach you what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong. Dave shared a terrific example where he said the right thing in the wrong way and explained how his mentor approached him and what to look for in a great mentor.

Here is what Dave recommends in looking for a mentor:

  • Spend some time getting to know them.
  • Look for people around you.
  • Look at what they do, since you'll be modeling yourself after them.
  • Ask them to be your mentor. If they're not willing, they're not a good mentor.

Oddly enough, the person I approached after this podcast is also named Dave.

If you want to know where the Pragmatic Programmer came from, Dave tells us toward the end of this episode. We pick up the discussion next week talking about his businesses and entrepreneurship.

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