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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Q&A with Bruce Eckel

Welcome to the Q&A with Bruce Eckel, the author of computer programming books and articles, best known to the Java world for his wonderful Thinking in Java.

Bruce has kindly answered our questions and the answers are rather extensive. So head back to your kitchen and get a nice warm cup of coffee or a yerba mate if that's your fancy. Just remember to let the water cool off a bit after boiling, or the brewage will be on its bitter side. No, that was way too hot, now you've ruined it! There, that's more like it! Now grab that gourd of yours, sit back, relax and enjoy the wonderful infusion while reading what Bruce had to say on what we've asked him.

What was your first computer? How old were you? What did you do with it?

The first computer I programmed was an HP minicomputer owned by my high school district. We never saw it, but programmed it using a teletype with a 110 Baud telephone acoustic coupler. We programmed in BASIC and saved our programs on punch tape. I was a freshman or sophomore in high school.

The first computer I worked on was an IBM 360 at Pomona College. I had some kind of undergraduate work/study job where I took punch cards and fed them into the computer, and sometimes changed the disk packs. The first computer I was paid to work on was an Apple II in the San Luis Obispo environmental lab (which monitored water quality). I programmed the computer (in BASIC, again) to create reports. That was a summer job while I was getting my master's degree.

The first computer I ever owned was a Kaypro II (a CP/M machine) when I had my first programming job out of school. I programmed it using Turbo Pascal, which was still faster than most of the compilers we use today (since it did everything in memory). I also connected wires to the parallel port and controlled things like LEDs and stepper motors, which eventually led to my first (self-published) book, "Computer Interfacing with Pascal & C."

What will the next revolution be about?

It could very well be a revolution in the way we organize ourselves. That's what I'm hoping and working for. Nanobots could be amazing as well, for health care and lots of other possibilities. Someone could have an energy breakthrough any day which would change the way the world works. I'm also hoping for a revolution in education, so we stop teaching people how to be robots (because we have REAL robots now) and instead teach them how to create new things for the robots to build. I'd like to see a revolution in consciousness but I don't know how or when that would happen. I suspect that one will surprise us.

Are there enough women in IT? Why do you think so?

Our culture seems to unconsciously conspire to keep women out of engineering professions. When I was going to school I saw women leaving engineering because professors were such throwback idiots that they would actually say that women didn't belong there. Our educational systems are based on medieval power structures that have marginal benefits and discourage more people than they encourage. Indeed, they are structured around the scarcity and expense of books, which is completely upside down now. As a result, they spend more time controlling access to learning than actually teaching. We need to re-invent the way education works so that we stop wasting the bulk of human potential.

Why are you coming to speak at GeeCON?

I like Poland -- there is a lot of creative energy there. When I travel to speak, I've started to create more experiences than just the conference. This time I will be visiting a number of companies in Poland, looking for new and innovative ways that they have structured their organizations, since that's what I've been researching for www.Reinventing-Business.com. I'm also trying to do more at the conference itself, because I find participating in a conference more fulfilling than attending sessions. This trip I'm going to Berlin for the first time and hope to visit a company or two in the day that I'm there.

What is the most important part of a programmers conference?

I hold open-spaces events, like the Java Posse Roundup that just happened last week. If people are going to travel for a conference, it should be for more than to just listen to lectures which, these days, you can often get a better experience watching on YouTube. What makes the traveling worthwhile is discussions with other people. In an open-spaces conference (we're planning to have one right after GeeCON) the only thing you do is have discussions with other people. That's the best part of a conference.

What do you want to teach the youngest and bravest developers? What message do you want to send?

Start your own business. Sure, it requires additional effort to figure out all the business stuff, but you've learned to program a computer -- this is not hard by comparison. And your possibilities are tremendously better than working for some soul-crushing big corporate hierarchy. Even if your business fails, you'll learn so much by doing it that you'll be much more valuable as an employee because you'll understand the issues of the company you work for. And if you succeed, you might create something that changes the world.


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