Episode 25 – Get With the Program

21 April, 20086 comments

Tom and Dan are joined this week by Bill Turkel and Steve Ramsey, who provide fascinating insights into the nature of computer programming and how those in the humanities, museums, and libraries can get started with this foreign language. Bill and Steve were also kind enough to add their comments to our news roundup discussion of the launch of Google App Engine, which raises questions about outsourcing, and myLOC.gov, which raises questions about whether digital collections should have their own personalization tools. Picks for the week include two books on programming, an organizational tool for Thunderbird, and a map for browsing American history.

Links mentioned on the podcast:
The Programming Historian
Google App Engine
Network in Canadian History & Environment
Social Explorer
MIT Simile’s Seek
Beautiful Code
The Mythical Man-Month

Run time: 48:17
Download the .mp3

Categorized under Google, programming

6 comments to “Episode 25 – Get With the Program”

  1. Stephen Ramsay : 21st April, 2008

    I was going to write an expansive blog post as a follow-up to the discussion of programming in DC 25, but I realized that I wouldn’t have much to add to this fantastic essay by Peter Norvig, “Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years.”


    This essay is very well known among hackers, who often forward it to people who ask, “How did I get into programming?” You’ll notice that it’s been translated into nineteen languages. Some very wise (and for the most part, easy to follow) advice for anyone starting out.

  2. Stephen Ramsay » Digital Campus : 21st April, 2008

    […] was delighted to be guest (along with Bill Turkel) on Digital Campus for their 25th episode. I haven’t listened to it yet — and so I’m not sure to what degree I made a fool […]

  3. Sean Gillies : 22nd April, 2008

    Stephen’s blog ate my comments, so I’m commenting here. I agree with him 100% about “My” sites. Often that one word can be like a code smell.

  4. Brad Weikel : 22nd April, 2008

    I want to voice a minor disagreement with one of your guests in this episode, when you were discussing the advantages of learning to program in modern scripting languages, instead of low-level languages like C. One of your guests said that, while starting with underlying concepts like memory management is needlessly difficult, you should still go back and learn about memory management later, when you’re more skilled.

    I think this is a little bit like telling a culinary arts student that they should plan to get a masters in chemistry.

    There was a time, not too long ago, when a programmer who didn’t know about low-level concepts was just plain dangerous. Crashing a machine with a few lines of reckless code was a piece of cake.

    These days, though, that’s no longer the case. The vast majority of programming — and especially the sort of programming being done by non-engineers — is of the web-services variety, and for that sort of programming you simply don’t need to know a whole lot about how computer hardware actually runs. There is an exception, of course, for database optimization on high traffic sites, which requires a fair amount of systems knowledge, but most projects that are large enough to require that will have a “real” engineer on staff anyway.

    The reason I dispute this minor point is because, if one of the goals of this episode was to lower the barriers to entry for non-programmers who want to start in programming, I think it’s misleading and discouraging to continue to propagate the nostalgic attitude that web developers aren’t “real” programmers until they’ve learned to code in C.

    That’s all. Great episode, guys!

  5. Stephen Ramsay : 25th April, 2008

    “I think this is a little bit like telling a culinary arts student that they should plan to get a masters in chemistry.”

    That was me, and you’re absolutely right, Brad. This is one of the hazards of talking on your feet. 🙂 I still think it’s sound advice for pros. “Real programmers code in C” is obviously a canard, but knowledge of machine organization (one of the things conveyed by C) is not. I use that knowledge all the time when coding in Ruby or Java. But this is highly misleading, and, as you say, discouraging advice if the subject is “how to get into programming.”

    I should also add, following a post from Matt Kirschenbaum on my blog, that one of the best ways to get into programming is to look at things like MUDs, Second Life, Processing, and other domain specific language environments. These environments are loads of fun and they also get you right into the concepts that underlie programming in any context.

  6. Mark Sample : 18th February, 2010

    I feel like I’m opening up a cold case. I was recently trying to track down some of the programming references I remember being mentioned way back when I first heard this episode. It looks like the Programming Historian site has a new URL to list in your links sections. The new address is http://niche-canada.org/programming-historian.

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