Weird Programmers through history

The world of the programmer

What's a weird programmer?

Let's explain it with examples. Many years ago, Dan Bricklin (he wrote Excel) and I met and the first thing what was strange was the way how he was dressed. He was dressed like a poor student, with faded and ton jeans, and old dirty t-shirt and a wild beard. His eyes were also strange, the he looked into the word wide eyed and he constantly stared. He smelled like stale wine and old sweat. But what a programmer he was. Specifications was something for dummies and he programmed anything straight from scratch. He as in the beginning not a team player, but when the money came and the promise of more money, everything changed for him.

At the west coast in the US, watching the hitech companies like Apple in the morning was loads of fun. Their best (paid) programmers arrived at 10 or 11 o'clock in mostly old wrecks of cars and dressed like paupers, driving and walking and reading some technical magazine or manual. But the majority went home deep in the night! Showers seem to be something of a low priority, and they had no time for something foolish like that.

In Holland, I met a couple (boy and girl). The boy was a born programmer, only he didn't realize it yet.  I introduced him to the manager of a large modeling agency (Intermodel) and he was hired. The thing was that he needed a change of clothes. Why?

He was wearing heavy boots, his clothes were skinny and he liked his t-shirts in black with devils painted on it (he did it himself). He also had spiked hair (green, lilac and pink) and looked like a chicken. His girlfriend was the same. After testing him on the computer, the boss decided to help him with a new wardrobe and he did. At the end he refused to get rid of his boots, but the rest was really okay. What money can do, not?

In another project in the city Nijmegen in the Netherlands, near the - at that time - the German border, I worked for a large research company as a researcher. That company had a contract with an exclusive programmer, as they liked to call him. When I first saw him, my eyes hurt! I couldn't believe what I saw.

He wore a bright neon green jacket, a bright yellow shirt and red trousers and blue bright shoes. His hair was obviously painted and that was in sky-blue.

He arrived at ten in the evening and sat down in front of the server. He started to type like a madman and I called security. The security people only laughed and they said that this was normal for the guy.

After almost three hours of working he stood up, closed everything what he was using and left. The next day I learned that he not only programmed his part of the system, he also removed the bugs he found in other software and integrated everything. They were now far ahead on schedule!

His typing speed was 250 words a minute and I saw him several times after that. One time he invited me and some others to come to his house.

I took my car, loaded everyone in and waited for him. And there s came in a custom made Porsche in bright yellow color. We followed him over the border into Germany and reached a small castle. That was his home. He still lived with his parents. We were invited to come and quickly moved to the kitchen. While eating there, we noticed that his Porsche slowly started to move ... downward the hill.

The only response of his mother was " ... Mein Gott, nicht wieder die gleiche Scheiße", which translate like "My God, not again" (bad word filtered). It was the third time something like this happened when he parked his Porsche and forgot the use the hand break.

A month later he had a new Porsche in bright red color, another custom paint job from the good old Porsche.

Crazy Programmer

Crazy Programmer

The world of the programmer

The world of the programmer

In Barcelona Spain I worked for the ESA (European Space Agency) and I worked together with Gomez, a programmer from Mexico. We lived together in one apartment and his focus was only women. Well, not so much his focus, but his obsession. It didn't matter if the woman was beautiful or ugly, 20 or 60, a woman was a woman, because "she has breasts", as he always told everyone, including those women. He had a typical Mexican moustache, which seem to move when he saw a female and his little black eyes were shining in some strange way and than that wide smile.

Working together with him meant sharing software written by each other and that was a problem. The names of his procedures and functions were female names, so were the names of his variables, even the libraries he built had female names. Over the weeks I built a reference program, which 'converts his names into more logical names as a huge lookup table.

And one sunny day in August that year, he met a woman, who was not a woman at all. He or she underwent a medical procedure with hormones and he grew breasts. He met him/her at a bar after work. When the man/woman approached him, the first thing he looked at were the breasts and when he finally looked up, he looked at a face with a moustache.

He opened his mouth and managed to produce a silent scream and than he fainted. I peed myself that time.

From that moment he was never be the same again. A month later he quit and went back to Mexico, where he married and had four children. He had his own garden and worked in computer repair. He sent me those years every year a postcard with a picture of himself and his growing children. His wife was big, but with a happy smile.

Individual loners or team players as programmers

In my more than 35 years of experience, I met thousands of programmers and I could classify them in two categories: Individuals and team players.

For having a team with programmers, it's a very bad idea to have an individual programmer as part of that team.  It's even worse to have such individual programmer as a team leader or having any form of authority. It'll destroy the team.

First, an individual programmer doesn't work well together with other programmers, unless they are loners too and they are as good as the individual programmer himself (I met only once a female individual programmer).

A team player (as programmer) waits for the authority  to order them what to do and he or she will do the work. Most of the time exactly that and not one bit more or less. That requires a good and strong manager to manage the team player.

A lone individual programmer demands a totally different approach. He or she accepts only technical documentation if it's well and detailed enough written, otherwise it will be thrown away or not used. Such type of programmer tends to program the whole project by him or herself.

If you prefer that the programmer works according the schedule, forget it with the lone programmer.

Many lone programmers program in at least four or five programming languages, they have at least 15 years of programming experience. After work, they continue to work on pet projects and try out new technologies and new approaches in development. They are mostly overspecialized. Those people are poison for each project you like to run. Their personal lives are a disaster as well. If they would be married that time, it's only a question that they divorce. They look terrible and they don't care about dress code. Showers and the like is all optional and only when they have time.

If a senior manager really thinks that it's cool to hire - totally by himself - such person, the whole R&D department is at stake.

Programmer workplace

But many of those lone individual programmers have the ability to program or code their program in their heads on the way to the nearest computer. They also remember each line of code and where that code is used and why. When they program their program, they remember any of the thousands lines of code and don't forget a thing.

And why not? Over the years they wrote hundreds of thousands, even millions lines of code, and after a while it becomes boring. I programmed several systems and I don't remember that I wrote that code when I looked a week later. While I was programming I was thinking about the coming vacation with the kids, when suddenly I realize that I was finished. I tested the program, while frowning at the screen (so unfamiliar), but it worked wonderful. I packed my bag and realized that I sat in front of that computer for 15 hours. No smoke, no drink and no food. I wrote in that time 80,000 lines of code.

It's like driving to work every day by car and you don't remember it even after you've arrived.

In my time in the Netherlands as programmer, some jokers from Ashton-Tate (makers of dBase, a PC-based database product) thought it funny to register me for the contest of programming and to see if the winner would beat the world record of programming. They did it after I rewrote their total support system of theirs in three days without sleeping.

I had no idea until I was invited for the medical checkup from the organization. I accepted it, because I got a free portable computer to work with (a real Compaq portable with a 7" screen and 4.5 Kg heavy). I arrived at last at the contest itself and joined the 40 people there. There were people who were composing music on their Apple II and Apple MacIntosh, their were people who were programming book viewers for the central library in Amsterdam and I was programming the financial administration for Greenpeace.

After 52 hours of programming, while chatting with a female German journalist and and listening to the attempts of composing a song by the only remaining person, we saw that person slowly falling backward, eyes still open and his fingers on his keyboard making flective movements and he fainted.  I really had no plans to stop, but the organizers insisted and so I end up in the book of world records. In 2003, a Japanese programmer beat my record with 10 minutes.

I had no recollection of he code I wrote for Greenpeace. Later I rewrote the program for free. And that time with full focus.

And yes, I had a beard, and my jeans were 5 years old and my t-shirt (I had another one, but in dark blue) was screaming obscene texts and my blue eyes were brightly staring all around me in "laser mode" (I still have the last one) and instead of a car I had an old beaten-up bicycle.

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