Arcane Thoughts: Programming Heroes

When Jeff Atwood was on DotNetRocks recently, he mentioned his programming heroes. It got me to thinking back on some of my own heroes, and thought what the heck. So if you’ll indulge me as I head down memory lane…

My Dad

I guess my earliest hero was my own dad, Ron. He brought home a TRS-80 Model 1 when I was around 12. He wrote a little Star Wars game on it (all ASCII graphics) in BASIC. His downfall was letting me, an clueless kid and geek in the making get his hands on a 2000 dollar (US) computer to play the game.

And not just that, but letting me go in and look at the source! I wound up having more fun tinkering with the source code than playing the game. Primarily I hacked it to make it harder for my sister to win. 😉 But it set me down the path of software development, and so for being crazy enough to let a 12 year old kid put his hands on one of the earliest of the home computers, Dad makes my first coding hero.

Mark Westbrook

I mention Mark’s full name in hopes he’ll find this and give me a shout out. I knew Mark when we lived in southeast Alabama together, he was the first guy I ever met who was really passionate about programming. He ate, sleep, and drank computers. His house was just a place to keep his computer, an IBM PCjr.

Mark was the guy who reinforced my belief in software as a craft, an art form, and not just a 9 to 5 job. To say he was an enthusiast was something of an understatement.

Ethan Winer

For those who don’t remember Ethan (http://www.ethanwiner.com/index.htm), you may recall his company Crescent Software. Crescent made all sorts of really cool libraries to work with QuickBasic. His stuff rocked, and made it possible to do really serious (and cool) things with QuickBasic. I remember writing several TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) programs with one of his libraries.

Dan Appleman

Most people include Dan Appleman because of his Win32 API book for VB Coders, but for me it was his book “Developing ActiveX Components With Visual Basic 5.0: A Guide to the Perplexed” which put him into the hero category. It was after reading this book I felt like I’d turned the corner into true understanding of a lot of the guts behind VB and COM.

Carl Franklin

Back in the early days of VB there was one place to go for all your really good VB Tips: Carl & Gary’s. My memory is a little foggy, but about the time I found the site Gary took a sabbatical and Carl picked up the bulk of the work. (I don’t have anything against Gary, he just wasn’t around.) At any rate, I learned so much and got so many cool coding tidbits Carl makes the list as one of my early heroes.

Dan Fox

Dan Fox wrote a book called Pure Visual Basic (http://shrinkster.com/opa), back in the VB6 days. This was a great book, because it contained everything you needed to know to write professional level applications. It was great both for teaching and as a reference.

I used it to teach a series of VB6 classes that started at the basics and went all the way through to advanced topics, and for the entire series Dan’s book was all I needed. At work, I used it as a reference to look up the “how to” for those things I didn’t do on a daily basis.

Bill Vaughn

No list would be complete without the original database Hitchhiker, William R. “Bill” Vaughn. His books over the years have taught me and many others the ins and outs of programming against the database, primarily SQL Server. His early works combined with his current (and fabulous) version of the Hitchhiker guide and SQL Server Compact Edition E-Book make Bill a hero, and a good transition from my early heroes to my current ones.

Deborah Kurata

Much like Bill, Deborah has been around a little while writing books since the VB5 days. She has turned out many books on objects, and still continues with one of my favorites, her “Best Kept Secrets of .Net’ book (http://shrinkster.com/oph). I’ve also heard her speak at conferences, and was impressed with her depth of knowledge and instructional capability.

Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell

Carl gets to make the list twice, this time with his cohort Richard Campbell. Their work on Dot Net Rocks (http://www.dotnetrocks.com) has taught me an incredible amount on the .Net world. I also have to get shout outs to Rory Blyth and Mark Dunn, Carl’s earlier co-hosts, as I’ve been working through the older shows. When I started listening though, Richard had taken the co-host helm.

Through the podcasts I’ve been exposed to so much good info, and gotten to do it while stuck in traffic or stopping at my local grocery store. Great job guys!

Mark Miller

My final, and most current coding hero is Developer Express’ head of developer tools, Mark Miller. I first saw Mark at VSLive in Orlando. He wasn’t just enjoying himself, he was excited about writing code. Not since my old friend, the afore mentioned Mark Westbrook have I seen anyone that passionate about writing code! (Maybe it’s something about the name Mark?)

His presentation was also one of the more useful I’ve ever seen, it was on practical ways to measure the user experience. Measuring the number of twips a mouse had to move to click various user elements, for example.

After the show I went and watched him at the DevExpress booth, and wound up standing for an hour watching Mark and his coworker (can’t recall if it was Julian or Dustin, sorry) interact with the crowd.

Again, Mark’s enthusiasm continued, you could tell he was thrilled to be there demoing CodeRush and cranking out code. It was his enthusiasm that rekindled my own tech interests, and led me down my current career path. I became inspired to start blogging, and speaking at code camps and user groups.

And there you go

There’s my list, starting in my youth and working toward today. I thank you for indulging me in my trip down memory lane, and hope it brought up some fond memories for you as well. As for tomorrow’s heroes, who knows? Maybe it’ll be you.

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