Episode 104 – Share Your IT Knowledge and Simplify Software Development to Change the World with Dave Thomas

 In Podcasts

Dave Thomas is Phil’s guest on today’s show. He is a well-known programmer who works in numerous programming languages, in particular, Elixir, Ruby and agility. Dave is one of the original signatories and author of The Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Over the years, Dave has published several other books and is a trainer. Currently, he is also an Adjunct Professor at the Southern Methodist University.


(0.45) – So, Dave, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Dave says that fundamentally he is a programmer. For the past 45 years he has enjoyed coding and has done it practically every day. Most of the other things, he does really just to make a living. For example, he published more books when things crashed in the early 2000s. Even then, he spent time writing the various bits of infrastructure, he just could not stay away from the code.

(3.08) – Are you still involved in the pragmatic? Dave says that about 18 months ago, with Andy’s agreement, he stepped back a bit on the day-to-day stuff. He had other things he wanted to investigate and basically did not have enough time to do so. Right now, he is almost like a Victorian gentleman scientist exploring things on his own. But, he has spent about a year shuttling from one thing to another. He is now focused again.

(4.21) – Phil asks Dave to share a unique IT career tip. We work in the fastest changing industry that ever existed, so you need to keep up. You can’t know everything, but you can look at what is coming up and pick a few things that are likely to make it. Then spend a bit of time learning and researching those.

(5.20) – A lot of people say my employer does not give me time to do that. Dave’s response is that is not your employer’s job. It is your career – you need to invest in yourself. If you do not, you and your skills will slowly become irrelevant as new technology replaces what you are good at.

(6.11) – Dave is asked to share his worst career moment and what he learned from that experience. After 45 years, Dave has understandably had quite a few bad career moments. At least, things that felt bad at the time. But, usually he learned a lot from those situations. So, in the end, many of those experiences turned out to be positive ones. When you are working in such a malleable format it is very easy to mess things up. However, with a bit of discipline and patience, it is also very easy to fix the problem.

(7.29) – Phil asks Dave what his best career moment was. Dave explained that, like most people, he has a need to create. So, when he finds his “software expressing me” he gets a lift. A great example of this is the Prestel videotext system, from the 1970s. Dave was involved in writing a front end so that people could find flight availability and book them via travel agents. One day, Dave was walking down a High Street, looked in a travel agents window and saw his software running. Seeing that brought home the fact that what he was doing really was making a difference.

(9.53) – Dave explained that whenever he publishes a book, he also goes to a bookstore to see it on the shelf. Seeing a physical manifestation of your work helps you to fully appreciate what you have achieved and is very fulfilling.

(11.11) – So, Dave what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers in IT in particular? For Dave the fact that in IT you are shaping the world, literally. You cannot do much, these days, without IT. We can do great things with IT, which is exciting. In the very near future our coding will become part of the fabric of life. Now we code things that mainly happen via a screen or browser. In the future, our work will become an ambient background to people’s lives. That is a phenomenal responsibility, but incredibly empowering.

(13.31) – What first attracted you to a career in IT? When Dave did his A-levels he took them a year earlier, so had no work to do at school. Fortunately, he was not allowed to simply leave. Instead, his school sent him across the road to take the first-ever A-level UK programming classes. They were using Basic, with a teletype paper tape punch, but Dave was captivated by the work. He had planned to study math, instead he studies software at university and begun his IT career.

(15.31) – What is the best career advice you were given? Dave’s first job was working for a startup. They were asked to produce a coupon compiler, by a client. The director of that company had quite a bit of technical understanding, but there were some important gaps in his knowledge. So, at some point in the meeting Dave said – “No, you’re wrong. That’s not right” blah, blah. There was a deathly silence. At which point his boss stepped in and moved things along. Afterward the meeting he apologized. But, his boss said “No it’s OK, you did the right thing, just not in the right way.” That incident stayed with him. It made Dave realize that we should not be saying yes all the time. Instead, we have to find a way of saying no without putting people’s backs up.

(16.43) – If you were to start your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Dave replied “It depends”, but he would probably not go to college or university. Instead, he would look for a company that ran a good apprenticeship scheme and join. He would then spend 5 to 10 years flitting across different areas. At that point, he would reflect on those years and work out the thing that he enjoyed the most and work in that field. Phil agreed that was a good approach. People tend to forget that taking a job is not a lifetime commitment. In the early days, it is probably only an 18-month commitment. Nobody expects any more from you, so it makes sense to take advantage of that fact and move around until you find something you love doing.

(19.15) – Phil asks Dave what he is currently focusing on for his career. Dave says “changing the world”, kind of. Right now, he has two main aims. Firstly, he wants to encapsulate and share what he has learned. He is on the board of a company that teaches genuine software skills to 8 to 14-year-olds. These days, coding literacy is as important as any foreign language. The other objective is to simplify software development. Things do not have to be anywhere near as complicated as they are now. Dave believes we can make software development far easier and is working on doing exactly that.

(21.25) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Dave says that enjoying learning has helped him tremendously. Being able to move across industries and learn your client’s jobs, how they work and what their problems are all helps you to build software that solves the real problem, rather than just meeting the spec.

(22.46) – Phil asks Dave to share a final piece of career advice. Dave says that you need to “remember to make it fun.” You need to look forward to going to work, at least most of the time. If you feel that way you will do a good job.


(3.06) DAVE – “You just can’t keep me away from the code.”

(3.39) DAVE – “I’ve been almost like a Victorian gentlemen scientist for the last two years, just exploring stuff on my own.”

(5.38) DAVE – “The most important tip is to invest in yourself. To keep yourself current, spend some time and a little bit of money on a personal level, just to make sure that you’re still relevant.”

(7.24) DAVE – “I honestly think it’s an important thing to learn that if you break it, you can fix it.”

(9.54) PHIL – “I think seeing what you produce in action is self-fulfilling, in some ways.”

(13.07) DAVE – “The most exciting thing to look forward to is a future where we can really genuinely make the world better.”


Twitter: https://twitter.com/pragdave @pragdave

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dave-thomas-53aa1057/

Website: https://pragprog.com/

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