Just got back from CUSEC . I got an interesting view of the current state of the programmer subculture. It is much more social than in my day. There is a whole culture of meetups, *-camps, and little conferences. Ruby seems particularly cool right now. Almost everyone had a Mac. Doing open source counts a lot for street cred.
What I found shocking was that there are now “cool programmers”, who are cool not because of awesome code, but by virtue of showmanship and relentless self-promotion. It’s like the cool kids in High School. Blogging and twittering has become a way to strike a pose and market yourself. Group events have become parties for working your popularity, and some of them have become semi-exclusive. To take a positive view, this just shows that programming has become a normal human activity, and programmers are reverting to the mean of human behavior. Still 98% male though.
I wonder if there is some connection to the fact that social networking apps are all the rage right now. Web 2.0 yada yada. I find it a little depressing that the ultimate fruit of our technology should be to give people new ways to gossip and flirt.
I got to meet Dan Ingalls and Avi Bryant. Had a good conversation with Avi. Just from talking with him, I could tell he is a great programmer, probably better than I am, even than I was at his age. Scary. Anyway, we talked about Smalltalk a lot. It suddenly clicked that a lot of the people who appreciate my work are Smalltalkers. Much of my work could be seen as trying to pick up where Smalltalk left off. There would be a certain poetic justice in my using Smalltalk as a development platform – stepping back in history in order to move forward. Every once in a while I check out the latest state of Squeak, but get put off by the terrible out-of-the box experience. I mean, bit-mapped fonts! The popup help refers to the red and blue mouse buttons (from the Alto). You can almost hear disco music in the background.
These cosmetics are a good example of why Smalltalk has had a seminal influence on programming, but no one actually uses it. The Smalltalk culture just doesn’t reach out. They are more like a cult in a mountaintop monastery. If you can prove yourself by overcoming the difficult path to reach them, they will teach their secret knowledge to you. But they are not about to make it attractive and easy for everyone. This attitude is even reflected in the core technology, which has difficulty packaging and distributing applications to users. Smalltalk is for programming, and teaching, but not for vulgar commerce. A great tragedy, in my opinion.
As for my talk, I guess it went OK, and a number of people talked with me afterwards, but I was dissatisfied with it. I tried to cram in both my research and reflections on the field, and there really wasn’t enough time for both and I ended up rushed and skipping.