zorkian: Icon full of binary ones and zeros in no pattern. (Default)
[personal profile] peoppenheimer tagged me for Three Weeks for Dreamwidth, asking how Denise and I got started working together. Oh man, this is going way back...

It first started on LiveJournal, in the volunteer support group. LJ (and DW) have a team of volunteers that get together and answer user questions in the support categories. Back in 2001, I decided to start helping out. That was about the time Denise did too -- although I'm proud to say I got my journal first (by a month) and I got into support before she did (heh).

We eventually crossed paths there first, probably in the IRC channel. She was a volunteer, I was a volunteer, and we were both helping LJ, yay! Truth be told, though, she was doing a lot more support volunteering than I (to this day, she is still #1 on the "high scores" list on LJ, while I am at #270). I ended up going into the development end of things, volunteering to help build up the server side of LJ.

(Actually, I took a detour to do client development since at that point I was good with Windows GUI stuff, but I didn't know anything about Perl etc. I started learning, though!)

Time started going by, eventually Denise worked her way up to being a senior member of the support team. Stuff happened, and she ended up working for LJ. (I believe that was Jesse's doing -- he told Brad "if you don't hire her and she has to quit volunteering for us, we're gonna be in bad shape".) I was actually pretty jealous that Denise got a job with LJ, something I had been wanting to do for a while.

That part of history is a little fuzzy when I look back on it now (I should reread my entries one day), but at some point [livejournal.com profile] crschmidt and I started Plogs.net. It was going to be a professional fork of LJ, taking it from being a social site and bringing it to businesses, universities, professional organizations. I still think it could have taken off -- at that time (2002-2003) it was before Six Apart even had venture capital! Anyway, that didn't end up going anywhere amazing -- mostly due to me getting sidetracked (college, friends, life) and not knowing enough (here we are, nearly a decade later).

Denise and I were still in the embryonic stages of our relationship at this point. We worked together on things from time to time, but she was busy working on LJ, running lots of things, and I was just a volunteer developer (sometimes). I didn't do it all the time, it really depended on how busy I was... but I was pretty busy at that time. Eventually, though, in late 2003, LiveJournal was hiring and I emailed Brad...

...and he said yes! I was surprised, awed, whatever. It was going to be a 6-month co-op program, where I would come out to Portland, work on LJ, and see how things went. I was still technically enrolled in college at the time, just away. It gave me a chance to demonstrate what I could do, though, and eventually Brad agreed to take me on as an employee with an actual salary and stuff. I was pretty excited.

But that's getting ahead of the story! When I became an LJ employee, I started doing a lot of interfacing with the support team and trying to fix bugs that were bothering users. Most of the existing LJ development staff at that time didn't have a lot to do with the volunteers and community as far as fixing bugs and things went, so it was a pretty big change to have me come in and say 'hey, support, what should I work on?'

Yeah, I spent a lot of time working on what Brad wanted me to work on, and then some time on whatever I wanted, but I also tried to make sure to work on things that were of high value to the rest of the volunteers. This meant I started working with Denise a lot, as she was running support and abuse at that time. She and I ended up talking a lot -- mostly work related, but more and more as friends.

When she came out to Oregon to visit the office for a week or two, Michael ([livejournal.com profile] deveiant, another LJ developer that I lived with at the time) and I offered our apartment for her to stay at. So she did! I think that was the first time I ever actually spent time talking to her and getting to know her, and I remember sitting out at the table in the kitchen talking for hours, or going out while she smoked. It was interesting for me, because I was so much from the conservative background, and trying to figure out this strange woman who had such funny ideas about things! ;)

That was also the year we went to North Carolina for AbuseFest (the yearly meetup of LJ volunteers, basically), where I got to know more of the people who I had been working with a lot online and got to see Denise in something closer to her natural habitat. The way she seemed to effortlessly just talk to people and how everybody would always listen to her, form circles around her... I envied that, being the introvert I am. (Grass is always greener, I'm sure.)

Denise and I kept working together a lot, though. I think a combination of me being probably the developer most vested in the volunteer community (having been one myself for years) and also naturally enjoying working with them as they were always so awesomely grateful whenever they got something... it was very Pavlovian. I'd implement something they asked for, they'd bake cookies and mail them to the office, or tell me how much they appreciated it. (A lot of the ideas for Dreamwidth's culture came out of the LJ volunteer culture, and much of that culture was built by or maintained by Denise.)

It is funny to look back now and realize that Denise and I had talked a few times (jokingly) that we should offer to take over the management of LJ and leave the coding to Brad. We never went anywhere with it, and at the time I didn't have nearly the skills or experience to have pulled it off successfully. (But now here we are...)

Eventually Six Apart happened, and I won't write about that much. Just enough to say that Denise and I talked a lot. I spent more time talking to her about things than anyone, I think, because while we may come from different walks of life and have different opinions on nearly everything, I think that the way we think is a lot alike. There's a lot of kinship there, in the way she thinks (not what she thinks, exactly, but the way she does it). I'm probably not explaining it very well...

We didn't talk much during the intervening time when I left Six Apart and was living in Iceland working for CCP Games, so nothing to say about that.

But then when I was at Mozilla ... sometime in early 2008 ... and she had The Idea That Changed My World ... that's when Dreamwidth started, and things picked up quite naturally where they had left off.

Is our relationship perfect? No way, there are things she does, there are things I do, and we have to deal with them. I'm typically way too abrupt in the way I communicate with her, and this frustrates her a lot. She's way too verbose for me, and I then end up skimming, and realize only later I missed an important detail and oops, I botched that up! But we manage to work through this, and there's only been a minimum of bloodshed... ;)

But seriously, Denise is one of the people I've known the longest in my life and still talk to, and if I were to sit down and think about it... yeah, I think that aside from Janine, I've spent more time getting to know and talking with Denise than any other person out there. She's an amazingly competent, smart, and capable person. I'm glad to know her.

(I think I got off topic. Sorry!)
zorkian: Icon full of binary ones and zeros in no pattern. (Default)
This is my first official Three Weeks for Dreamwidth post!

[personal profile] yvi asked me to write about how I got into coding -- my descent into the madness that is attempting to wrestle computers to do what you want without signing on with the great Cthulhu or some other deity responsible for the inner workings of the insane little machines.

It all started many, many years ago...

There were several foundational incidents in my past that I can remember. When I was somewhere around 7 or 8 years old, my dad had a really old computer that had only a monochromatic green screen, but it could do some neat things. I recall some fairly advanced (for the time) graphing applications and you could feed it data and have it spit things out. I never did anything with that machine, but that was the first computer I remember. Don't know what it was, but I remember thinking it was cool.

A few years later when I actually moved to live with my dad when I was 10, and that's when it really started to get going. We had an old Commodore 64 -- and if you've never used one of these beautiful machines, then I think you're missing out on a foundational experience. LOAD "something", 8, 1. Dad was actually into programming it before we were -- he used to get these magazines that would have programs in them, and then he'd spend long periods of time typing them in from the magazine.

Watching him do that, taking strange commands and making the computer just do things, was amazing to me. I started to make my own stabs at messing around on the C64, although I never really did much. I remember some neat keyboard hooks that would show you the checksum for the line you just typed, so you could try to make sure that there were no errors in your program. Saving stuff was a little beyond me, too, I don't think I ever figured out how to store my work. Oh well.

The kind of programs I wrote back then were just little dumb ones -- they'd print out my name, or echo what you type, stuff like that. It wasn't that thrilling, but it was definitely a start. I was more into playing games on the machine, though, and we played a lot of them. There was something with Santa Clause going back and forth through time to try to get puzzle pieces... that was a lot of fun.

At the time, dad had a 386 machine. It had 1MB of RAM but I remember when he upgraded it to 4MB. I tried to use it a lot, and he did let me most of the time. It was on this machine that I wrote the first program that I remember -- "MATH 75.bas" was the filename. I have the original floppy disk and the code around somewhere (not here in the car) but the gist of it was that the program would prompt you for two numbers and, if the numbers added up to 75, would declare you awesome at math. Simple but it was a start!

From there I wrote lots of things. I stayed in BASIC for substantially everything. I had an early fascination with games and physics -- I wrote lots of programs that would, for example, attempt to balance the load in a cargo airplane (dad was a loadmaster on C-5s), or little games for my brothers (mostly Ryan, he loved car games, although none of mine were very good). I remember being encouraged and my dad being happy whenever I'd make some little program.

Eventually I was given the 386 and was able to do more. I wrote little TSRs that did silly things like pop up and say "boo!" whenever you typed a certain key combination. It was still really simple stuff and it took a long time before I started to move on to bigger things.

The programs started getting more complex as I moved on to QBasic and started getting into competitions with Jonathan (a kid I met in New Jersey, he later introduced me to ChaoticMUX which is where I met Janine). He was far more artistic than me, and had an eye for detail and difficult algorithms that I would always be in awe of, even to this day. We sometimes had awesome contests where we'd try to build the same thing and then compare -- I remember we worked on LED signs once... his has more features, but mine worked! :)

Later I was given a Pentium 133 (I don't remember if I had the 486 in the middle... I think I did). I was so excited about this computer, you have no idea. By this point I had started doing windows development in Delphi, and this is where things really took off. This was the "last" computer I had growing up, and on it I did everything from try to install Linux (Slackware 96 and Linux From Scratch) to using Windows and writing hundreds of programs of every shape and size.

Some of the random things I wrote... an IRC server, an explosion generator, various robots, AIs (bad), and tons more things. Whatever I could think of, I was writing code for. Games, utilities, even a web browser at one point (it was very bad, heh).

It snowballed from there, and the rest is probably not that interesting to write about. I suppose the most interesting bits are just that I was encouraged into it from a young age, and it really appealed to me. Getting to instantly see the results of my actions, knowing that I did that and I could make it do it again was addictive. My dad really was happy about me getting into computers, as he liked them too. That really helped with making sure I got into it.

Am I happy I did? Mostly. Computers are well and good, but there's something to be said for the human interaction that other fields offer. Real life interaction, not just these random online ones (which have their own benefits but I miss real people sometimes).

I don't really feel that I did justice to the topic. It's very factual but not that interesting. Is there anything in particular I can elaborate on, anything I didn't cover well, or anything anybody's still curious about?
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zorkian: Icon full of binary ones and zeros in no pattern. (Default)
It seems to me that I should participate in Three Weeks for Dreamwidth! But as I am not in fandom, what most people are doing doesn't particularly apply. Similarly, I don't crosspost -- my content is DW exclusive anyway. But hey, it's a really neat idea that I adore to pieces, so!

What would you all like to see me write about? It can be anything, really. Technical, political, personal, etc etc... If there's something you've ever thought "hey, Mark should write about that" or "I wonder what Mark things about this" then here's a good chance to do it.
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Mark Smith

January 2017

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