Nov 23

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Burn In 2: Joyce Park

This is the third entry in the O'Reilly Radar series about how alpha geeks got into computers. Today we look at Joyce Park, a PHP programmer, blogger, and famous former employee of Friendster. She is now working on her startup, Renkoo.

Joyce Park's Story

How did I get into computers? Like Jane Eyre, and countless other women, the answer is: reader, I married him.

I was in the history PhD program at the University of Chicago when I fell in love with and married Tim Converse, a doctoral candidate in AI. Up till then, I'd basically just used computers for writing papers and a little bit of email -- your typical academic Maclab customer. We had early personal computers in the home, but they belonged to my older brother; and I'd taken a Basic class as a kid -- but perhaps because I was baffled and bored by computer games of all sorts, no real interest in programming developed. (I suspect there's a lesson here about gender differentials in teaching programming, but I can't say I have a better idea of how to go about it.)

After our marriage, Tim introduced me to Unix and to the Internet. He taught me ls, cd, finger, and talk. He taught me to use emacs. He was also the one who first told me about the Web. I can remember the first time in the mid-90's he told me he'd seen this great new thing, Mosaic; and to my eternal shame my response was: "Who is going to want to see pictures of people's dogs on the Internet?!??!!"

But the power of the Web could not be denied for long, and by the late 90's I'd dropped out of grad school to make computers my life. I largely taught myself what would later come to be known as LAMP out of books and by hacking around, and enthusiastically became a citizen of Open Source Nation (province of PHP). Open Source has always been very very good to me, and I'm sure I would never have been able to become a programmer if it weren't for the endless generosity of the community.

So for me programming has always meant Web programming, which is still rather looked down upon by other programmers -- even Nat Torkington recently said, "MySpace profile pages? I hope this isn't the extent of what this decade has to offer the young hackers." I don't think Web programming makes you a great coder except insofar as it makes it much faster to express your ideas; but I think what differentiates a Web programmer is a love of interconnectedness. One page or resource by itself has little value on the Internet -- it's largely by touching multitudes of resources, pointing to each other, sharing, suggesting, editing, glossing, and remixing that meanings emerge. Sometimes I wonder if programmers who came up in the standalone binary world really feel this truth to the necessary degree, or if secretly they hanker for the greater sense of control, closure, and completion that a standalone binary app gives you.

Tim and I came out to Silicon Valley at the very very end of the boom, just before the stock market hit its peak. I wondered at first if the Valley could possibly have a place for a female 30-year-old recycled historian among all the CS grads, but I've found there's always room for someone who genuinely loves the Internet and wants to contribute. I've also been lucky in that the things I care about the most -- building social software apps, and the new architectures necessary to support the special demands of those apps -- are so new they aren't much taught in CS departments, so an academically trained computer scientist doesn't have much advantage in the field over someone like me.

I'd very much like to do my bit to encourage other non-CS types who are drawn to programming. Even though it seems impossibly hard at the beginning, writing code with your own hands gives you a level of credibility and perspective on the software development process that are hard to come by through other means. I get a lot of product ideas just by understanding the techniques, and increasingly the social science training helps me too. Ultimately coding is a form of expression, of making your ideas and your unique perspective into something concrete enough to show the world -- and I feel privileged to have gotten so many opportunities to express myself through computers.

tags:   | comments: 3   | Sphere It

Previous  |  Next

0 TrackBacks

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments: 3

  Sacha Chua [11.24.05 05:33 AM]

Don't worry about the people who look down on web programming. =) Web coding is really quite cool.

  Karl Fogel [11.24.05 10:54 PM]

Jim Blandy, after reading the same paragraph from Nat Torkington, wrote this in an email (which I think he won't mind my sharing here):


Actually, I think there are great opportunities for kids today to get into hacking. It's just that, since now *everybody* uses computers, the interface you use for programming isn't the one that pops up by default, like it used to.

Kids should learn Javascript. This has nothing to do with the language itself or its qualities; BASIC had no redeeming qualities. It's because you can get immediate results (I'm sure there are equivalents to the "10 print ...; 20 goto 10" classics), because graphics and wacko table-based effects are built in, because (these last three reasons really clinch it) once you've written something, you can mail it to their friends and they can see it right in their mail readers, or you can put it on a web page for everyone to see, and because you can see how other people did their stuff, and modify it for yourself.

  Seyed Mohammad [03.16.06 09:45 PM]

hi joyce

I cant blieve you are not graduduated in computer science, your PHP book written so profassionaly that i was thinking it is whole of your life that you spent on programming . any way i am a simple ICT student in malaysia and hereby i want to show my deep appreciation to you . your book saved me during my work exprience in ecommerce development and it let me experiece most beatiful times in my life . i was so facinitated with your book so i read not only whole of it, but also its appendixes. again and again and again i appriciate you . I wish one they we can meet up .

have fun .

Post A Comment:

 (please be patient, comments may take awhile to post)

Type the characters you see in the picture above.