Continuing our series snooping delving into the lives of Wordnik developers, today we talk to Will Fitzgerald, aka @willf, Lead of the Analytics Platform.
Will fills us in on his love of music, his hatred of beets, and his conspiracy theory about winning (or not winning) the Friday Nerf gun bell shoot-off.
What’s your favorite coding editor/IDE? Why?
If I’m working on code for Wordnik.com, I use Sublime Text. It loads quickly and it’s easy on the eyes. If I’m writing Scala code, I use IntelliJ. It’s ugly and loads slowly, but it does pretty well for refactoring and finding where things are defined and where they are used (much of my programming these days is spent in code archeology).
Mostly, I just want my editors to get out of my way, and let me get into the flow of testing and coding. It’s sacrilege in a Unix shop to say, but I miss Visual Studio.
What’s your beverage of choice?
I recently stopped drinking coffee, and have switched to tea, and not your fancy tea, either. A pot of milky Red Rose or Lipton’s gets me through the day. That, and several glasses of Adam’s ale.
The best lunch within five blocks of the office?
Right across the street is The Tofu House. But it’s really a general Korean restaurant, and I love their bugolgi and bibimbop, and their side dishes. Plus, they give you a stick of melon gum on your way out.
What’s your favorite music to listen to while working?
I don’t listen to a lot of music when I work, but when I do it’s usually a cappella or folk. I listen to home made Sacred Harp recordings, Irish sean nós, and groups and singers such as Anonymous 4, Blind Willie Johnson, and Iris Dement.
What are your favorite languages?
I hate them all and love them all. I do most of coding in Ruby or Scala; Ruby because Wordnik.com is a Rails app on the front end, and for data scripting. Scala is our company standard for back-end coding. I’m glad it exists, and that we use it — I hate it much less than Java, and really like certain aspects, like type-safety and focus on functions and immutability.
Which language do you think is terrible?
Most programmers cut their teeth on Java, C, or C++. I think these tend to engrain bad habits of mutability, verbosity, and a weird kind of focus on efficiency. I’m not against efficiency, of course, but, forced to choose, I’d rather have a correct and tested program than a fast one.
What was your first language? When did you learn it?
Good ol’ Basic on an Apple II+, with a whopping 32 Kb of main memory. I was so glad when I got a expansion card that allowed me to display 80 columns and lowercase letters. I’d type in programs from BASIC Computer Games by David Ahl, and twiddle with them until they worked.
The first computer language I ever wrote was a replacement for .bat files on PC computers, which was widely used at the company I worked for (the Upjohn Company, now part of Pfizer). I wrote this in Turbo Pascal, which was a fine language once they fixed floating point arithmetic.
Where do you go for your tech news?
I rely mostly on my Twitter feed these days; but I dip into Hacker News, too, even though the cool kids disdain it.
Where do you go for help?
I usually do a general search on Bing, and, if that doesn’t work, Google. As someone who worked on Bing, I never know whether to be glad or disappointed when a failed Bing search also fails on Google.
What’s the best thing you’ve read about coding lately?
Dave Fayram, a former colleague of mine for whom I have a lot of respect, wrote an essay, “FizzBuzz, A Deep Navel to Gaze Into,” which has a sweetly fine introduction to why one might care about category theory, even for silly and useless programs like FizzBuzz. (Write a program that prints the numbers from 1 to 100. But for multiples of three print “Fizz” instead of the number and for the multiples of five print “Buzz”. For numbers which are multiples of both three and five print “FizzBuzz”.)
I admire how he took this very ridiculous thing, which is sometimes used as a basic screening test for programmers, to introduce monoids and the option type.
What’s the worst thing you’ve read about coding lately?
Well, it’s not about coding, but Einstein’s list of demands on his wife, Mileva Marić, was pretty bad.
What’s your favorite book?
I’m one of those people to whom others say, “Have you read all those?” when they come into our house (and they haven’t seen the upstairs library or the boxes in the third floor storage room). So it’s hard to choose a favorite book.
But when I have to read a novel, and it’s gotta be good, and it’s gotta be now, I’ll pick up any of Dorothy L Sayers’s Peter Wimsey books, especially The Nine Tailors, and read the dickens out of it (again). Hint: if you haven’t read these, you might want to read them in order, and don’t bother with the ones that Sayers herself didn’t write.
If you had a time machine, what would you go back and tell your younger self?
My experiences formed me into what I am today; would I really want to go back and turn myself into a different person? It’s a hard question. But I think I’d go back to undergraduate self and have a talk: I’d dropped a planned major in statistics to do a major in linguistics, and I’d encourage me to do both. But, as Blind Willie Johnson just sang as I wrote this paragraph, “Ain’t nobody’s fault but mine.”
Also, I’d go back and tell my first grade self not to eat beets when I had the flu; I can’t stand beets to this day because of Sauce-Bearnaise Syndrome.
If you weren’t a dev, what would you be?
I don’t think of myself primarily as a “dev,” but I recently read someone’s tweet about how if the emerging field of “digital humanities” had been a thing in their early days, that’s what they’d do. It’s mostly something that academics get to do, so I’m glad to be working in the intersection of words and numbers.
What do you like to do when you’re not coding?
I really like to sing, especially shape note singing with others from a book called The Sacred Harp. It’s musically and spiritually raw, and provides a communal and noisy outlet in my generally solitary and quiet life.
What’s your strategy for hitting the bell in Wordnik’s Friday contest?
Basically, I just take a dollar out of my pocket and put it in the pot, with no hope of winning. It’s clearly a plot by certain people at Wordnik (I will not name names) to swindle us out of dozens of dollars a year.