Meet Mark Anderson: The Man, the Brand, the Mentor

Mark is one of the first programmers I met in New Orleans. I also had the pleasure of working with him at Scandy.

And so I am charmed that he is joining the ranks of Revelry.

Mark is a staple in the New Orleans tech community. He’s also something of a graffiti artist. You’ll find his name decorating swag for a variety of local hackathons and conferences.

I look forward to any event in which Mark is a speaker, as his talks invariably stir the intellect. I also appreciate Mark’s sense of humor: his dry, sardonic wit afford colorful conversation.

In an effort to introduce you to my colleague, I present this Q&A session:

Mark, what about Revelry motivated you to join the company?

Thank you for asking, as if folks were beating down my door hoping to hire a 58-year-old programmer.  

Revelry has been good at realizing that the typical talent pipeline of recent-college-graduates-to-new-programming-hire can’t be counted on in New Orleans.

They have used that constraint as an opportunity to be creative with strategies like an apprenticeship program, and looking to fill roles with non-traditional candidates. My decision to (re)join Revelry was also driven by the way they have embraced flexible work. The don’t just begrudgingly allow it, but embrace it with processes that make it work well.

Like any seasoned programmer, you’ve learned your share of languages. I know you to be a practitioner of LISP, Ruby, ECMAScript, and presumably, more.

What, then, would you deem your language of choice?

Programming language of choice would likely be C.

The real preference is for compiled languages over interpreted. Mostly a preference of what I grew up with than something I would want to convince someone else to use, or not use.

I have wasted too many hours debugging issues, like a misspelled variable name, that a compiler would have happily pointed out to me. Realistically, languages come and go, and the number of them I’ve been paid to program in exceeds fingers and toes.

I struggle keeping the syntax straight in most of them, and often code with a FORTRAN accent. One of my all-time favorites was CWIC, Compiler for Writing and Implementing Compilers.

I remember reading my resume upside down on the interviewer’s desk for that job and seeing the only thing highlighted was the word LISP.

Which of your daily work tools is your favorite?

My favorite work tools are pen and paper.

I like Pilot Hi-Tec-C Gel Pen, like the line of 0.25mm, but I have trouble getting the pen consistently. So I usually work with a 0.30mm, 0.40mm if I’m really desperate.

I enjoy writing for fun with fountain pens, but can’t get the fine line I crave for work stuff. For paper it would probably be Green Tint Engineering Computation Pad. This paper has a strong nostalgia factor for me, reminding me of all the fun I had in school.

I own, and occasionally use, an e-ink reMarkable tablet, but usually find myself grabbing an ink pen.

If I recall, you like to hack hardware, too?

I like to repurpose old tech, often replacing the original computers, but sometimes just replacing the software.

I have hundreds of Furbies, and probably close to that number of Chumbies.

But, the longest lasting obsession has been the Brother Electronic Knitting machines. The obsession sometimes has made it difficult to correctly type our company name, because my fingers are often, with a mind of their own, typing Ravely, the site for knitters. It’s a fun, positive, and helpful community. I often share my soldering skill and help other owners update their machines by sending them assembled circuit boards.

I believe the interest in hardware is a response to a few of things. First, to overcome the regret I have for not having taken the time in High School to make my own computer like an Altair 8800. Second, my path through the field of Computer Science was entering it sideways as a Math major in college. Interest in the field after that was usually much more theoretically focused. In retirement, I thought I should pick up more of the low level hardware skills. Lastly, and related to the second, is wanting to have a physical manifestation of the work that I’m doing, after spent so much time in the abstract.

What is your favorite productivity hack?

Back to the pen and paper. I’ve seen quite a bit of mentions of research that suggest writing by hand improves memory. I haven’t really dug in to read the research, so I don’t know to what extent it is true and how much is a well-rehearsed meme of the pen communities.

Whether true, or not, I prefer taking hands off the keyboard to think.

Sometimes, I just need to draw circles and arrows.

I’m partial to longhand as well. When interfacing with people, I favor handwritten notes over typing, as I believe it conveys that one is paying close attention.

You studied Computer Science before it was available as a major. You survived the dot-com bubble. Surely you’ve had an interesting job or two?

You mean that one job where I spent all day surfing the web for NSFW sites? Strictly speaking that’s not true, because to paraphrase Dan Savage, it was  “NSFYW: ‘not safe for your work.’ Fine for mine.” Even more strictly speaking, this was in the late 1990’s, dot-com era, long before the acronym even was in common use.

Can’t really say more, it’s all NFBSK.

Okay, okay, nothing lurid.

I was working at the Advanced Technology Group at Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the head of the group got hired as CTO of a startup called Websense, with about 50 employees.

Psst, check out these references:
PDF: The Reference Wars: Encyclopædia Britannica’s Decline and Encarta’s Emergence and Web Archive copy of The Building of Britannica Online

He stops by my office to tell me that he is leaving and that he, merely stating as fact, is prohibited, strictly forbidden, from recruiting any of the staff. Got it, message received. A week or two later I’m hired on as Chief Scientist. Our job is basically to classify every website on the internet, converting a process of mostly college students randomly surfing the web to an industrial machine learning-driven process.

The big pain point for business customers at the time is preventing their employees from creating a hostile workplace environment by browsing, you got it, NSFW sites at work.

As we grow, much of the old Britannica ATG staff moves to Websense. Even later, the former Editor-in-Chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica is hired, and the poor guy has to share a cubicle with me.  My brush with fame.

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