Sunday, 17 February 2013

Last time I posted we were 2 (Palmer and I). Then came along T, Chili (dog) and then #1 and #2! Have moved back from Chamonix to the Dorset countryside in order to do some very cool technical stuff and raise a family.

Which brings me neatly onto why to kick Palmer and Narg back into gear.

Well for the past however long I can remember, I've always been pretty geeky and into the tech stuff - particulary the web. I started off (back in the day) viewing the source of web pages and learning HTML (and back then trying to decrypt the mass of table tags to figure out what was styling what!). Nowadays I'm still doing pretty much the same thing but on a slightly larger scale.

I've never really done this before, but will attempt to piece together the very rough sequence of techie milestones since the beginning...

Black and white TV set was king as a monitor

Genesis was at 8yrs old (ish) regurgitating BASIC on an 8k Acorn Electron. My dad used to buy me books of code which I would copy manually (!) onto the machine so I could have a game to play. Yes - bonkers, hand code the entire game each time you wanted to play it. Pretty hardcore I like to think, even back then.

Progression from casettes to disk!

Then school stuff on BBC Micros (more games really and starting to figure out the network architecture and *ahem* "modify" the odd file we weren't suppose to.


Started playing, then coding MUD's online (learning C, sockets and protocols from the legacy codebase, passed down from programmers to programmer since the 80's - this is probably where where my love of funky code comments comes from.

Not many other choices of colour ont the old Macs...

Learnt a bit of Pascal during my brief time at uni on the old, old Apple Macs (Macs still amaze me now, cool back in the day and still cool now. The UI on them is very slick and everyone raves about it, but the fact it's a UNIX system with a console interface is just fantastic and is awesome to use).


Beginner's VB4 at a tech college for a very short while (there were fairly obviously some guys who already had serious programming knowledge and only there to try (and rather amusingly fail) at pulling girls). That pretty quickly led onto ASP (via VBScript) and the necessity to learn HTML/JavaScript by reading the web as code rather than text and images. Sounds all rather Matrix but I just remember these years as a blur of trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

Dial-up for the Interweb!

I jumped into paid programming when it was quickly becoming apparent that the seriously enormous phone bills (due to "paid per minute" ISP's and a rather noisy 33.3kbps modem) were sitting nicely alongside my knack of loading my snowboard/wakeboard/skateboard (depending on time of year) and disappearing for days on end. I didn't have any cash and my parents had amazingly (and very generously) moved up north and left me a cottage to live in. Hopeful, no doubt that the fearsome proprietere of the local village restaurant where I was intermittently working would encourage my focus and boarding energies into something a little more lucrative.

He did, David Waycott was his name and the ex-head chef of The George in Stamford (where I had been to school). He knew his stuff - the restaurant had a Michelin star and the two head chefs (Carol and French Frank) I worked under were serious operators. I had quickly gone from pot-washing and waiting to being a self-titled sous-chef (or cook number 2 out of 2). I spent enough time there to be seriously impacted for the rest of my life. I still absolutely love to cook, and that restaurant was an insane place to learn. The food was so good that I remember taking my mum there once to eat on my day off. I remember it for the awesome flavours, textures and ingredients but also really the incredible cellar - Marques de Caceras Rioja was the pick of the half of the wine list for my budget and it was deliciously oaky. I'm more of a whisky man these days but I'm still in the kitchen cooking/baking/kneading/marinading pretty much every day.

Cooking wasn't a payday though, so I gravitated my way north and pretty quickly got a contract at a 3D animation/design studio learning a bit of networking, basic CSS, design, JavaScript, browser plugins like QuickTime and Flash and and generally being a bit of a pest to the owner of the business. I also managed to knock out some pretty cool interactive web pages using HTML, JavaScript, CSS, images and 3d animations after coercing the in-house 3dsMax/Maya modellers to hand over their work. I was aware of standards at the time, but was still learning my chops and soaking up all the technologies.

By this stage I had to figure out what to do at the time and choose either the Microsoft or Java routes for my web server language. Luckily I chose Microsoft. I say luckily because as soon as I really learnt the language (VBScript/ASP), it was pretty obvious you couldn't program efficiently in it. That threw me full tilt into open source technologies and I've never looked back since. (Incidentally Java isn't as bad, I think I might have lasted longer with that).

I shot my way down to London and wanted to program the stock markets (biggest computer game out there!) and used a supplier to the trading houses as a stepping stone to get there. Immediately after this I finally got to work on the markets as a UI developer on trading platforms.

Trading platforms are awesome bits of kit - generally seriously huge, dynamic and expensive and maintained by fleets of programmers. I've worked on a fair few now and they never cease to amaze me. They are the epitomy of large scale distributed live systems with a myriad of technologies and complexity. I'm sure I'll post later about them, but for now it's enough to say that's where I really learnt how to be a systems architect, being exposed to every database under the sun and really honing my programming skills.

Whilst on the markets I really got into degradable scripting and the inner depths of JavaScript as well as the concept of zero plugin web applications using live data. I've never lost the love for creating really powerful web apps using the holy trinity of JavaScript (including AJAX and JSON), CSS and HTML. There's something intrisically cool about the simplicity of it all.

I spent a good deal of time working on trading platforms before deciding to leave London and move to the Alps - which was when I originally started the blog.

Out in the Alps I learnt PHP and MVC frameworks and the girl of my dreams. #1 became imminent so I tracked back to the UK with a heavily pregnant wife and ended up back on the markets in a (and probably the only) stockbrokers in the south west doing some pretty mental stuff with PHP being used for both internal middleware services as well as the front end. By this stage I was working exclusively OO right the way through the system (PHP, JSON, JavaScript) and abstracting everything and anything.

With #2 on the horizon and looking to move out of the city the stars aligned and an opportunity and new challenge came along to go and work for a very hi tech company in the country - I jumped at the chance.

Now, my day is filled with all manner of technologies with SVG and HTML5 canvas visualizations, big data databases and MVC and data modelling on both the server and client being the most prevalent. I've also seemed to develop a pretty good knack for system architecture and building distributed systems as well as robust development methods, processes and infrastructures. I'm lucky enough to be able to choose and use new technologies and guide a team of very talented developers.

I'm a fan of Agile development (probably a knock-on effect of being an OO enthusiast), the Allman style, hungarian notation and also trying to blend the requirements of the business and the exacting standards of geek.

My plan for the blog is to switch over to doing almost exclusively tech posts on whatever topic seems interesting at the time.