Do SF Programmers Have A Life Outside The Cubicle?

Apr 02, 2013 at 6am

Code is a foreign language to me. When I see a screen full of code, I feel like I’ve suddenly been transported back to the ’80s, lying on the floor with my little brother watching Tron. But over the last year I started working at a start-up (you just can’t avoid it in San Francisco), and I’ve developed an insane respect for the programmers who lurk behind the scenes, fixing bugs and creating new programs at a moment’s notice. It’s like being a doctor on call; there’s never a dull moment.

While working on this story, I learned that the programmers scene is kind of like a secret society. Coders date coders because they all go to the same parties and events. They go into hibernation when working on a big project. One guy told me that he holes himself up for weeks at a time, getting his food delivered to him, never really leaving his computer. Programming becomes an addiction. I also discovered that there really aren’t as many coders in SF as you’d think. Hint, hint. Get a degree in computer sciences, learn to code, and you’ll never have a shortage of work in this city. That is, if you’re good.

I wanted to make sure to include a few inspiring female programmers in this piece, since programming is stereotypically a male-dominated field. Luckily, I discovered that San Francisco boasts its fair share of techie females. I went into the private spaces of these elusive characters  to get a glimpse into the real lives of some of the city’s most prominent coders outside the cubicle.

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Where do you work? Zumper

How did you get into programming? The first program I wrote was in TI-85/Basic for math class in high school. I've worked on a pretty broad set of topics under the computer science umbrella; mainly I'm driven to find elegant and efficient solutions to problems.

What programming language do you specialize in? Java and Python are what I've used most this year. Server side JavaScript for smaller projects, and C/C++ when I am unable to avoid it.

What are your hobbies? Rock climbing, bikes, woodworking/furniture, good food, scotch.

What bugs you the most about people's preconceptions about programmers? Stereotypes about soda drinking disheveled coders are great because they set a nice low bar with regards to sociability and culture. But the unfortunately correct assumption that I can fix your wireless router is probably the one that gets me. 

How do you break the stereotype? I grew up in the woods of Maine without electricity or running water; that's rare in the computer science world. My experience with computers, video games, etc., was limited and started late – my first computer was a 486sx that my father purchased for me in high school; it was sweet.

What's your favorite nickname for a programmer? Colleague.

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Where do you work? Sincerely Inc.

How did you get into programming? I started programming in college after taking a computer science class intended for art majors. I fell in love with programming and left my art major for computer science. I wasn't that good at drawing anyway.

What programming language do you specialize in? Objective-C for iOS and Python for the web.

What are your hobbies? I run about 20 miles a week. I also love watching detective TV shows like Castle, Sherlock, Elementary, and Dexter.

What bugs you the most about people's preconceptions about programmers? Everyone thinks programmers are way smarter than other people. It's hilariously untrue.

How do you break the stereotype? Besides the obvious, being a woman, I'm surprisingly a very stereotypical programmer. However, I'm not much of a gamer and I'm not really into comic books.

What's your favorite nickname for a programmer? Neckbeard. It describes a certain type of grumpy and skeptical programmer, usually a sysadmin.

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Where do you work? Flickr

How did you get into programming? I’ve been a programmer quite a long time. I fooled around with my brother’s Sinclair Spectrum a little, writing in Basic. I really learned the essentials of programming while studying computer science in college. I got my first programming job in 1996, and learned a lot in the dot-com boom years. 

What programming language do you specialize in? I don’t specialize in any particular language. I’m happy to learn new languages and use whatever makes the most sense. Lately, I’ve been working mostly with PHP, before that Perl.

What are your hobbies? Martial arts. I practice Wing Chun Kung Fu, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

What bugs you the most about people's preconceptions about programmers? Not much. Many preconceptions fit someone I’ve worked with at some point. That said, most people realize the diversity and creativity of the tech community, especially in San Francisco. Most programmers have interesting and productive lives outside of writing code.

How do you break the stereotype? In San Francisco I don’t. Programmers here are starting businesses, building art projects, exploring the world and trying out new and interesting things all the time. The old stereotype has gone the way of the VHS tape.

What's your favorite nickname for a programmer? Let’s create one. The cleaner: a programmer who comes in and saves a project from imminent collapse due to sloppy design or coding.

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Where do you work? Adobe. I am actually a product manager now, but do enough on open source stuff outside of work.

How did you get into programming? I got into programming because I was told it was the safest stream to choose if you did not know what to do as a career. But I have become more and more aware of how awesome it is to know how to code.

What programming language do you specialize in? HTML, CSS, and JS.

What are your hobbies? Movies, books, music, cooking, painting, and stamp collecting. 

What bugs you the most about people's preconceptions about programmers? That they are mostly men, drink Red Bull, and play World of Warcraft. 

How do you break the stereotype? I suppose being female makes it easier to blatantly break the stereotype.

What's your favorite nickname for a programmer? Waa?

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Where do you work? Stipple, where I'm a cofounder and the CTO

How did you get into programming? I wrote my first program when I was six. Back before Apple specialized in walled gardens, I copied programs out of the various books they sold that included program code in them.

What programming language do you specialize in? I use Ruby and JavaScript for the vast majority of my work.

What are your hobbies? Oil painting.

What bugs you the most about people's preconceptions about programmers? That programmers double as IT consultants and would love to fix your computer.

How do you break the stereotype? I have hobbies that keep me away from the keyboard as much as possible (with varying success).

What's your favorite nickname for a programmer? Coder.

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Where do you work? User Interface Design and Development for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. I also work for Kizoom. 

How did you get into programming? I started with an interest in graphic design. In 1999, as a student, I got a job at USC working in their web services department. My first job that required more intensive programming was for the Girl Scouts of Northern California, where I wrote lots of front-end code HTML CSS and JavaScript and then started writing PHP. I didn't take a programming class until I decided to go back to school for a master’s in information management and systems.

What programming language do you specialize in? HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Python.  Although people will tell you that none of those are "programming languages" since none of them are compiled into an executable program. 

What are your hobbies? Cooking, gardening, and playing with my one-year-old son.

What bugs you the most about people's preconceptions about programmers? That we're all single, unattractive, antisocial men. It's the kind of stereotype that keeps really talented girls from pursuing careers in engineering and computer science, and that's really sad. 

How do you break the stereotype? I'm a married mother who loves to throw dinner parties.

What's your favorite nickname for a programmer? Code slinger? I don't know that many, though I always liked "Pixel Pusher" for a graphic designer.

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Erik Needham

Where do you work? I'm the CTO and a cofounder of Rabbl.com.

How did you get into programming? My dad taught me Basic when I was very young. He was one of the first system operators on CompuServe back in the day of rotary phones and acoustically coupled 1,200 bit/s modems. He is a passionate, and very rad tech geek, and we always had the latest systems starting with the TRS-80, rotating through the Apple II, VIC-20, C64, and onward.

What are your hobbies? I design and build analog recording studio electronics. I also dabble as a sound designer on independent film projects. I love live music. And beer.

What programming language do you specialize in? Mostly Ruby on Rails these days.

What bugs you the most about people's preconceptions about programmers? Hmmm… Well, it bugs me when folks think all programmers play World of Warcraft, and are socially awkward.

How do you break the stereotype? It's hard to, since I'm usually making folks feel awkward in public.

What's your favorite nickname for a programmer? Least favorite: Code monkey. Most favorite: Code slinger. I'd rather be a cowboy than a monkey. Wouldn't you?

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Greg Osuri

Where do you work? At Hackathon.IO, a start-up I cofounded.

How did you get into programming? Curiosity and an appetite for mischief led me to start coding when I was 13.

What programming language do you specialize in? Ruby. I'm a full stack, which means I design, program, and manage infrastructure. 

What are your hobbies? Snowboarding, photography, and hardware. I like building things and sometimes breaking them. 

What bugs you the most about people's preconceptions about programmers? That people think we’re introverts that make websites, fix printers, and can break into your grandmother's Gmail account.

How do you break the stereotype? Time is taking care of it. Tech becoming more mainstream attracts new programmers.

What's your favorite nickname for a programmer? Neo.

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Where do you work? Double Fine Productions

How did you get into programming? I started programming while I was in high school. It has been my dream job to work in games since I was very young. I saw programmers as the magicians assembling game worlds and its inhabitants together. 

What programming language do you specialize in? I code primarily in C++ and the less known Lua, an interpreted scripting language common for use with game engines. If I'm working on tools or the pipeline used to manage assets, I also write Python.

What are your hobbies? I really love music. I enjoy arranging old rock songs using the Nintendo Entertainment System's sound format and singing over it. I also love the usual things –reading, watching movies and TV shows, especially the ones you would most suspect a programmer of liking, such as Game of Thrones and Sherlock.

What bugs you the most about people's preconceptions about programmers? It can be surprisingly tricky as a woman to become accepted as a righteous nerd in the male-dominated programming and game communities. Most of my struggle with preconceptions has been to convince my own peers that I belong in my profession. At a game release party for one of the games I worked on, an old friend from the press came up to me and asked me how long I've been doing PR for the company. I'd known her for years, and even she didn't remember I was a programmer on the game we were there for.

How do you break the stereotype? The way to break the mold in the games industry is to get as many different types of people as possible to make games – not just to play them.

What's your favorite nickname for a programmer? A few years back, I worked with the exceptionally talented artist and sweet human being, Scott Campbell, who would refer to everyone as bros and brosephines at the time. It caught on like wildfire – all the programmers at Double Fine would call each other "brogrammer," inspired by Scott's good natured, bro-based vocabulary. I've  recently heard it used to describe the regrettable boys' club culture in the tech industry, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the way we meant it at Double Fine.

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