MJS 028 Zach Kessin

In this episode we have another JavaScript Story, this time our guest is Zach Kessin. Zach is a Developer and consultant. On the server side he works with Erlang and Elixir. On the front end he works on Elm. He also also written a few books for O’Reilly and a video course for Manning available sometime in the fall. He was a guest on episode 57 and is here with us today to tell us his story. Stay tuned!

[2:48] How did you get into programming.

Zack tells the story about how when he was 7 he asked his mother for a computer. She agreed that if he paid for half of it somehow, then she would help him get it. He Gathered his half by calling relatives and gathering funds. His mom taught him Basic and Logo. He also learned Pascal. While in University he picked up the book Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs and loved it. He talks about remembering writing a HTML forum but not knowing how to submit entries. After college he started working.

[4:38] Resources then vs now.

Charles adds that if you’re tenacious enough to call your family members to find funding to buy a computer to learn, then you probably have the drive it takes to be a programmer. Charles and Zack talk about how in the 80s it was rare to have access to a computer, and now homes have multiple computers throughout. The resources are more readily available now with the internet. If you’re looking to get into development, there are plenty of great resources.

[7:45] How did you get into JavaScript and Erlang?

Zach starts explaining by telling how he get into JavaScript before the internet really existed. His first JavaScript program exposure was a loan calculator at a bank. Early on the only thing you could do was validate forms, but over time it grew. He started working for a company writing php. He felt like it wasn’t as functional or elegant as he was hoping for. He found various languages and landed on Erlang. Erland was designed to work for programming telephone switches. Due to phone services nature, It handles high scale, high reliability, has to be upgraded on the fly, etc. Zach talks about how server programming looks very similar to phone line programming. Zach adds that a few years ago he wanted work on some front end and after looking around finally he learned about Elm. He says that he is always looking for what’s new and useful.

[14:26] Programming Languages Change the Way We Think

Charles points out that it’s very interesting out about how functional programming has played out. He mentions that many JavaScript programmers use functional style programming to help with speed or efficiency. He adds that a fully functional programming language is very interesting and could be helpful. Zach talks about how learning new languages helps adjust the way we think.

[16:45] How have you contributed to the development community?

Charles starts off with mentioning Zach’s podcast that was called Mostly Erlang. Zach adds that he has wrote two books for O’ Reilly, one on HTML5 and Erlang. He has done some blogging and is creating a video course called Startup Elm. He mentions that he spends most of his time teaching. He admires people who write libraries and sustains them over years, but it isn’t something he sees himself getting into. He adds that having the libraries are useless unless you have someone to communicate about it and teach it. Charles mentions that contributions come in various ways and the community needs those sort of teachers. Zach mentions that he often speaks at conferences and meet ups. Public speaking can be a great way to progress your career. Charles brings up the idea of “Sweeping the dojo floor”. He was introduced to this idea by Dave Hoover. Sweeping the dojo floor means that you’ve got enough experience to talk about the topic, but maybe not fully contribute and so you do things like document code, or write articles and outreach for the topic. Talks can lead to work. You can easily find research papers and do talks on that. Zach adds that sometimes in a community, you see the same speakers over and over and new speakers are needed. Zach also mentions that there are plenty of opportunities to do talks in something other than english.

[26:36] What are you working on now?

Zach talks about the list of things he is working on. Starting with Startup Elm and it’s live course that will be happening in October. He is also working on a SaSS product for Instagram marketers called SquareTarget. He adds that he has a day job as well.



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