Google I/O Panel on VCs Who Code

The video from the second panel I was on at Google I/O 2010 – Technology, innovation, computer science, & more: A VC panel – is up.  Dick Costolo – the COO of Twitter – is the moderator and my fellow panelists are Albert Wenger, Chris Dixon, Dave McClure, and Paul Graham.  Someone didn’t like the title so it was renamed “VCs Who Code” but apparently that didn’t stick with the official event panel namers.


While I stopped writing production code in the early 1990’s, I still fuck around with something each summer when I’m in Alaska (in past years it has been Perl, Ruby, and PHP.)  I haven’t decided what it is going to be this year, but it’ll probably be Python as I’m seriously considering taking 6.189 using MIT OpenCourseWare.

For the curious ones in the crowd, I’m a self declared “excellent BASIC programmer.”  When I got my Apple ][ in 1979 the only choices were BASIC and 6502 Assembler.  I learned each, but only wrote commercial software on the IBM PC in BASIC (and compiled BASIC, back when getting a BASIC program to compile was a trick in and of itself) between 1983 and 1985 (using Btrieve as the database manager.)  By 1986 I was doing a lot more work in Dataflex and Pascal.  At MIT, I learned Scheme (via 6.001) and was ok with it, but never did any production work with LISP even though every time I looked at a Symbolics machine I drooled.  I learned a handful of other languages in school, such as CLU and IBM System/370 Assembler (and something on a Prime computer – I can’t remember what) but never used any of it outside a class.  Feld Technologies did most of its work with Clarion, although I never really learned it well enough to do anything production quality since by that point I wasn’t coding regularly anymore.  While I was proficient with a bunch of database languages such as dBase, Paradox, and R:Base, I never liked any of them and we never really wrote production systems in them (although we took over and managed a lot of crap that other people had tried to write.)  Oh – and I was pretty good with Lotus 1-2-3 Macros.

In some parallel universe, I sit in front a computer all day and write code.

  • Symbolics with Genera… the best machine i use in all my life!!

    It was a wonderful and powerful machine.


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  • Symbolics with Genera… the best machine i use in all my life!!

    It was a wonderful and powerful machine.


  • Yes… I am also coding in a Parallel universe… and both of my ex-wives busted my chops for reading technical books on vacation in Maui:)

    I was fluent in Fortran, Cobol, IBM System 360 Assembler Language, as well as 4004/8008/8080 assembler language… then I got more interested in mixed-signal IC design and simulation; MicroVAX's, DECNet, etc at Bell Labs. Eventually Telecom, ISDN, then LANs, Ethernet and ATM/Switching, Routing etc.

    The technical stuff is where the purity of work resides!

  • Be glad you are in this universe, not the one where you code all day – I am. To quote Edsger Dijkstra, "It is practically impossible to teach good programming style to students that have had prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration."

    • Yeah, but I don’t buy that.  I know plenty of folks whose first language was BASIC yet are amazing programmers today.  I’m pretty sure my education with Scheme unmutilated me.

  • znmeb

    I still code every day, and will stop when they pry my cold dead fingers off the keyboard! But I have to tell you – if I ever ran into a VC who admitted that they still code, I'd run out of the room. A VC's job is to deliver a superior reward-to-risk ratio to his / her investors, and that's really not about technologies but about people – who is going to sell what to whom.

    • I strongly believe it is both about people AND products.  Great people with shitty products don’t generate “a superior reward-to-risk ratio.”  And – I’ve a big believer that the closer one is to the tech / products, the better one can understand, evaluate, and make decisions about them.  So – I guess we differ on this one.

      • I've never met "great people" who developed shitty products or who gave shitty service. But I've seen a lot of great products languish and die simply because they were outsold by adequate ones. 😉

  • I started with MS-BASIC on PCs and am now spend my time writing embedded systems software in 'C', (which feels more like pouring concrete than coding).

    I've been toying with some ideas, and find Gambit Scheme an interesting package:

    Might be fun to look at after your Python project.

    • Ah – Scheme, how I miss thee.  I’ll check it out!

  • Jason Barnwell

    I have been screwing around with Python and have found the Google Appengine stack convenient for prototyping purposes. It uses a schemaless back end that can be combined with Django (NOTE: they DO NOT entirely play well together) to spin things up without having to setup your own stack if you want to deploy a pet project online. If you have some PHP and Ruby proficiency you may want to expand your scope beyond something designed to be knocked out over IAP.

    • Good suggestion although I want the experience of dealing with spinning up my own stack for this.

  • Brad,

    I'm halfway through the video. I really enjoyed your comment about changes in computing over a 20 year span. Consider, I've been watching a video in my web browser of a conference that I know about because of your blog that I know about because of RSS – and now I get to comment courtesy of an embedded third party comment engine.

    It's all pretty cool but I'm holding out for variations on Oblong (Project Natal anyone?) and also hoping that when Milo (if you don't know the reference look on youtube) turns 40 he likes humans.

    I'm looking forward to watching the rest of the talk tomorrow.

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