Thanks to The Nerdery for underwriting the ‘Know this Nerd?’ series.
Benjamin Ebby — aka OUTCASTGEEK / @akpanydre — is a contract software consultant versed in a variety of languages and keen on hardware given his early interests in electrical engineering. A graduate of St. Cloud State University, Ebby speaks French as well.
“…les gens qui savent peu parlent beaucoup, et les gens qui savent beaucoup parlent peu.” – Rousseau.
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When and how did you originally become interested in technology?
My father (RIP) was a Physics Professor teaching Quantum Mechanics at the university. I grew up watching him run various experiments and computer simulations at the lab. I was fascinated by the electronic gadgets and equipment that could be found there.
At what age did you write your first computer program? What did it do?
I wrote my first program very early in high school. The program consisted in solving the projectile motion physics problem: given the initial velocity, angle, starting point, and projectile weight, how far will the projectile land? What would be the maximum height it reaches? The program was written in Pascal.
What do you do now? What languages are you proficient in?
How have you increased your skillset over the years, formally or otherwise?
I am a very fast learner who was able to increase his skillset over the years by exploring, reading, and practicing daily. Both the Open Source Community and the very talented people that I have had the chance to work with were key to my growth. College is important to give you the foundations, but search engines and open source projects will take you to the next level.
Which do you prefer in programming, the struggle or the achievement?
I prefer the struggle, because it is an opportunity to get even better at my craft. I am not referring to just technical side of things, but especially to the people side. Hardship usually comes from your team dynamics, so the challenge is always to become part of the solution, and contribute to release great products on time. I see achievements as elements to decorate your curriculum, and convince people to give you more freedom as you move on to your next adventure.
What people, groups, projects, or resources were most influential in your development as programmer?
Three words: money, linux, and friend. Being too broke to afford office products for my laptop in college led me to use linux and opensource software alternatives. Linux really opened my eyes on what can be accomplished once you acquired the knowledge, and taught me the right attitude to have towards software and the computer. When I was studying to become an Electrical Engineer, a friend of mine who is a web developer challenged me to match or do better than some of his online projects, because I used to brag that studying computer science was a waste of time and money, and that I could just teach myself everything about it in a few weeks and be great at it, and that learning the hardware was more beneficial. Well, it definitely took me more time, and I am still learning, and now have a lot of respect for people in the profession, but I made my point :-).
What do you enjoy about it? Is there anything you dislike?
I really enjoy finding elegant solutions to hard problems. I also like the collaboration between engineers, and the fact that software can be used to make life better. I dislike working or dealing with rude and closed minded people.
If you were to be doing anything else, what would that be?
I would spend my time doing something that includes drawing and building stuff. Most likely making people’s portraits or painting, and whatever that involves building stuff for a living. In a way, I find drawing and building stuff roughly equivalent to programming.
What does agile software development mean to you?
Programming by itself is meaningless unless it has context. The context is usually provided by the business. Unfortunately, the business people, and engineers do not speak the same language. Agile is way to bring the two together often, to make adjustments, and do some damage control. It can be messy, I cannot think of a better way. I only wish that the business allows the creative people to be creative, because that is when magic happens.
Where do you spend most of your time online?
I spend most of time googling in an attempt to quench my unending thirst for knowledge. Next is EverNote in which I organize my thoughts and findings. Next is BitBucket in which I store the result of my experiments. Then come HackerNews, GitHub, Vimeo, YouTube, and FaceBook which also take up a lot of my time.
What concerns you most about where technology is headed?
I am very concerned about privacy, and what will become of all of the data being collected on individuals. Most people do not realize how exposed they are, and therefore do not do much to protect themselves. It is all fine until their info falls into the wrong hands, and then disaster strikes. I wish people would take the time to understand the implications of their activities. I also do not like that fact that technology is and will be used as a means of oppression.
What excites you most about where technology is headed?
I like the fact that more and more knowledge is readily accessible. I like the fact that internet democratized knowledge, and that people are putting a real effort to make it accessible to the non technical mass. I like fact that technology allows to make significant progress in healthcare, and helps people better communicate.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions, and give my opinion on a number of things. I would like to thank anyone contributing to Open Source Community, as they help to make the world a better place.