Know this Nerd? Meet Robert Nelson


Robert NelsonThanks to The Nerdery for underwriting our new series ‘Know this Nerd?’

Meet Robert Nelson. When not running, snowboarding or playing in the kitchen, he’s the chief techie at Minneapolis based Stateless Software.

To nominate a nerd for future consideration, drop us a line.

When and how did you originally become interested in technology?

In elementary school we had a section where we programmed Logo turtle, which is basically an on-screen “pen” which you could program to draw shapes. The programming language was very procedural and very simple, but I was endlessly fascinated by the concept that these commands could make the computer do things.

The thing that I remember most fondly is when it would do something I didn’t expect. When you first start programming it’s such a huge paradigm shift to think in such an exact and logical way – to mentally translate an idea into code.

At what age did you write your first computer program? What did it do?

When I was young we had a Texas Instruments computer which had no hard drive. You had to save your work by plugging in a tape recorder and record the tones it produced. Somehow I came into a few magazines which had programs for it, and I had a lot of fun typing those in and seeing what happened.

The first bits of software that I ever really wrote myself were Perl programs. I don’t remember any of the early stuff, but I’m sure if I looked at them today I’d be horrified.

Which do you prefer in programming, the struggle or the achievement?

Both, but maybe the struggle a touch more. The process of discovery, learning, and eventually “getting it” can be really addictive. Plus, the wins wouldn’t feel nearly as good if it was easy. If you’re not into the struggle, programming is probably not for you.

What people, groups, projects, or resources were most influential in your development as programmer?

For the geeks of my generation the combination of the internet and open source movement was a complete game changer. By the time I started really getting serious about programming there was a huge online community of programmers who very openly shared code. Reading other people’s code and getting help on message boards was a incredibly helpful.

The Nerdery

What do you do now? What languages are you proficient in?

Most of my time is spent writing Java/J2EE, SQL, HTML, CSS, and Javascript. We’ve also done work in Ruby, Python, Groovy, Perl, and many others. As a developer today it’s nearly impossible to only focus on one language. The nice part about that is, the more languages you write, the better you are at all of them.

What do you enjoy about it? What do you dislike?

I love laying code! Nothing makes me happier than having ideas gel in my head and hearing the snap of the keys on the keyboard turn those ideas into reality. User interface design is definitely the most challenging and frustrating part for me. Luckily there’s a lot of very talented designers around town to draw on.

If you were to be doing anything else, what would that be?

I threaten my wife that I’ll open a restaurant someday, but deep down I know that’s a pipe dream. In many ways being a programmer is just problem solving: understanding a problem, finding a solution, then translating that solution into the machine space. Every programmer is problem solving addict and I’m no exception. So, if computers didn’t exist I’d probably need to find my fix somewhere else. Engineering maybe?

What excites you most about where technology is headed?

For me, the best part about technology is the way in which it allows for sharing and collaboration of ideas and information. Just walk around a city and watch people interact. It’s mind blowing how many ideas we create, and right now we’re doing a terrible job of exploiting that. If you look at Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Tumblr, Instagram, and the like, they’re all just platforms for capturing and sharing what we as humans are so naturally good at. And, not surprisingly, people love sharing. I can’t wait to see how that evolves and improves and how technology can help.

What concerns you most about where technology is headed?

I’m hugely optimistic about the future. But if there was one thing it would be the misuse of intellectual property law, specifically software patents. Every day I read stories about companies paying out millions for possibly violating ridiculous patents. In order to move ahead we have to be able to share and improve on ideas as well as profit from our efforts.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am heartened by the amazing technology community here in Minneapolis. Every day I meet really talented, hard working people who are contributing in a very meaningful way. And it’s not just those of us who have been around the block. Some of the coolest stuff I’ve seen are from young people who have a cool idea and just do it. Things like TECHdotMN, CoCo, and JavaScriptMN, just to name a few, make this an exciting time to be a Minneapolis geek.