Thanks to The Nerdery for underwriting our new series ‘Know this Nerd?’
William Bushey is a Minnesota software developer who splits time between the corprorate world and consulting, with a little startup action sprinkled on top. He is distinctly interested in the civic applications of technology and likes puts his coding skills to use for the broader improvement society — whether that be locally or globally.
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When and how did you originally become interested in technology?
Nintendo. When I was seven, Game Boy and Super Nintendo seemed like the awesomest things ever. I spent way too much time on both. A few years later, Nintendo Power started talking about this thing called the Internet. And a few years after that I started to learn to program, because I wanted to know how those games worked. Funny thing is, now I’m not much of a gamer at all.
At what age did you write your first computer program? What did it do?
I think I was fourteen, it was in Liberty Basic, and it probably printed “Hello World”. The first significant program I can remember writing took a list of titles and urls and spat out HTML for lists and links.
What do you do now? What languages are you proficient in?
Right now I’m splitting my time between E-Democracy.org, where I’m doing software development and consulting, and Thomson Reuters, where I’m doing business process analysis, research, and a bit of coding.
What do you enjoy about it? What do you dislike?
I enjoy that I wear a lot of hats. Between E-Democracy and Thomson Reuters I get to be a developer, a business analyst, a program evaluator, a researcher, a writer, and a consultant. I get bored if I work entirely in one silo, so I like being able to step between all of these roles.
The biggest thing I dislike is the lack of time and resources. There are so many things that I would like to see get done; I really wish there were either more hours in the day or somebody I could delegate some tasks to.
Which do you prefer in programming, the struggle or the achievement?
I like the struggle of coming up with algorithms and data structures to address some goal, because it involves understanding the structures of everything related to the goal and how to systematically manipulate them. It involves a lot of learning and problem solving, which I love. However, I hate the struggle caused by poorly designed or documented languages and platforms. Spending 2 hours googling for information on a property of some core platform object just feels like a frustrating waste of time.
What people, groups, projects, or resources were most influential in your development as programmer?
Definitely my dad. Growing up, he really nurtured my interest in computers. Together, we spent quite a bit of time building, upgrading, and tinkering with computers. I really enjoyed doing that and I learned a lot.
My high school math and programming teacher, Mr. Cavanaugh, also really influenced me. He encouraged me to explore things I wanted to explore. I taught myself Java in 11th and 12th grade because he encouraged me to, even though he was unfamiliar with the language. But he always made himself available, and he let me spend a lot of time in the computer lab.
If you were to be doing anything else, what would that be?
If I can magically have the money to do it, I would be a Philanthropist like Bill Gates. I really admire what he and his wife are doing with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I would love to have the resources and connections that allow Bill Gates to tackle some of the large humanitarian issues of the world.
If I can’t magically have that money, then I think it would be cool to work or intern at The Daily Show. I love the idea of reporting on the absurdity of public discourse.
Where do you spend most of your time online?
Email and Facebook. Between digests and friends, a lot of interesting news/articles/discussions show up. If I am focused on programming, then my online time is usually split between Google, O’Reilly’s Safari, and Stack Overflow.
What concerns you most about where technology is headed?
Lately I’ve been thinking about the growing set of technology that impacts people’s lives but is out of their view and influence. Information about me is gathered, sold, and acted upon by entire industries I never interact with. Advertisers can yell at me, aided by information about me. Yet I can not yell back, even though I have much to say that would improve my ad experience. At best, this system is a frustration that consumers have to trudge through to see cute kittens. At worst, it’s an insult to privacy that undermines the ability of markets to serve real consumer needs.
What excites you most about where technology is headed?
There is a growing movement, inside and outside of government, to use technology to serve civic needs. More government information is being digitized and opened up for coders to make useful apps that help citizens interact with their governments. From government’s point of view, more digital information means greater use of computing to plan and execute government actions. And while most of the major media hasn’t caught on yet, more available data means innovative and deeper reporting on important issues. Hopefully, that will someday turn into substantive public discussions about policies and public issues.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to encourage any civic nerds in Minnesota to follow E-Democracy’s Executive Directory, Steve Clift (@democracy). He’s all about using technology for civic good, and puts on great events (CityCamp last year; a Drupal based civic hackathon in a couple of month.) Also, the Hacks/Hackers group on Meetup gets together from time to time to talk about computational journalism. Finally, keep an eye out for Hndl – it will be all the fun of a tech startup mixed with the empowerment of a co-op.