Know this Nerd? Meet John Malone



MaloneThank you to The Nerdery for underwriting the Know this Nerd? series. 

Meet John Malone, a Ruby on Rails + javascript freelancer, startup lead, and future space cowboy.

When and how did you originally become interested in technology?

My first introduction to computers was in the computer lab in grade school. Those early Apple IIe games just sucked me in, though it wasn’t until I was in Junior High that we finally got a computer at home. My free time in High School was spent immersed
in the BBS scene: playing Door games and web browsing with Lynx.

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

My first exposure to computer programming was the Logo programming language. The commands were basic: move up, move down, move diagonally, but isn’t most program just one damn command after another? My first “hack” was commanding the Logo turtle to move diagonally for many thousands of iterations, which basically locked the machine.

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

I am a principal at Spitfire Labs, which is a remix of the old web development agency model. The firm is modeled on how law firms are setup. Equity holders must be makers: engineers and designers. Our hope is that this will lead to the highest quality possible with the minimal amount of hand waving shenanigans

On the side I am also the Technical Lead for, which is a new way to buy locally grown flowers. And my side-side-project is Northpaw, which has created a new and durable dog toy with old school sensibilities.

College was all about C++, but my career began with PHP. Now I program exclusively in Ruby on Rails and Javascript. Ruby is just such an elegant language and the Rails stack just gets better and better.

The Nerdery

How have you increased your skillset over the years, formally or otherwise?

I am a voracious reader, so I keep up with industry trends by reading dev blogs and just chatting with other developers about what’s new in their toolbox. User groups and conferences like the excellent Minnebar are also no cost ways to keep up with industry trends. And just hanging out on chat all day with my programmer friends.

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

Succinct, quality code belies its complexity. A good website just “works,” and a superior user experience arises only out of a disciplined approach to the work.

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

My professors at the University of San Francisco pounded into us the importance of terse codebases and proper code commenting. But my biggest Eureka! moment in web development came when I was introduced to the Ruby on Rails framework.

The Rails framework just has so much nice stuff happening in it; they just dealt wholesale with a lot of the organizational and syntactical problems from other web dev platforms. This led to the lively and compelling user group. I’ve learned a ton from the other members there, and I’m constantly amazed at all the side projects people keep churn out and share with the community.

What do you enjoy about it? Is there anything you dislike?

I enjoy the mental aspects of computer programming, though sometimes that can bleed in other parts of my life…like trying to optimize my commute or making spreadsheets about upcoming vacation plans. What I dislike about programming as an occupation is that it is still a low prestige occupation. The majority of ambitious parents aren’t encouraging their children to take-up computer programming and you can see the physical manifestation of “programmer” prestige by looking at how to typical workplace warehouses programmers. Sterile cubicles or noisy bullpen are the norm.

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

After the first bubble burst, I figured I’d put my newly forged skills to good use by joining the Peace Corps. I spent two years in the South Pacific country of Samoa teaching Computer Studies in High School. My time there was intense, and extremely rewarding. My students reminded me very much of myself at their age; fascinated by computers, but without access to them at home. If I hit the startup lottery, I’d love to teach computer literacy and programming to people of all ages. Or a writer/space cowboy/firefighter.

Where do you spend most of your time online?

I typically read Hacker News daily, just to keep up with what’s new in the programming world, and also in the startup world. I love Thoughtbot’s robot blog and of course Basecamp’s Signal Versus Noise blog.

What concerns you most about where technology is headed?

My worry about where technology is headed is that it’s leading to a greater stratification of society. Those who have the means will continue to have access to all the latest and greatest, but the benefits of an open and vast online world are largely unavailable to so many people worldwide.
On a personal level, I worry about breakdown of net neutrality and the corporatization of the internet.

What excites you most about where technology is headed?

When I was teaching, sites like Khan Academy didn’t exist, we had to write all our own curriculum. Now with a web browser people from all over the world have access to amazing educational resources. These seeds will take a while to bloom, but the prospect of the technological care and feeding of young phenoms all over the world gives me a small measure of hope.