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Welcome to William Van Winkle's blog, home for everything from notes on his latest ebooks to leftovers from his articles in CPU, Tom's Hardware, Smart Computing, and other media outlets. Check out his author pages at Amazon and Smashwords!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Red Hat's Founder on the Secret of Being a Successful Programmer

Bob Young founded Red Hat Software, built it up into a credible threat to Microsoft during the dot-com boom, and in 2002 left the company to go shake things up in another sector: book publishing. He started Lulu Press, which is now one of the world's top self-publishing services.

My discussions with Bob Young will be in the upcoming Architects of Tomorrow, Volume 1. He's a fascinating, clever entrepreneur with loads of experience and wisdom to share. To give you a taste, at one point I asked him what his first experience was with a computer, and what I got was a lesson in work habits.

Young: While I define myself as a salesman, my interest in computers goes back to my second year at the University of Toronto in 1973. I was taking a computer programming course, and the practical component of our course involved sitting at the keyboard of a big desk-like machine that punched what we typed onto 8" by 3" punch cards. Of course, the University’s computer department was seriously underfunded (some things never change), so there was a real shortage of these punch card machines, which resulted in long line-ups all day.

The most frustrating part of this course was that no matter how hard I worked, there was this group of kids who scored grades that were dramatically higher than the rest of us. Having spent most of a semester with them, I was convinced that they were not genetically superior, so I was curious. One day, standing in line at the punch card machines behind one of the smart kids in my class, I started whining about what a waste of time it was. Instead of sympathy, he sarcastically mumbled, “Well, then why don't you show up after midnight like the rest of us?”

Later that day, I did, and I learned one of the important lessons about computing I’ve never forgotten: real programmers don't sleep…which, I suppose, is why I never became a real programmer.

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