Andy Hunt: Secrets of a Rock Star Programmer (Part 1)

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Andy: I actually don’t place a lot of stock in GPAs. I had a very high GPA within my major and so-so overall, but I didn’t place much stock in it then or since. I knew quite a few folks who dropped out and were very successful. They made a lot of money. I knew quite a few folks who had 4.0 averages who I wouldn’t trust to clean my garage because they didn’t have any real-world experience or abilities. I don’t find it to be a particularly well-correlated indicator of practical expertise.

Ed: What was the most useful class you took in college?

Andy: This is actually quite an interesting question, and I’m gonna expand it to cover grade and high school as well as college, but I would say for the entire educational process, the most valuable class that I took anywhere was Latin in high school.

Ed: Cool.

Andy: And that, I think, is just supremely ironic, because if you had asked me at the time, that would surely not have been my answer. At the time, I thought it was the most useless waste of space to study a dead language that no one actually speaks anymore. You know, what was the point? That just absolutely didn’t make it for me, but in retrospect, that gives you the basis for the language skills that’s really unparalleled. It really expands your vocabulary. It expands your ability to understand vocabulary or even foreign languages, at least Latin-based languages, that you may not know how you say this in French or Spanish or what have you, but you’ll see something that’s close and you’ll be able to figure it out enough to get by. And, again, I said before that I favored language skills far and above mathematical skills for the most part, so I think that was something that was quite, quite useful, far above and beyond any of the other classes of that sort.

Ed: How good are you at keeping your professional and personal lives balanced?

Andy: It’s very difficult for me to think of myself as separate people. You know, a “work me” versus a “home me” versus the “research me” versus the whatever. It’s really all one thing. And my situation is a little bit unusual. I’ve very much gone the career arc from in-the-trench programmer at a Fortune 100 company, through to working at really boutique, interesting, high-tech software companies, to being a consultant for all of the above and then some, to being an author, to being a publisher. I’m firmly in the entrepreneur seat at the moment. It’s the same challenges with a different twist. So with the entrepreneurship hat on, work, home, play is really all one thing, or it’s a continuum. It’s not discrete, different elements.

Ed: Are you married? Are you a parent?

Andy: Yes, we have children and they are very much a part of the business as well.

Ed: Talk more about that, because that’s really interesting to me, how thatworks.

Andy: It’s a fascinating thing. My kids are young. They help me pack or prepare when I go off and give lectures and speaking gigs. They help with some of the aspects of the business. It’s not like the old days, where dad would come home at 5:00 after commuting on the train and knock back a few martinis and then make that transition from work life to personal life. You know, we don’t have that sharp distinction. You know, I could be sitting at the pool with them, with my laptop, working on an article for a magazine, or working on sales figures for our publishing business, or writing code, or doing something for them. It’s all one continuum.

Ed: Interesting. Now, obviously, you have to be on the same page with your wife if you’re gonna mix the two so closely together. How does she feel about it?

Andy: She’s a great contributor to our business. She also does consulting for companies in her field and, of course, managing the house and the kids. But really, the family knows we’re all in this together. We’re really all in the same boat.

Ed: Let’s say you’re working on a really engrossing problem, perhaps a creative coding problem, perhaps an article that you have to really think about deeply. How do you context switch and put that aside when it’s time to spend quality time with your kids and do the dad thing in a real concrete way?

Andy: It depends. It’s really a matter of prioritization. If the kids have something that is high priority -- they’ve got a performance or a show or some event that’s at a particular scheduled time we know that’s coming up, then you make allowances for that. Okay. Now, I can’t work on this then, whenever that may be, because this is what we have to go do. But they’re also very aware that if it’s at night time or on the weekend and I’m hunched over a laptop and deep into something, they pretty much will respect that, too, and they know, oh, “dad’s in the middle of something.” It’s a give and take both ways, and it’s certainly something I try not to overuse.

Ed: Do you have a non-IT Plan B to earn a living?

Andy: [immediately] Yes, I do.

Ed: Okay, what’s that?

Andy: I’m not sharing it with you.

Ed: That’s fine.

Andy: [laughs] Yes, I do and it’s classified.

Ed: Okay.

Andy: Quote me on that.

Ed: What’s your personal life goal?

Andy: I can make that short and sweet. I’ll just say, “To understand.”

This story, "Andy Hunt: Secrets of a Rock Star Programmer (Part 1)" was originally published by ITworld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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