Don Rogers: A code for zen | TheUnion.com

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Don Rogers: A code for zen

Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

At Pete’s Pizza, I had a conversation over a beer I couldn’t have had just a few weeks ago.

“C sharp is interesting, but for now I’m more focused on C,” I said.

Our friends’ graduate student son nodded. “Python is pretty much all I use,” he said. Something like that.

Now, this is about as far as I could go, like using up the four or five words I know in Spanish with a native speaker.

Still. I couldn’t even have this conversation without the Economic Resource Council’s new Connected Communities Academy. Wouldn’t even have thought about it except for the dare they laid down at an open house last summer.

They said they could teach anyone.

Anyone?

Even me? Hah. Go ahead. Just try. Make my day.

I plunked down my bet, in cash.

Six weeks of classes and the jury’s still out. But I can say “Hello World” in C, along with performing other rudimentary exercises. I’m learning, more and more as I go along. We used the more sophisticated C sharp in class to code a clock app and started on a tile game.

And I learned the secret key to it all.

Our teacher, Al McBride, showed us. He’s been in the biz since the ’60s and has the degrees from Berkeley, service with IBM and Tandem, his own companies, patents and such to show for it. Plus, he’s just a great, warm and above all patient mentor.

But he did slip.

With all his brainpower and experience, you know what he does when he runs into coding puzzles he can’t solve? Yep, Google.

There’s a whole world of search I had never seen. I mean, I had no reason to type in “C language” or “Python,” unless I was looking up the snake.

It’s the other lesson I need to learn: McBride teaches me as much about zen as anything.

“Anyone,” he said, “can do this if they are patient enough.”

Ah, the caveat. The fine print.

This language isn’t just completely foreign. It’s precise. Small miscues in details can stump even experts for days. Never mind gross errors in syntax and the grammar I’m not sure I’ll ever decipher.

“I don’t hear ‘Don Rogers’ and think ‘detail oriented,’” an old friend who would know said over the phone as I described this to him. “But I do associate ‘stubborn’ as a damned mule. You’ll get it just because you’ll get pissed off and then won’t quit.”

Thanks?

So far, though, I’m with McBride, my zen master. I’m the patient and fascinated grasshopper when I get into my learning sessions, from Google and from the bible, “The C Programming Language.” I still need to incorporate these regularly into my daily routine, already stuffed to brimming with work-work, a fiction project and what keeps homicide at bay, exercise.

For now, C competes head to head with beer and a book after dinner. I’m not finding a beer and some coding compatible. Coding has been losing to IPA, alas, a most formidable rival.

This is sober work, coding. I have to break through resistance, like glass or anything by Shakespeare, to reach the zone where C begins to reveal itself to me. Drip by drip, line by line, bracket by bracket and don’t forget the semicolons.

When I succeed, an hour vanishes in a minute. When I don’t, well, the beer and the book are always there. Familiar vices.

I’m trying to learn something I never thought about before. I’m trying to change habits long ingrained. I’m trying to become a better human being, I think.

And C holds some answers.

One thing I have learned definitively. The course — “Introduction to Software Development as a Career Opportunity” — has taught me that coding is unlikely to be part of my job future, should the steed I’m riding as a career fall beneath me. My old buddy could tell you that straight off.

Nonetheless, I’ve found it potentially life-changing.

I say potentially only because of the IPA.

Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@theunion.com or 477-4299.