Interview with Douglas Crockford

May 11, 2012 — 6 Comments

SmashingMagazine recently published an interview with Douglas Crockford. Crockford, in case you’re not familiar, is one of the key proponents of JavaScript. One of JavaScript’s “founding fathers”, if you will. His Master Class video series on JavaScript and the history of programming is really quite illuminating.

The interview is part of a new SmashingMagazine series called “How I Work”. As they describe it:

These interviews revolve around how thinkers and creators in the Web world design, code, and create. The goal is not to get into the specific nuances of their craft (as that information already exists online), but rather step back and learn a bit about their habits, philosophies, and workflow for producing great work.

For that reason, the interview is useful whether or not you do any JavaScript programming, as Crockford has great insights into programming in general. Just two things that caught my attention…

WHAT WERE THE TRAITS OF THE WEAK PROGRAMMERS YOU’VE SEEN OVER YOUR CAREER?
That’s an easy one—lack of curiosity. They were so satisfied with the work that they were doing was good enough (without an understanding of what ‘good’ was) that they didn’t push themselves.

and …

HOW MUCH OF A LANGUAGE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?
Virtually every programming language is too big. Language standards have difficulty removing unnecessary features but as users we can choose not to use it.
I would say you can do 100% with knowing 50% of the language.

As for the first, the greatest thing about working for myself is the ability to learn whatever I want. I’m not pigeonholed into one subject or career. I can see what interests me and expand my knowledge as I see fit. (On the other hand, I’d certainly make more money if I specialized but there’s more to life than making money, they say.)

As for the second, that’s an interesting suggestion, and one I’ve not heard before. To be fair, when I write a book on a language, I have to make decisions about what to discuss and what not to (e.g., never cover goto!), but I wouldn’t have put that number at 50% or in that area. Still, it’s great that an expert on a language admits that much of it isn’t necessary, at least not most of the time.

After the interview, which isn’t too long, there are two video clips worth checking out. Both are around an hour long, but will give you a sense of what Crockford does in his Master Class videos. One of those videos, and many more, can be found in Yahoo!’s excellent YUI Theater.

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6 responses to Interview with Douglas Crockford

  1. I think people should care more about programming fundamentals than language constructs. How to sort, search, display, and work with data. You often need some kind of more high level knowledge of programming to to be able to do those special things.

    Some languages are very good at hiding the advanced concepts. I both love and hate how arrays in PHP works. My guess would be that a lot of those programming PHP don’t know what a queque, stack or hash maps are, even though they use some of them every day.

    • I completely agree Thomas and this is something I think Larry does really with his books.

      In regards to PHP arrays, this is where a language like Ruby really shines I feel. I think PHP arrays are a great introduction into the data structure but establish a very low ceiling for all of the power that should be behind an array.

      • Thanks, Richard. Not to compare myself to Crockford, but early on when writing my first book, and looking at other computer books, I recognized that much of what is in a language (and therefore will get covered by some writers) is completely unnecessary to most people.

    • I totally agree. I can program in PHP, JavaScript, C, C++, Ruby, and maybe even a little bit of C#, Perl, and Java, simply because it’s the theories that are hard to understand. Learning languages is largely about syntax once you understand the principles and core concepts.

  2. *I think this is something Larry does really well with his books.

    Sorry I’m just getting started on my coffee.

  3. Mr Crockford has been critical of HTML5 too. He thought they should focus on fixing existing flaws rather than adding new features.

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