Mark Rendle is a programmer turned comedian turned programmer... and other things I learned recording his DevJourney (#139)

This week, I published Mark Rendle's #DevJourney story on my eponym Podcast: Software developer's Journey. Among many other things, here are my main personal takeaways:

  • Mark's story started like so many, with video games and a ZX81 machine. In the 80s, those computers often included a programming manual. That's how Mark learned to program in Assembler-Language at the age of 9. And that's when he decided to become a programmer. And when he's feeling down and think programming is stupid nowadays, he reminds himself that he decided at the age of 9 that he wanted to become a computer programmer. There are not a lot of people who can say that they are what they wanted to be when they were 9 😁
  • Mark had difficult teenage years, moving from one family structure to the next and missing a lot at school. He ended up having to find a job at the age of 16. The story of his first job is already hinting at the rest of his story. Too young to contract, he landed a sysadmin job in a contracting company where the owner let him use the terminals to learn to code after hours. After a couple of years involving living on chips and peeling potatoes, they lied about his age, and he was sent out as a contractor and celebrated his 22nd birthday four times 🤣
  • When his "real" 21st birthday arrived, he returned to his company to lead the new hire's training. And faced a lot of former classmates who had gone to university, earned ComputerScience degrees, and "were back in town realizing that what they had learned was commercially useless". That's when he realized that his path wasn't uninteresting, that he really had something to offer.
  • "What I did was basically an apprenticeship. And I believe that is the better model for learning to be a person who makes software for a living." Mark is very enamored with the way his story panned out. He would love to pay it forward, especially for kids who have a troubled background like him.
  • Mark is convinced that one of the key advantages of apprenticeship is learning on actual projects, with many different people, and not just many theoretical problems, with a very narrow pool of professors.
  • We discussed apprenticeship in a remote context, and Mark was compelling with his thoughts on remote tooling. With Cloud9, VisualStudio share, and so on, it would be possible to code the whole day with an apprentice. Or it would be very much like Twitch Streaming actually, which is what Mark does two nights a week.
  • During a gig in London, Mark discovered comedy-clubs. From 1994 to 2000, he programmed during the day and toured as a comedian at night. Around 2000, he finally became "professional" and made more money in a couple of comedy-club evenings than with his coding. He remained a "pro" for 18 months until he realized that he hated it and went back to coding. But this was a major milestone toward his current career.
  • Mark went back to his old company and worked with them for 8 years. He stayed through a merger and one acquisition and was pushed so hard by the new boss that he ended up having a complete meltdown, a severe burnout, and quit after his performance was criticized when he came back. But he said: "quitting that job was the single best move of my career."
  • After this job, Marked called someone he had met at his first-ever software conference and got a job at his place. As a subjective side note, THIS is probably the single required reason to explain why online conferences are bullshit: there is NO exchange there. In fact, Mark underlined this as well: if you see me at a conference, come and say 'hi,' this is exactly the point of a conference.
  • This last company was heaven on earth: real agility, realistic deadlines, pair-programming, excellent developers, 10% time & performance schemes like rewarding talks and blog posts. Mark learned a lot there. And developed a few projects like Simple.Data during that time. Those projects propelled him onto stages around the world. That's where he combined the things he loved most: code, making people laugh, and being on stage. And that's his life today.

Advice:

  • "Almost everything can potentially be a good idea, don't back away, say YES a lot!"

Quotes:

  • "TV was something you watched. With programming, I was controlling what was shown on the TV. I thought that's brilliant.'"
  • "When I'm feeling down and think programming is stupid, I remind myself that I decided at 9 years old that I wanted to become a computer programmer. I don't think there are a lot of people who are what they wanted to be when they were 9."
  • "What I did was basically an apprenticeship. And I believe that is the better model for learning to be a person who makes software for a living"
  • "When you have 10 years under your belt, and you can show that you know what you are talking about, nobody is going to say 'what? you didn't go and get drunk at university for 3 years?"
  • "5 years down the line, people who went to university and people who didn't are practically indistinguishable."
  • "If anybody sees me complaining on Twitter, I would like them to remind me that I do the thing that I wanted to do when I was 9 years old and that other thing that I liked and was good at for a while as well."
  • "I used to be funny for money."
  • "That's my life, I sit, and I write code all day, sometimes in the evenings. Sometimes, people give me all paid-expenses trips to lovely places worldwide, and I get on stage and make people laugh again. I have the best life!"

Thanks, Mark, for sharing your story with us!

You can find the full episode and the show notes on devjourney.info or directly here on DEV

Did you listen to his story?

  • What did you learn?
  • What are your personal takeaways?
  • What did you find particularly interesting?

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