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Introduction

It’s been a long road that started when I was in 3rd grade. My teacher had just purchased an Apple IIe and brought it to the school for us to learn on. Years later I would realize how expensive that actually was to do, and admire his dedication to teaching even more. I don’t remember his name.

The long road is not the point, and I won’t bore you with the details of my failures along the way. In 2010 I finally started college, at the age of 38, and finished that A.S. in Database Administration a year or so later. After that, I got a B.S. in IT with some programming classes, and after that, in 2016, I started my masters and completed that in 2018.

I am now 46, unemployed, and ready to dump any dreams I had of becoming a programmer. Why? Because I don’t think like one. I am not good at it, apparently.

I know, I know. This sounded like it was going to be an inspirational programming story that you could relate to. I’m here to tell you that the Steve Jobs’s and Bill Gates’s of the world were individuals who built empires at the right time, when there were not a lot of people working on computers, let alone programming them.

These days, everyone can write a program of some kind. We are teaching children advanced concepts in object-oriented programming (OOP) using visual programs like Alice and Scratch. Not me.

I realized a few days ago that the pursuit of a programming career was the problem, not the ability to write code or understand what I was doing. I realized I didn’t want to build websites or applications, but I still wanted to learn about programming. I threw my hands up looked up a language I had heard about but had never investigated. That language was LISP.

I found a copy of Structures and Interpretations in Computer Programs by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman, with Julie Sussman. It was a textbook on LISP from the 1980s and, being a child of the 80s, the nostalgia kicked in and I thought to myself, “why not?”

After reading the first chapter, I started to understand what I didn’t know I needed to understand about programming from the very start. I needed to know the math behind computer science. I have managed, through three degrees, to avoid pure math classes because I was afraid they would be too hard. I believe that, along with my revelation of what I really wanted out of programming, that not having a math foundation of any kind contributed to my lack of knowledge and competency as a programmer. LISP doesn’t let you avoid what it is and where it came from.

LISP

LISP stands for¬†list processing. Mind-blowing, huh? It was designed by John McCarthy¬†around 1955. Clicking on the LISP link will provide in-depth details on its origin. I am too lazy to spill the history, and I am definitely too lazy to cite anything on this blog using APA format. I did enough of that in my master’s thesis, thank you.

An interesting thing to note is that LISP was heavily influenced by lambda calculus. Lambda calculus was invented by a man named Alonzo Church…

…stop it Abby. Moving on…

My Blog’s Raison d’etre

Why am I writing a blog about a language that is older than I am? Simple: I have pushed the dream of being a hotshot programmer out of the way and allowed myself to really learn what computer science is. THAT is what I have always been interested in but never smart enough to vocalize or even realize. This blog will be a journal of sorts, to talk about my journey learning this language. I can safely say that you will not find anything here that will be breath-taking, beautiful, revolutionary, as far as the LISP language is concerned, but that’s okay. I am doing this for me. If you learn something, that’s great too!

Life is a journey, and I have squandered it by competing in a market where employers seem to want 15 years of programming experience while silently looking for people in their mid-twenties. That’s short-sighted, but they need to do what is best for them. I am more interested in the learning experience and growth I can achieve by teaching myself (and learning from materials and videos online) LISP. My hope is that LISP helps me think like a programmer, where other languages failed to make an impact on me.

Okay, okay, there’s maybe another reason. My master’s degree is in Health and Life Science Analytics. I will post my thesis when I am done rewriting it for publication. LISP is known for its presence in the Artificial Intelligence realm. I am interested in that, sort of. That is WAY out of my understanding right now.

But it doesn’t hurt to reach for something difficult.

Abby Jones, MSc

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