Making a Difference

Doug Lea's Concurrent Programming in Java
A few minutes ago I finished writing the first draft of a patent; Thursday I put the finishes touches on an eBook; and earlier in the week I wrote online product documentation. While writing patents, generating blog posts, and authoring user documentation are not among the more glamorous tasks I do as an entrepreneur and CTO, they are all necessary to building my company and supporting my customers. They also share one thing in common: they leverage a writing skill I honed in college through a creative writing minor.

There are countless people in the world who have made a difference in the lives of others. Sometimes that difference is direct and charitable - e.g. the Harvard graduates I met at TUGG raising funds for a homeless shelter for young adults. But other times making a difference is much more subtle, such as timely career advice or mentoring. So today's blog is for people who make a difference in the lives of others.

I've had many people who have made a difference in my life, including teachers, professors, mentors, managers, colleagues and friends. But the difference-maker I'm highlighting today is someone who impacted my career through the simple act of providing advice to an incoming freshman: Professor Doug Lea.

Professor Lea later become a minor celebrity in Java circles for his work in concurrent programming, including his development of the package java.util.concurrent. But when I was a freshman and he was my assigned advisor, he was preaching object-oriented programming with C++ as the wave of the future. When we first met before the start of my first semester as a CS student, he reviewed my transcripts, asked me a few questions about my high school AP English classes, and suggested I seriously consider a creative writing minor. I don't remember exactly what he said, but remember him suggesting it would differentiate me and a comment that "programmers can't write".

I took his suggestion without much thought, and found myself stretched over the next four years by courses I enjoyed (e.g. writing short stories, writing screenplays) and courses I did not (e.g. 18th century British literature). But by my senior year, with thousands of written pages behind me, I had honed a skill that I'd find useful time and time again over my career.

So here is to the people who make a difference - big and small - in the lives and careers of others.