This week we welcome Daniel Roseman as our PyDev of the Week. I stumbled across Daniel on StackOverflow via some of the Python answers he has given. He is in the top 0.01% overall on StackOverflow, which is pretty impressive. He also has an old blog with a few interesting Python related articles in it. You can see what he’s been up to lately over on Github. Let’s take a few moments to get to know Daniel better!
Can you tell us a little about yourself (hobbies, education, etc):
I’m a self-taught programmer – my degree is actually in French – and I spent ten years working as a journalist and sub-editor before finally making the move into professional web development.
Since then I’ve worked at Global Radio, Glasses Direct, Google, and now the UK’s Government Digital Service, where I’m currently a technical architect on the publishing platform for the GOV.UK website.
Outside of work I’m a singer in various amateur choirs. I’ve also been running a Code Club at a local primary school for several years, helping ten and eleven year olds with their first introduction to programming using Scratch and later Python itself.
Why did you start using Python?
I got involved in helping out with a website for a charity, which was originally written in Python using Zope 2. Until then I’d never done any Python, and one of the original developers (thanks, Yoz!) helped me get started and pointed me towards Dive Into Python, which was an excellent resource for learning the language.
The charity site was quite basic at that time and didn’t have a proper CMS, so I looked around for technologies to make it more usable. That’s how I discovered Django, which was just then beginning to make an impact; this was around the time of the earliest open-source releases, version 0.90 or so. I fell in love with Django and was quickly able to use it to rebuild the site completely, and I’ve never looked back.
What other programming languages do you know and which is your favorite?
Most of my current team’s work is in Ruby, so professionally I’ve been mainly doing that for the last three years or so. There’s also some Go, although I haven’t done much there myself.
Python definitely remains my favourite. Although I do like a lot of things that Ruby brings, Python is still the language that fits my brain best.
What projects are you working on now?
I don’t get a lot of time for real open-source work because of family stuff and other commitments, so I tend to just contribute various bug fixes and minor features when I can.
One current project though is to see if I can use my experience with Code Club to write an introduction for kids to web development with Django. There are a few kids’ programming tutorials using Python, but nothing specifically focused on the web. It’s mainly inspired by the fantastic Django Girls tutorial, but I want to see if it’s possible to do an introduction from the ground up to all the relevant technologies for a much younger age group. It’s a long-term project though, so it’ll be a while before there’s anything ready to show.
Which Python libraries are your favorite (core or 3rd party)?
Obviously I’d put Django high up there on my list of favourites. It’s what got me properly into Python, and helped me find my first jobs in web development. There’s a great mix of usability and functionality, as well as a huge amount of third-party packages for just about anything.
How did you end up becoming one of the top “gurus” on StackOverflow for Python?
Persistence, and more than a little of “Someone is wrong on the Internet” syndrome. Like many programmers I do like to help and share my knowledge, and contributing to SO has been a really good way for me to do that: hopefully I’ve helped many many people there. And I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people who are trying their best to make something work, but have somehow misunderstood a concept or struggle to see why things aren’t doing what they think they should.
On top of that, I do like to write, but I rarely get the opportunity to sit down and write long articles or blog posts; but answering a question on SO with an explanation or code snippet takes only a minute or so. In effect, helping people on StackOverflow is my main contribution to the open source community.
For those wondering how I manage to answer so many questions, the feed of most recent Python and Django questions is in my RSS reader; so I often encounter a question I’d like to answer while I’m just browsing on the train to work, for example. I’ve become quite good at entering code examples using my phone keyboard.
What do you like the most about StackOverflow versus other tech help websites?
Mainly the direct focus on actual programming questions and answers. There’s a very clear idea of what is on- and off-topic there, and anything that isn’t an actual question about how to solve a specific programming problem quickly gets closed. Similarly, it enables and encourages posters to go back and edit their questions to post relevant details they may have missed out, making them more relevant and clearer.
Of course, the flip side of this is that it does cause it does sometimes appear unwelcoming to newcomers, who often don’t know exactly how to ask questions and get defensive when asked for more details. I’ve given a short talk at a couple of meetups about what exactly does make a good question and how to maximise the possibility you’ll get an answer; the slides are here: https://www.slideshare.net/danielroseman/asking-good-questions-53621064
On the other hand, there are a few things I don’t like. One of them, perhaps surprisingly, is the points system; I have far too many points. While that is to a certain extent because I contribute a lot, it’s also not insignificantly due to the fact that I joined early and wrote some “canonical” answers that get voted up a lot, even years later. Some of those answers aren’t even very good, but they continue to get votes precisely because they already have votes. I’m not really sure how this could be improved, though.
Thanks for doing the interview!