I flatter myself whenever I say aloud or even write it down that I can program a computer. To a master chef I would be the home cook who makes terrific grilled cheese. To a race car mechanic I would be the guy who can swap out his own winter tires in the spring. And to an elite coder the quality of those comparisons also hold true. In particular to my benchmark of the greatness of skill and finesse of control over the manipulation of information, the elegance of well-implemented machine instruction to which I can only aspire, a benchmark that comes in the form of my long time acquaintance Pitter.
To be fair, I know many people who program professionally. My circle of family, friends, and work connections is populated by a repertoire of social connections that could form a worthy foundation of a who’s who of the local digital services and business software scene. Many of them have found lucrative and successful careers in the digital salt mines of media design or enterprise software management or custom app development. They write their code, refine their user interfaces, submit their project reports and go home each night to play games or ride bikes or drink beers. Yet no one else I know but Pitter so thoroughly embraces the art of coding software on his own time after the business of the same is done each day.
The connection between Pitter and I would not be anything but a fragment of long lost memory if not for the conjunction of three otherwise random events.
In University, to fulfill a science credit requirement and despite having my first degree in that realm, I enrolled in a series of introductory programming courses. I learned the foundations of programming languages in a basement computer lab surrounded by future dot-com millionaires probing the nuances of ordered variable lists and matrix array manipulation with a Java compiler. The course instructor would never have deigned to show his face in that dimly lit lab, so instead he hired a small cadre of graduate students as teaching assistants. My first conjunction with Pitter was through his role supervising the computer lab during the hours when I found time to do my work there. In the beginning I was nothing more than another clueless introductory student struggling with foundational problems that Pitter had long since mastered. He would do his best to hide his contempt of the inequity of our skills as he walked me and others through a coding problem, walked us just far enough to see the solution on the far side of our efforts and then continue on alone while he went back to his own personal projects.
My second conjunction with Pitter occurred because –despite his genius– he was not immune from the academic bureaucracy that entangles the work of obtaining a Masters degree. He was required to complete a minimum quantity of credits fixed firmly within the realm of the arts faculty, and had chosen to take a course on children’s literature. By coincidence, it was in fact the same course in which I was enrolled.
For three hours per week we were peers studying the latent metaphors of classical fairy tales and unraveling the complex dynamics of the literary relationships between anthropomorphic animals.
Yet this would have still been insufficient for any meaningful connection, and I would not so much as remember Pitter to this day if it weren’t for my own vulnerability: money. I had little. And so it was that in my later University years I took a part time job on campus at the arts library, scuttling on my bum through the stacks three nights a week re-shelving books and scanning the spines for sorting errors for a few cents more than minimum wage.
On the third floor, among the thousands of indecipherable books on the topics of critical literary analysis was where I had happened to be work one quiet evening and where Pitter recognized me — from class, from lab, from around. He humbled himself, admitted with a reverent frustration that he was struggling with our mutual children’s literature class, and implied that he was desperately seeking a study partner.
Twenty years later Pitter would fairly and bluntly acknowledge that this faint connection tracing back to that one moment in the library and then the subsequent weeks of cooperative tutelage, that this connection is still strong, but that it is a relationship of little more than it has always been: one of managed, mutual utility. I am his wordsmith, the person to whom he will forever reach out and beg a paragraph of text or a grammatical spot check. In exchange Pitter is my coder, the trusted elite hacker who I happen to know, the master chef software developer, the race car mechanic programmer, the guy to whom I will send a bit of complex query string or twisted php to pass through his skilled filter, returned to me a few days later so vastly improved and yet with a lack of judgement reserved for virtually no one else.