At Shutterstock, we have an array of talented programmers, developers,
and architects who bring diverse backgrounds to their jobs.
Some were working with code for decades before they came aboard, while others were relative newcomers. It’s not just
computer-science majors, either. A few programmers even point to their
liberal-arts educations as helping to launch their careers in technology.

We spoke to some of our team members to uncover the story behind their passion for coding and to get any tips and tricks they could share.

Maggie Xiong, Algorithm Team Lead

When and how did you get involved in technology and programming?

I started programming when I started graduate school in 1999. I was
studying cognitive psychology and had to run experiments to collect
participants’ response times under various experimental conditions. I
started out by modifying the code for existing experiments to fit my
research needs.

What programs or systems were you using at the time? Why’d you choose it?

I’ve
got quite a mixed feeling about this. I started out with True Basic.
Mind you, not Basic like Visual Basic, but True Basic. It ran on the
8088s like this. I didn’t choose it. That was my advisor’s setup. It
did have one major advantage over more modern computers — it had a
dedicated timer chip that allowed us to control the timing of when the
question hit the screen and measure keystrokes to milisecond-level
precision. This is actually pretty hard with modern computers,
especially PCs, because you don’t have that level of control of the OS.

What advice would you give to young people looking to break into the programming world?

Pick a language that’s good for the area of work that you want to
do. If you’re interested in data mining, check out NumPy. If you’re
interested in search engines, check out java. After you’ve been working
with a language for a little while, try to learn some other languages.
That way, you’ll learn the gist of programming, instead of the idiosyncrasies
of a particular language. Also, read The Tao of Programming.

Joel Zimmer, Front End Developer

When and how did you get involved in technology and programming?

I
started programming around the age of 16. I had my first exposure to
programming during one of those “take your kids to work” days. My dad
(who is a dentist) organized it so that I would spend half the day in
his office and the other half with the local University’s tech
department. While they showed me around the place, and showed me how
these large-scale websites could be made, I knew that that was what I
wanted to do.


What’s been the biggest change or shift to coding that you’ve seen over time?

In my mind there are two big changes.

One is that the shift to scripting languages has been pretty astounding. I cut my
teeth learning to write PASCAL at first, and later Java, and those
languages have been eclipsed, especially in businesses, by lightweight
languages and frameworks, like Ruby or Node.

Secondly, access to big computing power is now so easy (this is probably tied
to the previous point) that computers work faster, so we can work faster too.

What advice would you give to people looking to break into the programming world?

Write code, and lots of it. Work on small, simple projects and
larger-scale projects, as well. The small projects will help hone your
skills, but the large projects will teach you how to re-factor and build
out a smart, well architected solution.

Zubin Tiku, Senior Software Engineer

When and how did you get involved in technology and programming?

There
are two answers. The first is that my father was into computers
and had an Apple II in the basement that ran Logo. He would try to get
me excited about it, but I never stuck to it for more than a few hours. I didn’t have the patience. The second answer is that I graduated from
my Bachelor’s program during the internet boom with a degree in
dramatic literature. I was living in New York and New York is
expensive.

Are there any new/cool tools you use that you recommend to other programmers?

The
more experience I get, the more I gravitate toward old or small
programs that are more hackable, rather than the big, new, shiny ones. Over the
last few years, I’ve even switched to VIM. It’s now my preferred editor,
because the coding environment feels very similar to my terminal. I
find that I benefit from the similarity of mindset, and from being able to
transition between the two seamlessly.

What’s been the biggest change or shift to coding that you’ve seen over time?

When
I started web development, Java was the gold standard that every
platform aspired to. Now the people I talk to hate the thought of Java.
They find it strict and verbose and limiting. JavaScript is the new
paradigm. Which I think is great. JavaScript is a language
cobbled together from bits and pieces stolen from other languages, and I
love that about it. It offers a lot of freedom of expression. George
Orwell has a great quote in Politics and the English Language:
“Slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish
thoughts.” I think that too much structure in our language makes it
harder for us to have interesting thoughts.

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