I started writing the bio on my deviantid and then it got a bit out of control, so here it is. I kept the focus on everything dA-related and the journey that made me end up here.
I can't remember when I started programming exactly, I must have been 6 or 7 years old, with logo: [link]
As a child I kept coming back to programming as a hobby, even if it was really tough... until I really "got it" when I was about 14 and I learnt to write Pascal with no handbook, only badly written code samples. They were mostly coding exercises written by my bigger brother who was taking a Pascal class in high school. However my brother refused to teach me anything or explain anything, so I just learnt by reading working code and comparing it to what the executable did. Also, Pascal is obviously in English and I was a French kid, so it was quite easy to misunderstand a lot of the stuff.
Self-learning programming without a book had funny consequences, as my understanding of Pascal progressed, I felt like I could write a game. So I ventured to build a breakout [link]
clone. However I didn't understand what arrays were at the time, which resulted in excruciating copypasta, I think each brick on a level was represented by 16 variables (eg. "brick11topleftpos", "brick11color", etc.). It's really a shame that I've lost the source code to that game, it would be comedy gold.
In my teens my obsession programming-wise was anything visual. I mostly wrote visual effects and small games and I started gravitating the demoscene [link]
even if I never worked on any actual demo. I did participate in a couple of "fast comps" on IRC. Which was basically building something for fun on a given topic over a weekend. And I (badly) wrote a custom presentation tool for a demoparty to display the schedule and results of competitions. That earned me my first compensation for work ever, a t-shirt
That was a huge breakthrough for me, knowing that people liked my work enough to compensate it. I still have that shirt somewhere, I think the organizer of that demoparty had no idea how valuable receiving that shirt was to me.
If you don't know demomaking, you should look into it, from a programming standpoint (visual artists and musicians are core to demos as well), I think it's one of the purest forms of programming art. Not that the code itself can be art - that's a given for me, in any context - but in the goal and in the output. Code beauty is also essential in demomaking, as intros aim to be as small as possible. It always takes elegant, beautiful programming techniques to achieve the feats some of these intros do.
I remember first knowing about deviantART through the French demomaking IRC channels where I was hanging out daily. Probably because some of the guys I knew from these IRC channels created K-Jöfol and later joined winamp, and at that time dA was primarily a skinning website. I stayed a lurker for many years and only created an account when I started working here.
Another creative passion of mine throughout the years that stopped a few years ago was 3d modelling. I remember when my brother brought home a pirated copy of 3d studio (not even MAX, I'm talking about the ancient DOS versions), I was hooked in the first hour. As a child I remember putting so much work in making 3D animations for mother's day, my family's birthdays, etc. I guess they're all gone now, which is a sad side-effect of pre-internet digital art with no tangible copy. The disks just got lost over time. Much later I moved to Blender and was quite active in the French Blender community for a couple of years. Then as things come and go, I stopped making 3D and it's been a few years now since I've produced any 3D art.
I studied hands-on software engineering for 2 years in France, but I didn't learn that much since I had been programming as a hobby for years prior to that. Then I decided that pursuing further studies in programming would be a pointless exercise, so I instead went into a Multimedia Systems degree in Edinburgh, Scotland. That course had a lot of product design and usability courses, coupled with hands-on learning of creative tools like illustrator, photoshop, final cut, etc. We produced a lot of creative work in the 2 years I was there, but the focus really wasn't on our artistic abilities, but more on the skills needed to deliver a usable product. It was very interesting and out of all the things I've formally studied, this is what I use most when working here. That knowledge helps me keep $pachunka
My software developer career started in parallel to my studies. My first paid jobs were from rentacoder [link]
I rapidly found a client who wanted more serious work and I ended up writing some Windows freeware products for him. I'm not even sure to this day what his financial interest in commissioning that freeware was, but I got paid anyway. The flagship freeware I built for him was Startup Mechanic [link]
I think last time I checked a few years ago, it had been downloaded over 2 million times. It was basically a utility that listed auto-starting software on Windows and let you toggle them/disable them.
Another interesting product that guy made me build was called MP3 Shield [link]
(I'm amazed it's still online, it's pretty useless nowadays!). Basically around that time the RIAA or a company comissioned by the RIAA had figured out a way to break the hashing used by KaZaA [link]
and a few other MP3 sharing softwares. So what they would do would be to generate a file that had an identical hash to some popular song, except it would just be a bunch of noise. Then they'd connect to KaZaA and seed that file. The end result was that you'd be downloading most of the file from legit users and chunks of it from that poisonous peer. Then when you'd listen to the MP3 you'd get the song, mostly, with chunks of pure noise intertwined. What MP3 Shield did was create a local proxy that would get all the traffic in and out of KaZaA and it would detect that noise and reject the corresponding packets, blacklist the peer, forcing KaZaA to get these parts of the file from another peer. It didn't work 100% of the time but it was very effective and the majority of downloads were clean thanks to it. Anyway, that was my small victory sticking it to the RIAA.
There was an interesting incident regarding the last project I did for that guy. For a period of about 2 months there was a known vulnerability in Internet Explorer and Microsoft didn't give any news on issuing a patch. So I built a patch. I can't remember the specifics, but I recall that the way it hooked into IE was a cool hack I was quite proud of. However my employer, excited that this unofficial IE patch made us reach the front page of slashdot and had major newspapers talking about us, released the source code of my patch in the spirit of transparency. Let's just say that my C++ skills were not as good at that time as they are now... and there was a potential buffer overflow in my code. The backlash from slashdot was brutal. A security patch with a potential security vulnerability in its code, that made us look really stupid. Lesson learned, I knew how to avoid buffer overflows after that!
I had a bit of a break from programming when I studied my multimedia degree, and I took a job for the summer working as a remote sysadmin for Sun Microsystems. The job was good money for a student, so I stuck around and delayed my degree by a semester. I was working on shifts, in retrospect it was a pretty bad job and quite boring, I wish I could have these 6 months of my life back. But it paid for a trip to Japan, my first vacation very far away from home. I went alone, I had only started dating very recently and I didn't know my girlfriend well enough for her to join me. It was a fantastic experience, I could write entire articles about those two weeks. Nowadays I don't enjoy travelling alone anymore, but at the time it was exactly what I needed as a life experience. It's during that trip that I discovered my love for photography. It was just me and my camera, experiencing a radically different culture from a very introspective point of view.
After spending two and half years in Scotland I was craving sunshine and was still in travelling mood, so I moved to Australia for a year. Many of my best memories happened there. While over there I worked for SMS Central, a small company that provided premium SMS services. A secretive industry that I found very interesting to discover from the inside. I worked on writing a highly scalable messaging system in J2EE that was to become the backbone of all the services the company provided. I left before it launched, though, and I'm not sure what happened to the project in the end. Fun times, I learnt a lot. One of my luckiest breaks happened in Australia, I won a photography competition in a backpacking magazine and the prize was a three-week-long vacation around Queensland with my girlfriend. The deal was that I had to take a lot of photos during the trip. The Backpacking Queensland organization still uses the photos from our trip on their website and in their printed communication. I often go back to the memories of that trip when I need to feel better.
After I came back from Australia I was in an entrepreneurial mood. I had decent work experience, it was time I had my big startup idea and became a millionaire or something. Right. Didn't turn out that way, obviously, but in the process I created a photo competition facebook app which later turned into a website: [link]
It's now run by a friend of mine. I worked on that site for a year, and it was a very intense experience. There was some very happy highlights, but I stopped because I couldn't take the constant harassment of some users anymore. It was a community-oriented site and some highly critical users basically bullied me out of wanting to work on it. A handful of them thought they owned it, and acted that way. In retrospect I think the mistake was that I worked on that project alone, which meant that I took agressive criticism towards the website personally and it crushed my spirit. I needed a break, so I stopped adding new features to the site and I took a job at Amazon. I hated working in that department of Amazon because they had no work ethics, so I left very quickly when I realized that the very large dysfunctionality of that department wasn't going to improve since directors were very happy about the way things were. I've since met other people like `crousto
who have worked for Amazon and I know now that these issues aren't widespread in the organization as a whole, I guess I just randomly ended up in the worst part of Amazon.
After rage-quitting that job - I did take the time to explain in very polite terms during a meeting to a guy just under Jeff Bezos why I thought he was a major asshole for running things that way and treating employees so badly - I was back looking for work locally in Luxembourg where I lived at the time. It's a small country, so I wasn't excited by the prospect of working for a small web agency building restaurant websites. Then out of nowhere, `20after4
hit me up on gtalk. I had probably not spoken to him in a year. We knew each other from when we were both writing Facebook apps and I created a banner exchange app for apps, `20after4
's app was providing the largest amount of pageviews to the exchange. Our IM chat that summer went something like:
"Hey dude, are you looking for work?
"Well, it's funny you ask, because YES, I'm actively looking for work right now"
"So you know I work for deviantART, right
"Yeah, I remember seeing you joined them around 6 months ago"
"Do you want to work for dA?
"Well, that's cool and all, but I don't want to relocate to california"
"You don't have to, you can work from home, like I do
Then of course I had actual job interviews over the phone with $randomduck
(maybe I'm forgetting one more person who was there? `jekor
maybe?) and I got the job. Another lucky break, I have stayed with dA longer than any job I've had before, which is obviously a sign that I like it here.
If you've read it all until here, then wow, thank you for taking an interest in my long story