Proust Questionnaire and Douche Free Bio

11 Feb 2021

There is an old meme, the Proust Questionnaire. I think it is a familiar meme format to modern internet users, essentially, a list of personal questions which some people (maybe friends or celebrities) have already answered. It is a kind of constrained art, and since the questions are personal, it's a kind of performance (are you interesting? are you creative?), but since the questions are rigidly parallel and some people have already answered them, any answer will invite some sort of comparison, maybe even analysis.

I'm following along with an old tutorial from 2009 (which I have previously attempted) called "16 questions to help you write a douche free bio". It used to be at but it seems to have link-rotted.

How did you arrive at running this business? What path brought you here?

Like most people, I imagine, I stumble through life, following my nose and/or following narrative scripts that I have received through the prevailing culture. The scripts that I have banging around in my skull are mostly regarding wizardry, so I have become a programmer, that being the closest job to wizardry that I have been able to find.

What are you known for professionally? What do you have a knack for?

I am not too sure. I know I have had a broad interest in programming for a long time. There are some tasks or designs, such as bridging from one language to another, or one paradigm to another, that require that sort of breadth and lack of bigotries of one sort or another.

I hope I am, or can eventually become, a "brown-field programmer", specializing in remediation efforts of one sort or another, a specialty that would leverage my breadth and non-bigotry, though it requires more than just that.

What’s the one problem you are best at solving for your clients? What do your ideal clients say about you?

I think if you said we have some code that is important but arguably icky, and we have to some extent lost access to institutional knowledge about how to work with that code - that is, it is "legacy code" - and we need someone to lead a team of juniors in investigating, learning, getting a handle on, and gradually working with that code, to make it more workable, migrating away from it, or making important changes to it, then I would be interested.

My ideal clients say that I can get a grip on anything and cannot be thrown off, that I always leave code cleaner than I found it. They say that junior programmers who work with me for 6 months are braver, stronger, and more knowledgeable, more thoughtful, and less judgemental.

Who have you worked with in the past? And what have you done for them?

I worked at a high-frequency trading startup, I wrote a little wavelet library to help them look for a particular pattern in timeseries. I left when my analysis showed that the pattern they told me to find was not present, and they did not accept my analysis.

I worked at a veterinary instruments company, doing hard-real-time embedded software (Linux, C++, Lua).

I worked at a big cloud company, maintaining a gRPC service that worked something like a firewall - thousands of transactions per second, six nines of availability, though that was mostly not my business.

I worked at an idealistic cloud startup; a lot of my effort there was figuring out that we didn't actually have things that the founders thought or told us that we had, such as safe rollbacks, and figuring out a workaround that would allow new features to be developed at a reasonable pace without impacting the availability of the service as a whole.

Currently I am working for a medium-large cloud-observability company.

What are you most passionate about professionally? What most excites you about your work & the contribution you can make?

I believe in something like human intelligence augmentation, both combining humans with other humans (using tech as a sort of glue), and combining humans with tech. Tools like search engines and spaced repetition systems are clearly effective. We can figure out better ways for experts to cooperate with other experts. We can figure out how to make teams that make the individuals within them stronger, such as Jessica Kerr's idea of Camerata.

What are you passionate about personally? What do you really enjoy? What can’t you stop talking about?

Like many programmers, I love systems, and connections between systems. For example, I am familiar with Bond Graphs, a notation inspired by chemistry for modeling mechatronic power systems. There's a relationship between Bond Graphs and Double-Entry Bookkeeping - to some extent, the financial world can be viewed as a parallel domain to the well-known hydraulic, electrical, and mechanical domains.

Similarly, I am familiar with Petri Nets and Ordinary Differential Equations, and I'm interested in how the one relates to the other - and both relate to Bond Graphs, and financial-domain Bond Graphs in particular.

Where can we find you when you’re not working? What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend or a Sunday afternoon?

I play a lot of video games, and read a lot of fantasy books, and a little science fiction. Occasionally I write blog posts, more or less incoherent, mostly as a thinking process.

How long have you been doing what you do?

I think I took a college C++ class when I was 12 or 14. I graduated college in 2004. I've been programming professionally since 2006.

Where did you grow up and why aren’t you there now?

My parents are (or were, since they have retired) academics, and moved up and down the east coast while I was growing up, searching for tenure. I moved to NYC with my (now) wife for a job.

Any volunteer activities you’re crazy about?

I wish I were volunteering somewhere.

Any nonprofits you love, & why?

No; I feel conflicted about the nonprofits that I donate to, because I think it is so difficult to acquire donations, that there is something like an extreme gravitational pull towards a fixpoint of a nonprofit existing in order to exist, requesting donations in order to fund more requests, endless consciousness-raising.

I feel like it might, maybe, be more reasonable to be a profitable business, and tell a story about who you are and how you work that puts a sword hanging over yourself if it eventually comes out that you were lying. Certainly I attempt to support myself without engaging in bad behavior (which is amazingly difficult) over attempting to make money through bad behavior and then somehow compensate by donating to professional good-doers.

Any awards or medals, or even medallions? Personal okay, too.


What would be impossible for you to give up?

Dreaming - I have felt crushed, as crushed as anyone might desire, but

Why would someone not want to work with you?

I am intolerant of almost any totalizing strategy - so if someone believes, for example, that functional programming should conquer the world of package management, that "uber alles" attitude will poison my interactions with them, even though I broadly agree with that program.

Similarly, I am somewhat intolerant of "transparent to capitalism" teams and behavior. Yes, everyone is trying to get along. Yes, sometimes the best place that someone can find to get work isn't that great. No, we do not sink to that level - we evaluate statements and actions by more than just their anticipated financial consequences. Some virtuous behaviors are unrewarded by capitalism, and some vicious behaviors are rewarded by capitalism. This means that I may not be able to successfully cooperate with some people who think of capitalism's implicit ethics as the only relevant ethics for teamwork.

How do you want to be remembered?

I'm happy to be forgotten. If not forgotten, I hope the future will believe me when I say I'm trying my best.

Anything else you’d like to tell people about yourself?

I love dogs and cats, but I don't have any.