By Bob Rhubart
How has a degree in linguistics from University of California San Diego helped Gail Anderson in her successful career as a specialist in Java, C++, C, Python, Perl, and various other technologies?
“You would think that it would be more helpful than it really was,” Anderson says. “Linguistics is the study of human languages, but certainly some of the things apply to artificial languages as well. But I don’t see a really strong influence.”
Although any direct influence on her work may be fuzzy, it was linguistics that brought Anderson to University of California San Diego, where she signed up for a computer programming class in an effort to explore interests beyond her selected major.
The class Anderson took focused on ALGOL, and this was at a time when programming was still very new, as Anderson explains, before gaming technology and smart devices. “Programming was mostly done in scientific and math circles. I enjoyed my math classes, but I was a linguistics major and I was more interested in human learning and in languages. I found computer programming interesting to do, but I didn’t have a good feel for how I would apply it. I learned more of that later when I used it more.”
That opportunity came with her first job, running the on-campus UNIX machine at the computer center at UC Santa Barbara. “The thing that has stayed with me from that experience is how pervasive that technology remains today. They came up with the idea of pipes. You have commands that would do one thing, but they were written in a way that they could get their input from the output of preceding commands. And you could string these commands together in very unique ways without knowing ahead of time how they would be strung together, just that they could be strung together.”
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Anderson sees similarities in today’s Java streams. “Core streams work with language, and pipes were an OS feature. But I marvel today when people talk about ‘open your terminal window.’ Whether you’re on a Mac or a Red Hat or Bluetooth system, you’re using a flavor of UNIX with the command-line shell. That’s old technology, but it still persists.”
These days Anderson and her husband, Paul, a fellow Groundbreaker Ambassador and Java Champion, stay busy sharing their expertise through training classes under the auspices of their company, Anderson Software Group; through copresenting at Oracle Code One, Devoxx, and similar conferences around the world; and through a series of books on which they have collaborated, including JavaFX Rich Client Programming on the NetBeans Platform (Addison-Wesley, 2015).
Anderson attributes her success to the many people she has encountered along the way. “When Paul and I started talking at conferences, we started meeting other people, and that was very helpful to us.” She singles out Geertjan Wielenga, senior principal product manager for Oracle Developer Tools, and JClarity CTO, Kodewerk LTD principal consultant, and fellow Groundbreaker Ambassador and Java Champion Kirk Pepperdine as having been instrumental in introducing the Andersons to the Java community. She is passionate about paying it forward through efforts such as the 2018 JCrete4Kids event.
“That was one of the most rewarding experiences, working with 9-, 10-, 11- year-old girls and seeing them excitedly complete a programming assignment. It made me realize that girls are just as interested in computers as boys.” The experience was a reminder that women are underrepresented in computer science. “Working with these girls made me happy to encourage girls to enter computer science.”
Anderson’s passion for translating her skills and knowledge into opportunities for others is a defining characteristic of her career. That’s language we can all understand.
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Photography by Raffi Alexander