I’m Learning to Code. Blame that Homeless Guy


Leo Grand, computer programming ex-homeless dude. Photo: New York Newsday.

I’m learning to code.

Blame this guy. His name is Leo Grand. Until recently he was on the street. Then guy walked up to him and offered him  a choice between $100 and a laptop and coding lessons. He chose the latter.

Let’s be clear. As homeless go, this guy was a model citizen. Until about two years ago, he was a MetLife agent in Manhattan. Then he lost his job, and soon afterwards, his apartment. In other words, life happened to him. Hard. But the thing about being homeless in America is, it really doesn’t matter what you did before you got there. The streets wipe the slate clean. Homeless is homeless.

This is what Leo said about it in an interview in the New York Post.

It’s really hard to convince people that you are not a bad person, or a drug addict or a crazy. How are you gonna do that when you are homeless, and that’s how the homeless are depicted.

He was tutored every morning at 8am by Patrick McConlogue. He practiced throughout the day, clocking three or four hours writing code and studying. “What else am I going to do?” He asked. And now he’s got an app called Trees for Cars. It’s available for iPad, iPhone and Android. You should check it out.

He’s probably not homeless anymore. If he is still unemployed, I suspect it’s because he wants to build his own thing.

It’s not just him. Two weeks ago My Facebook feed hit critical coding mass. Between this guy and the Year of Code initiatives, and the Code Academy…All of those short videos of rich and famous champions of nerdliness… I’m surprised I’ve resisted for as long as I have.

So I’m learning to code.

You should know I don’t like programming.

Remember Basic? I do. I can make my name fill up the screen from top to bottom, or left to right, or even diagnal. I took a course in Basic in High School back in 1988.

If Basic is capable of doing more than making your name print out over and over, I must have slept through that. I wanted it to. I wanted to make a video game with little x’s and o’s having a street fight like that movie, “The Warriors”. It was going to be “sandbox” back when sandboxes were things that you had in your back yard.

Basic wasn’t a total loss. If you need anyone to make your name print out over and over again, for either business or personal reasons, you can send me and email and I will quote you a fair price.

Yeah. High school basic in a classroom with no computers. Because, why the hell would you want those big heavy computers in a computer class?

In college I took one of those classes that scratches the surface of about a dozen different computer disciplines. The class was hot and dry like a toaster oven. The professor was obsessed with a book called, “The Cookoo’s Egg.” I remember the soft, languid pull of slumber. That place was the educational equivilent of a thick, warm comforter on a cold winter day. I slept. A lot.

Journalism Camp at Kent State in Ohio. Some guy from the Cleveland Plain Dealer comes in and tells us how we need to get a firm grasp on technology because new media was going to be a game changer. This was 1993, I think. I was like, “Psshyeah right…” Yawn.

Later I was working at the Philadelphia Art Museum. My manager says to me, “Have you heard about this new thing called blogging? You can write about whatever you want…” He had a blog, and he wasn’t even a writer.

And I said to myself, “He has a blog, and he isn’t even a writer!” Which, according to my rapier quick reasoning, meant that blogging was for people who couldn’t write. Hmmmm.

Those guys were technological harbingers. They tried to warn me. I blew them off.
Not this time. I get it. There may not be another time for me to actually be an early adapter.

But I don’t like programming.

But I like communicating. and the writing game is changing so quickly that I can hardly keep up with it. Coding is going to catapault me to that sweet spot in front of the eightball. Besides, I like feeding my children. Like, every night. And if Ruby will help me put those fish and grits on the dining room table, then I’m down.

But I don’t like programming… only, I used to. When I was a kid, science was my thing. I was sure that I would attend MIT and invent things. (MIT)

Elon Musk? His whole life was my idea. Electric cars and trains that go in vacuum tubes? I thought of that in the 80’s.

There was a time when I thought that computers would crack open the sky like Thor’s hammer, and bestow my generation with riches untold. And they did; only, I was too busy acting totally unimpressed and meh to appreciate how excited my world had become.

So I’ve bookmarked tutorials on Ruby and HTML/CSS, and I’m studying. I’m going to learn to code. Trust me.