Joe the teacher

When I was a student at Stockholm University I was fortunate enough to have had Joe Armstrong teaching the parallel and distributed systems course. Joe was a great teacher and wonderful character.

I have a vivid memory of one of the lectures where Joe came in, waited until everyone was in the lecture hall and started the lecture with throwing his hands up in the air exclaiming “I HATE JAVASCRIPT!”, he had apparently stayed up hacking on something that required javascript and he did not like it. After five to ten minutes of explaining why javascript was bad the lecture continued in ordinary fashion (at least ordinary for Joe).

Although the lectures sometimes would veer of course for some interesting tangent like the best way to learn how something works (implement it), and how to become a better programmer (one way is to just grab a RFC and yes, implement it, preferably with Erlang which of course makes it easy with binary pattern matching).

Joe as a teacher was able to impart the fun of being a programmer. The fun of just doing stuff to learn.

Another of my favorite memories of Joe was when he got me into the Erlang User Conference. Since I’d shown some interest he thought that I should go and asked me to email him when the conference was near. The course ended and just as he said I emailed him and he got me in. We didn’t interact much after the course I had with him. I met him one or two years after university at an erlang meetup where he was going to present the beginnings of the sonic pi stuff he did with Sam Aaron. Enthusiastic as ever about this new project.

To me, Joe was the model hacker. He was curious and wanted to know stuff. He always seemed to be hacking on something new and was eager to tell anyone who wanted to know. I had the great fortune to get to know Joe somewhat during a period of time and learn from him. I’ll cherish my memories and interactions with and of Joe, I learned a lot from him and I will miss him greatly.