While It’s Compiling: Skills Matter interviews Robert Pickering

Robert Pickering speaking at the Functional Programming eXchange

While It’s Compiling is a new series of interviews with experts across a range of bleeding-edge technologies and practices, exclusive to Skills Matter. Be sure to subscribe to this blog for future interviews, or follow us on Twitter.

Find out who we’ll be interviewing next, and get a chance to put your questions forward with the hashtag #whileitscompiling.

This week we caught up with Robert Pickering – an experienced software engineer, community leader and author of Beginning F# (Apress), as well as the programme lead on the upcoming  Functional Programming eXchange.


1. What attracted you to Functional languages in the first place?

When I was at university – quite a while ago now – we learned a lot of FP. I liked it, but found the language at the time lacked the libraries they needed to get useful stuff done. I moved on from that when I started working and ended up mainly working with the pre-.NET Microsoft platform and forgot about FP.

When .NET came out it seemed like a natural move for me to get into that. I like the idea of a multi-language platform, but I was disappointed with what C# and VB.NET were offering, especially in their first version. They didn’t offer many interesting features, so I started to look around for other language targeting .NET and found F# when it was in its early pre-release versions. This reignited my interest in FP and the rest just flowed from there.

2. What are you working on?

I’m currently a software engineer at RFQ-hub, a small software house based in Paris. We sell software for managing requests for quotes for the purchase of equity derivative products. It’s a fun place to work.

3. Do you work solely Functional Programming languages, or do the projects you work on have some FP code and some OO/Procedure code? If so how does that fit together?

When I arrived the code base was entirely on C#. I’ve slowly started to slip some F# into the code based. It’s been quite easy to do, since the integration between C# and F# works so smoothly. There’s no intention rewrite the whole thing in F#, but we now look at using F# wherever it might be appropriate, especially for simplifying complex domain logic. Since I started a few friends have joined the company who are also interested in FP, so that’s helped too.

4. What is one piece of advice you can give to new programmers?

Try lots of things and see what works for you. Programmers can often get specialized quite quickly but I’ve often found in programming having knowledge that covers a large breadth of topics is often very useful. It’s often the case that things that seem quite simple on the surface often turn out to be quite complex once you start digging into the topic. Sometimes you need to accept the simple explanation and get on with things, but if you have time, start to dig a bit.

5. What would you like to ask the community?

I often feel a little jealous when I visit London as the programming community is bigger and more diverse than here in Paris. So, if anyone is interested in coming and visiting Paris to give a talk at user group, let me know; it shouldn’t be a problem to set something up!

Robert is the programme lead for the Functional Programming eXchange and will be there alongside John Hughes, Kevin Hammond, Philip Wadler and many more experts on the 14th March 2014. Find out more information and book your ticket now on the Skills Matter website.

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Don’t forget, you can join the conversation using the hashtag #whileitscompiling or following us on Twitter.

What do you think? Is the London programming community really bigger and more diverse than Paris? Leave us a comment below!

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