“You’re like a bucking bronco – there is no controlling you!” Mark Malyj (pronounced “Molly”) was a Ukranian born-again Christian with a penchant for reggae and for ruling with an iron fist. He had taken me, his most junior programmer, outside of the low-slung office building that simmered in the humid smog of industrial Bensalem, Pennsylvania, for one of his screaming sessions.
He wasn’t all spittle and bluster, that Mark Malyj. It would take me years to appreciate his discipline and structure, though I embraced Toots and the Maytals right away. We sang quietly in the over-crowded office, our own version of The Rivers of Babylon:
By the rivers of Ben-sa-lam…
In those days when DOS was still king and Windows was an oddity to be booted-up and wondered at – if you had the RAM – user interface design was far from settled. Even within the strictures of an ASCII-only display, there was so much variation in how you interacted with the computer from application to application – learning a new program meant learning a new way of thinking about computing.
When I could wriggle free of Malyj’s grip I would delight in the ultimate act of sedition: refactoring. His copy-and-paste re-use scheme was arbitrary and stifling. Clearly, the minor variations in those endless Foxbase modules belonged in the DBF data structures that it handled so well, not in still another copy of yesterday’s broken code. We were building a data-driven application framework – though we lacked such grandiose terms for what we did in those days – and the code base went from over 100,000 lines of code to a mere 1,500.
Malyj was re-assigned.
I was there for less than a year and made an embarrassingly small amount of money, but I had learned much that would echo through the 15 years since. User interfaces should be dynamic and creative. It is unfortunate when innovation is only possible through insubordination, but it is still fun. Given a powerful enough programming language, anything is possible. Refactor, refactor, refactor.
So if you are in Philadelphia, and you meet a guy named Mark Malyj, tell him Mike Pence is still a bucking bronco. Tell him I said, “Thanks for the reggae.”