Nerds FC Star Trent Apted discusses soccer and coding

Nerds FC star goal keeper, Trent Apted, takes some time out to tell Computerworld about the geekier side of his life. He discusses his PhD project which is exploring the potential of the "tabletop interface" as a platform for formal and informal face-to-face collaboration, multimedia display and exchange, information visualization and entertainment. He also discusses the highs and lows in the life of a programmer and gives his position on the Java versus C++ and open source versus closed source wars.

Will you continue to play soccer once Nerds FC and the World Cup is over? And why will you make that decision?

Hmm. My broken finger still hasn't fully healed, so I would probably steer clear of goal keeping. Plus, I'm really not a fan of running, so I'm leaning towards no. But, I might be willing to give futsal/indoor soccer a try.

When did your interest in technology start? Can you recall your first foray as a child into the world of technology?

I'm probably too young to reminisce about these things, but I certainly remember my first computer -- an Apple //c with one of those glowing green-on-green phosphor monitors. I would have been about five years old when we got it and I even had a crack at some BASIC programming (when I wasn't playing Montezuma's Revenge or Taipan). And we're not just talking moving turtles around -- I remember having to prefix my string variables with dollar signs and things like that. Six years later, we finally upgraded to a 486, while my school still had a Microbee lab (and my turtle ran hexagons around everyone else in the class).

Where do you see yourself, career-wise, in 10 years time?

Ideally, I would like to develop a product myself, market it and have my own software business right around the 10-years-from-now point. However, in reality, I will probably be a code monkey for a few years, or be in research, and either (a) won't have any time to develop this product, or (b) wind up developing it for someone else and making them rich instead.

Will you stay and work in Australia, or are you likely to go abroad?

At this point, it seems very likely I'll be looking overseas for my first placement after my PhD. Either as a postdoc, an intern or in some large company. However, I know that I will always want to live in Australia (it really can't be beat for livability), so I would expect to come back at some point. Maybe when I'm rich.

About how many hours of a 24-hour day are you programming? And how many hours would you be thinking about/dreaming about programming?

Yeah, those programming dreams are scary things -- all those lines of code just waiting to be re-indented and fall out from underneath your feet or slam into your face (those angle brackets are sharp, by the way, watch out for template instantiations). However, the dreams are rare and will only come after marathon programming efforts during the day -- like 16 hours straight.

On average, though, programming/debugging accounts for only about four hours a day for me, and probably less in the long run (like when my thesis is due). The rest of the time is spent reading and writing research papers and technical reports, tutoring and marking, setting up and giving demonstrations, running experiments (and getting the ethics approved for them), and other documentation or admin work, dubbed 'meta-research'. But, of course, all that just leads to more programming (yes, I write programs to help me mark things) so I guess it all counts as 'thinking about programming'. Plus all the times I lose sleep thinking about some algorithm I should write. Scary stuff.

Can you see any parallels between soccer and programming?

The teams in the 2006 Robocup grand final will certainly tell you "yes", and they are both Australian this year, so at least we're guaranteed one Cup making it's way over from Germany. But at a more abstract level, let's see... a goal keeper and 10 players trying to pass a bit of leather between them and passsed an opposing 10 players and their goal keeper into a "net".

OK, I'm struggling with the leather, but passing bits around and into a Net sounds kinda like BitTorrent, but that's a weak parallel. Let's try the other way: we have fields, trys, catches and blocks -- sounds more like Rugby to me (soccer is played on a 'pitch').

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