Interview with Ray Lischner

By: Clay Shannon

Abstract: Ray Lischner talks about his books, how he backed into programming, his keyboard deafness, the extent of his multilingualism, C#, his predictions for a post-.NET Borland, and what he's currently working on.

Which of your [Delphi] books are you the most proud of? Which one
took the most time to write?

I am most proud of Delphi in a Nutshell.
Secrets of Delphi 2 took the most time to write.

What projects are you involved in right now, and what do you have
planned for the future?
I recently finished C++ in a Nutshell and am now writing STL Pocket

Where do you live, exactly? If you are not native to that area, where
are you originally from?
I currently live in Corvallis, Oregon.
I grew up in New Jersey.

How did you get started in programming (How were you introduced to
it, when did you realize you wanted to pursue it as a profession)?
I started programming in High School. My school had limited, indirect
access to the school district's mainframe. I taught myself Fortran and
Cobol, the two languages that were available to us. I tried to teach
myself JCL, but failed. No one at the school was able to help me.

I started as a physics major in college, but spent most of my time
writing software, such as data analysis programs for physics labs.
After I spent a summer working for the physics department (writing
code, of course), and after a less-than-stellar term in advanced
physics courses, I switched majors to computer science.

How many years experience do you have as a programmer?
Excuse me, you'll have to type louder. I missed that question.
(I used punch cards in high school. Does that tell you anything?)

What tools did you use prior to Delphi?
Borland C++, VisualWorks (Smalltalk), Emacs.

What languages do you know besides Delphi? Which ones do you
currently utilize?

C, C++, C#, Java, Pascal, Smalltalk, Haskell, Lisp, Fortran, Cobol,
various assembly languages, Perl, AWK, BASH, CSH, a smattering of
Python and Icon, and I've probably forgotten just as many languages,
from disuse.

Because I'm writing about C++, that's what I'm mostly using now.

Would you recommend a career in programming to young people today?
Sure, if that's what the young person wants to do.

If so, what courses would you recommend they take?
Whatever their college or university offers. The local advisors can
provide better advice than I.

What languages/technologies should they key on?
As many as possible. If they are focusing on language or technology,
they are doing themselves a disfavor. They need to learn how to analyze
and solve problems, how to learn new languages and technology, and how
to adapt to a rapidly changing world.

I'm sure they hear that kind of advice all the time, and then in their
first job interview, the interviewer starts peppering them with C++
questions. I'm not saying that the students should not learn the
current technology, but that it's more important to learn the
underlying concepts. Picking up C# in one's spare time, for example,
should be easy.

What project[s] are you currently working on?
Most of my programming these days is in support of my books, but I also
tinker with a variety of tools. I started working on a Quality Central
client, but abandoned it due to lack of time. Maybe I'll try picking it
up again this summer.

What is the name of your business and/or employer?
Tempest Software, Inc.

What is your web site URL?

What was the funniest experience you've ever had related to
programming? What was the most frustrating experience you've ever had related to programming?
Funny and frustrating are often the same thing, from slightly different
points of view.

I once worked for a company that was rewriting its entire product line
in the language du jour. I joined after they made this decision, but
managed to get a copy of the internal memo that sparked the decision.
The memo listed the criteria for judging languages and development
technologies. It listed priorities for which criteria were necessary,
which were desirable, and so on. That part of the memo made sense. The
memo then presented several languages and analyzed them according to
the criteria. One language failed almost all the criteria. Guess which
language they chose. Their choice drove the company to the brink of

It was frustrating to be caught in the middle, but now, looking back, it
was pretty funny.

What do you hope to see from Borland, especially as regards Delphi,
in the future?

I can't wait for Delphi for .NET. I'd rather use Delphi than C#.

Where would you be without Delphi?
I couldn't say.

Where would Delphi be without you?
I shouldn't say.

What effect do you foresee C# and VisualStudio.NET having on Borland
in general and Delphi in particular?

I predict that Borland will produce a good suite of .NET development
tools. I predict that columnists, analysts, and assorted other
riff-raff will predict the demise of Borland in face of the Microsoft
.NET juggernaut. I predict that Borland will continue to sell enough
products to survive and thrive, even if that is a small slice of the
.NET development pie.

I think many Delphi customers will stick with Win32 for the time being.
Microsoft long ago threw away its best reasons for switching from Win32
to .NET, namely, multiplatform support. They need to get Windows back
onto multiple platforms (Opteron, Itanium).

Now, the best reason to switch to .NET is to maintain a common code base
between desktop and mobile applications. I think we will see more and
more development of mobile applications in the future.

How many hours per day do you spend programming/at the computer?
All day.

How much time do you spend on the newsgroups/surfing the web each day?
Not much.

Which programming websites do you have bookmarked?
My bookmarks change according to my current project. I don't have too
many bookmarks. Web sites change too often, and links become stale too
quickly. Instead, I use Google to find what I want, even if that means
searching for the same string every other week.

How do you keep current with your programming skills?
By writing programs (in support of my books) and tinkering with programs
when I find the time.

Which Borland Conferences have you attended?
My first BorCon was Nashville (1997). I've been attending ever since.

Which was the best one, and why?
I couldn't say.

Who do you consider to be the best programmer you know personally, or
know of?

What is a "programmer"? Fastest coder? Code who produces the fewest
bugs? Best software developer? Best software engineer? Define the
position and your criteria for "best" and I'll try to answer the

What is your "claim to fame" outside the realm of programming?
Co-author of Shakespeare for Dummies.

If you weren't a programmer, what do you think you'd be?
I haven't the faintest idea.

If you were given 30 seconds of free television air time, to be broadcast all throughout the earth, and could say anything you wanted, what would it be?
I'd probably say something to the effect of, "Buy my books."

I hope you weren't hoping for a profound message of world peace or some
such rot. I don't have the hubris to believe that anything I could say
in 30 seconds would have any impact on the the viewers, even if the
entire population of the planet were watching.

What is your favorite programming book?
Structured Programming, by Dahl, Dijkstra, and Hoare.

What is your favorite non-programming book?
Shakespeare's First Folio

What is your favorite movie?
Shakespeare in Love

What is your favorite musician or musical group?

This interview took place via email May 2003

Clay Shannon is a Borland and PDA-certified Delphi 5 developer and the author of "Tomes of Delphi: Developer's Guide to Troubleshooting" (Wordware, 2001) as well as the novel he claims is the strangest one ever written, "the Wacky Misadventures of Warble McGorkle" (see for more information on the 4 Novels application, which contains this and three other novels he has penned).

You can find out more about Clay at:
You can look into Clay's shareware and determine his current availability at:
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