Sacha Chua Chats With Bastien Guerry

For those of you who aren't familiar with Org Mode, here's a bit of the back story. Carsten Dominik, an astronomer, originally wrote Org Mode as a small extension to outline-mode to help with his note taking and list management but along the way it grew into a Swiss Army Knife. Eventually, Dominik wanted to spend more time on his research so the maintenance fell to Bastien Guerry who managed development until recently when he turned it back over to Dominik.

As part of her series of chats with Emacs luminaries, Sacha Chua had an interesting discussion with Guerry. I had always assumed that Guerry was also a scientist and an experienced hacker but it turns out that he's actually a philosopher who is very modest about his programming skills and claims that Emacs Lisp is the only language he really knows. As with all of Chua's chats, this one is interesting and engaging.

One of the things I really like is how “an ordinary guy1” was able to learn Elisp and take over development of a very complex Emacs package. It shows, again, that Emacs isn't just for programmers; everyone can participate and benefit.

The talk is a little over 50 minutes so plan accordingly. But do plan to take a look. It's an interesting chat and you'll probably learn a bit about the history of Org Mode.


1 By which I mean not a programmer or someone trained in what we now call the STEM fields. Guerry is hardly ordinary in his accomplishments or contributions to Emacs and Org Mode.

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  • Very interesting comments. (I heard the chat - or should I say "interview"? - some time ago already.) I'm just wondering, what are the exact reasons for the possibility you write about: that a non-professional programmer could actually become (at least for a considerable amount of time) the main developer of such a large project. Elisp being a Lisp - that is, at its core a simple language (I think it is fair to say that, though I'm not a programmer, either - but Lisp's syntax is almost the simplest theoretically possible, though Elisp is obviously much more complex, which is reflected e.g. in its data types or built-in (I mean, written in C) functions) is certainly helping here; but I would guess (with the emphasis on "guess"!) that Org-mode is itself not /that/ complicated - after all, it's all written in one language, in one environment, so this might be another factor (and another argument for writing applications in Emacs!); finally, the great quality of the community might also play a role here.

    That said, don't understand me wrong. I am really very, very impressed by the work of both Dominik and Bastien. Saying that Org-mode is not /that/ complicated does /not/ mean it's simple, and the sheer number of lines of code is /intimidating/, not to mention the number of Emacs concepts used here (I remember my fighting with overlays some time ago, for instance). I myself would probably not be able even to comprehend such a large system, not to mention maintaining it...

    Now having written that, I recall people being excited about the simplicity of extending Emacs: you can start with small, simple functions, which are not stupid textbook examples, but actually work and are useful, and gradually work your way through to more and more complex things. Maybe this low barrier to entry is also some factor.

    And, as a beginner Emacs user and someone who tries to do some Elisp, too, I also love Sacha Chua's chats - especially this one - and I'm waiting for the next one.

  • Thanks for the post. Haven't seen it before.