June 23, 2005
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I attended the 2005 International Lisp Conference at Stanford, and presented a paper (abstract; the whole thing) on our work at NASA on using Lisp as the substrate of our autonomy software, Apex. I was surprised that the conference lasted for four days. But it made more sense once I arrived: I think people who like Lisp feel somewhat embattled, and this conference is an opportunity to lick wounds and recuperate and not feel the need to justify the use of a nearly 50-year old language. Speaking as an amateur sociologist, I noticed the following groups:
- The Old Guard and Pioneers. The premiere pioneer was John McCarthy himself, the inventor of Lisp. But there were a number of people who have used Lisp for decades.
- The Ex-Lispers. These are people who are use to use Lisp, maybe even love Lisp, but don’t use it anymore. For some reason, several of these folks were plenary speakers. The premier example here is Richard Gabriel.
- The Young Turks. There is definitely a new generation of younger programmers who love Lisp, and want to see it succeed. Some of them use Lisp on the job; some don’t. Many have weblogs. I could be wrong, but not many of these folks were giving papers. Good example: Peter Seibel, author of a new Lisp book, Practical Common Lisp.
- The Corporate Reps. Franz Inc. was well-represented at the conference; there was only on LispWorks employee attending. In the talks I attended, Franz’s Allegro Common Lisp was the most frequently used implementation.
- The Wispers. These are folks who like Lisp, but really don’t do much with it, but generally wish they could. ILC 2005 was basically a vacation for them.
- The Academes. These are people who are using Lisp to create software in academic and research settings; or who are Lisp theorists. Some of these are Old Guard, of course. Will Clinger, who talked about Common Larceny, comes to mind. And yours truly, of course. Plus several Europeans.
- The Yeomen. These were people who use Lisp to write large-scale projects used by thousands or even millions of people, or that have a significant, or even huge, impact on the world. Unfortunately, there
wasn’t anyone weren’t many like this.
The other sociological observation: not counting Franz employees, there was only one woman attendee.