When did you first try Lisp (meaning here and throughout the survey "any member of the Lisp family") seriously, and which Lisp family member was it?
Fall 2002. I started using trial versions of LispWorks and ACL, but I hated various clunky aspects of the IDEs. As a result, I've switched to Emacs & CLISP.
Switch Date 2002
What led you to try Lisp?
All of the Lisp articles on Paul Graham's website, but especially "Beating the Averages", where he makes the comment that he didn't expect anyone over the age of 25 would try Lisp. That just made me mad (... I'm 30 years old ...) so I guess it irritated me into trying the language. I had owned Paul's book "ANSI Common Lisp" for 4 years, but I had found it too terse for my liking. I ended up latching on to Winston and Horn's book and also Peter Norvig's "Principles of Artificial Intelligence Programming" which did a much better job of explaining Lisp to me.
If you were trying Lisp out of unhappiness with another language, what was that other language and what did you not like about it, or what were you hoping to find different in Lisp?
I program almost exclusively in C++ at work, and so most of my expertise centered on Windows programming, templates, STL, etc. What I noticed is that the trend in the C++ world was toward increasing use of templates (epitomized by the book "Modern C++ Design"). While this was hailed as a groundbreaking book, I saw it more as a disaster. I found myself wanting to create simpler, elegant solutions to problems.
About the same time, I stumbled across Peter Norvig's Lisp solution (on his website) to a programming challenge by Erann Gat. I was convinced I could at least come close to the same productivity as Peter using C++. I was seriously mistaken. You can see the results for yourself here.
How far have you gotten in your study of Lisp? (I know, that is hard to measure)
I've made it halfway through Paul Graham's book, 3/4 of the way through Winston and Horn, and skipped around in PAIP looking at what interests me. I'm quite sure I have a long way to go.
I guess what I found interesting is that the coverage on certain aspects of Lisp seems to be haphazard. For instance, exception handling. I find this to be essential for correctly handling user input in Lisp, but I had to go online and look at Steele to figure this out.
What do you think of Lisp so far?
I think it's far beyond most any other language as far as features, but I still have issues with its readability and the ability to easily debug it. I think it also needs a good standard library.
Lisp's huge positives are the ability to compile it for speed, its consistency and regularity, its optional static typing, its support for functional programming, and the fact that the designers seemed to think of every possible way in which you'd want to use a keyword.
For me, I use Python to fill the bill on the things where Lisp is lacking, but Lisp still has the definite edge on the power curve. I think the clue for me is that I still find myself saying, "Why didn't they do this like Lisp?"