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?
Junior year in college (1992) (Switch Date 1990s) I decided to write an interative prisoner's dilemma simulation for a course I was taking on the biological roots of human nature. I learned enough Lisp (using XLISP-STAT since it was free-as-in-beer on the Mac) over Thanksgiving break to hurt myself. Because I didn't understand what the heck I was doing, my program consed like crazy and used append everywhere. Consequently I ended up need to hijack my girlfriend's SE/30 to write the paper while my SE/30 cranked away for a couple days generating results. Later I showed the program to my dad who was aghast and told me he could probably have made it run at least 10 times faster. Which was probably a gross underestimate. I learned an important lesson there about needing to understand what is going on under the covers even when using a high-level language.
What led you to try Lisp?
My Dad was a Lisp hacker in the 80's first at Merck (who sent him to training offered by Symbolics) and later at Bolt Beranek & Newman so he tried to get me to learn it at some point while I was in high-school. I was even--following my parents' lead--a childhood shareholder in Symbolics.
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?
Well, I've been trying to get back to Lisp ever since I left college and stumbled into programming as a career. My Dad had convinced my that Lisp was the bee's knees so when I ended up at Mother Jones magazine and fell into working on their web site after complaining about some feature or another, I asked my boss if I could do it in Lisp. He didn't know anything about Lisp so he wasn't crazy about the idea but since I was a basically unpaid intern, he didn't have the heart to flat out say no. Unfortunately I didn't really know Lisp that well, let alone how one went about using it to replace NCSA's web server and CGI scripts, so I didn't get very far with that and instead became a pretty expert Perl programmer. From there I bounced to an early web shop (Organic Online) and onto WebLogic where I became a Java programmer. Another startup's worth of Java later I had had enough and quit my job with no more of a plan than to finally learn Common Lisp for real. (Switch Date 2003)
How far have you gotten in your study of Lisp? (I know, that is hard to measure)
I've been working on a book about Common Lisp (for Apress) for a few months so I'm developing a pretty good theoretical understanding of most of the language's features. But I realize that I haven't written nearly enough serious software in Common Lisp to speak it natively. Which I'm working to rectify as fast as possible while working on the book.
What do you think of Lisp so far?
I'm continually amazed by how many things the language's designers got right. Macros, of course, are the gigantic, huge, unbeatable advantage. But all the other things that they got right add up too. For example, built in bignums, characters not being some demented kind of integer, everything being an object. The condition system is also particularly cool.