In the world of Delphi, Alister Christie needs no introduction. He is the author of the legendary “Code Faster in Delphi”, and the creator of hundreds of videos that showed many of today’s Delphi developers around the world how to program and accomplish things with Delphi.
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Download Code Faster in Delphi for free here
Alister also has an upcoming book, “Code Better in Delphi”, scheduled to hit bookstores soon.
In the video at the base of this post, Alister has a conversation with Serge Pilko, an equally accomplished Embarcadero MVP and founder of Softacom, a world leading Delphi software development services and software solutions provider.
Serge interviews Alister about his career beginnings and first contact with Delphi, and discovers how Alister became a household name among Delphi fans with his educational books and videos through LearnDelphi.tv
In this first of a three-part blog series we have published the first part of Alister’s interview with Serge. The next two parts of the interview will be published in the coming weeks as we approach Delphi’s 27th anniversary.
To watch the entire video of Serge’s Pilko’s conversation with Alister, scroll to the base of this post.
Alister Christie And Serge Pilko Talk Delphi, Part 1 of 3
Serge Pilko Hello everyone. Today I have a guest, Alister Christie. I think you know this guy, because if you are a Delphi developer, for sure you saw his short and very useful videos about Delphi development. Hi Alister..
Alister Christie Hi…
Serge Just a couple of words about today’s… let’s say event. In this media we are talking to Alister, as I already said a developer and Embarcadero MVP. Let’s say that today it will be an MVP-to-MVP talk. And of course, Allister is Embarcadero MVP, tutor and speaker on different events about Delphi. And of course he has his famous YouTube channel. I think it’s one of the leading places where developers can watch and get different useful information for them. And of course, learn Delphi programming and development. In this video we are not going to discuss deep tech stuff because we don’t have the time and this is not the goal of this video. In this video we’ll discuss our and Allister’s professional way and where he’s getting his passion, how he’s creating his videos. How is it? Because I think it’s very interesting for our audience. Is it okay for you Allister?
Alister Absolutely, yeah.
Serge So in this case, my first question to you before we start our plan is “how do you think, where is Delphi today? What do you think? What’s the future? What’s the current status, and do you have any thoughts about this?
Alister I think things are looking pretty good for Delphi at the moment. I was a bit worried initially when Idera first acquired Embarcadero, they seem to make some pretty fast decisions on, you know, what staff they wanted to keep and that kind of stuff. And what have you. But I think they’ve kind of realized that Delphi’s pretty good and are putting investment in R and D and all that kind of stuff into it now, which is, is that all very positive? So I think, yeah, in terms of the health of Delphi it’s pretty good. Yeah, a few people have problems….
Serge You felt this moment when Idera acquired Embarcadero, because yes, it was a long way from Borland to inspire what was next…
Alister Yes, yeah, Delphi was languishing a bit with Borland. They weren’t providing enough resources for, you know, for R and D to go ahead and you got releases like Delphi 8, which was poor, no one used. Delphi 2005 was better, but it still was bad. And then of course the spin-out into Codegear…
Serge Delphi’s still for desktop, or because they tried to go to web of course, to Backoffice, but again like web solutions and of course to mobile and cross-platform development?
Alister Yeah. I don’t think Delphi is really a very good choice for doing web development directly, certainly doing… if you want to do REST services and things like that, it does that pretty well. It goes mobile, it does very well. Now having the, you know, write once and run on Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, and Android, there’s a huge, huge advantage over most, most platforms, which is, you know, you end up writing different applications, there’s this not going to share too much between them. And weird situations I’ve heard of, Android teams and iOS teams and they end up competing with each other and not cooperating on the same project effectively.
But with Delphi it’s all one project and you can share pretty much all the code. The downside is that with Embarcadero marketing, they say it’s native, but technically it’s native CPU wise, not development wise. So it’s not, in some ways it’s not a first class citizen of any… FireMonkey’s works well enough that for its few shortcomings, the advantage of working across platforms is enormous, and a single developer can achieve what a team of five people or 10 people do.
So if you’re doing… the standard, you have whatever you’re doing for iOS and Android Studio, and then Visual Studio if you’re doing a Windows version, all these skills, you have to be a brilliant person to be able to master all these IDEs, or you have a team of people working on each of these projects rather than just a single project.
I think in that respect Delphi’s pretty good. I’ve done a little bit of FireMonkey development, a bit of Android stuff, but certainly not, probably not enough to give a really strong opinion on how easy it is to do the cross-platform development, but certainly being able to develop on Windows and then run it on Android… Building for Android, this is a painful process and you end up… it might take a couple of minutes to build a project, whereas it takes two seconds to compile 15,000 lines of code for a Win32 app. And so I think that the development cycle makes a big difference in productivity. The ability to test things so quickly.
Serge We do have commercial experience with cross platform development in Delphi.
Allister Yeah, I’ve done some Android work with Delphi, a small real estate application, which
Serge Only Android, or iOS also?
Alister I didn’t do the iOS version. We really only did the Android one. I’ve done some other bits and pieces. I did a little application that you could use to send mass calls to an Android device, send text messages or make phone calls so that you could use your phone and do mass mailing of text messages and things like that through a phone, and it kind of had the advantage that when someone responded you’d get all history there as well. So it’s all on the phone. And that was sort of a real estate type application. You’d use that to remind people of the auction or if it’s closing or anything.
Serge That’s great. And we are glad that we started from such positive words, what I said, propose to go back to basics. I think our audience will be interested because when Delphi developers start discussing something they start with “when did you start using Delphi, what’s what, why you did, why did you start?” What is your story?
Alister You know, I have a degree in mathematics and computer science from a university here in New Zealand. I live in New Zealand.
Serge Wen was it? Are you checking your diplomas? (laughter)
Alister I graduated in 1998 with a degree in mathematics and computer science.
Serge But I think it was Delphi 3 or 5…
Alister Yeah, that’d be 3. That’d be 3 that was the first vision Delphia I used. But prior to that, I used Turbo Pascal 5.5 on an 8Mhz 286. Going back, might’ve been a 60 megabit machine at that stage. I can’t remember. It’s quite a long time ago. And yeah at university I would use Pascal on these horrible Macs and Mac Minis that were… in the first year. That was interesting.
Serge What was your first application? It wasn’t like a calculator or text editor or…
Alister The first thing was little games and things like that. Built a game with some friends, just random things. Nothing, nothing very sophisticated.
Serge I started from drawing the clock, like calculating the position of the arrows and numbers and so on. But of course, calculator and text editor, for sure. But I remember, I remember Delphi had like demo project text editors. I remember. And we just got it and somehow improved it. It was also at my university.
Alister Yeah. My mind, my first, first learning of programming, really. I’d done some kind of Basic and copied the machine code out of a PC magazine to do little applications and then stuff like that for DOS. But yeah. But we didn’t really learn how to program properly until university.
Serge At university you made the decision to be a software developer, or it was like 50-50? Maybe you planned to go to another domain. And then a specialization.
Alister I wasn’t sure. I did a lot of mathematics, so there was the possibility of me becoming a mathematician, but I think I was too lazy for that.
Serge But mathematics, in which area? Statistics, or something like…
Alister Discrete mathematics. I started doing postgraduate studies, an honors degree, and it’s papers and number theory and graph theory and some discrete math type things, which is really good. I quite enjoyed that. But I’ve never used any of that mathematics.
Serge Of course. Mathematicians can use their knowledge right now only in different artificial intelligence tasks in this case. Anyway, when they’re developing all these frameworks, because, you know, I am a developer who can just take an existing framework and, and I don’t know what’s under the hood, how it works at all. But how to build this library of framework, it’s like I should go on a mathematical task. It’s impossible to develop such tasks without this education from universities.
Alister Yeah. Some of those AI-type things you do need quite advanced mathematical frameworks and knowledge, and neural networks, well beyond me. I did a video recently, my last video on Deepstack, which is a platform that you just download it and it’s in image recognition. So that’s facial recognition. Also, I use it in conjunction with security cameras I’ve got around the house, to recognize something as a person or a car. But, you know, my first application where you have a little text application, gets a number between one and 10 kind of thing. And these days people are, you know, their first test applications are image recognition stuff. It’s always these huge libraries that they can take advantage of, that they just link up with an image to some web service and get back. Yeah. What’s in it, you know, theme recognition, you know, it’s a beach or it’s a picture of a house or whatever.
Serge Do you believe in Singularity, when we will have a situation when we forgot as a basic… because we will know how to use all these cloud services, but how are they built, these services…?
Alister Yeah, what happens if civilization gets reset, is kind of the analogy there, you know, if you went back 200 years, would you be able to survive? And in my case, probably not. I mean, I’ve got more knowledge about farming and stuff like that than most people, because I live in a lifestyle block, which is like a small farm. These days, it’s hard to cope without having a cell phone on you all the time to be able to look up basic facts and figures. How to get somewhere, Google navigation and things like that. So I think with sufficient training, I could go back and write machine code or, you know, write stuff in binary and understand how to build basic programs, but I don’t think I’d do it very well.
Serge Do you remember, how did you jump from the university to your first working place? Did your teacher suggest to you some position? How did it happen?
Alister So basically the holiday work I was working on, I was needed for… just helping out with stuff at this place and I had to develop real estate software. And eventually I started working on a project.
Serge At which time, what project was it? Was it with Delphi? In 1998?
Alister It was written in Delphi. It was in 1988, I think, in 1999. It would have been ‘98, possibly ‘97. Going back, so it was Delphi 3. I think Delphi 3 was reasonably new at that stage, whenever that was, and this real estate application, I’m still working on it from time to time, it’s now Delphi 11.
Serge Again, classical office application, desktop office application, where some clerks can perform some operations for real estate objects, like apartments, or reports and so on?
Alister Yeah doing some sort of content, you know, customer relationship management and doing all the back office stuff, accounting and, and making sure people like the salespeople get paid the appropriate amounts and that kind of thing.
Serge I remember it was such a revolution with Delphi because did you try, do you remember Visual Studio? 6.0 or 6.1 when it was so complicated to create some UI, some application with rich UI? This is why Delphi was…
Alister Yeah. That’s before my time. I do remember buying a book on Win32 programming and just to get a window on the screen you had to write like pages of code to write “hello world”, whereas with Delphi, that was basically one line of code you needed to write, versus drag and drop.
It wasn’t really out of the revolution at the university that Delphi came out, I think. I had a friend who worked with it, and he was doing stuff for us. And I remember the term for him tables weren’t fast enough to write his own B-tree permutation, but that would have been on 486s back in the day, and the power of computers has gotten quite a lot better since then.
Serge I think it starts like okay, let’s start at this commercial development. But did you drop this year? Because I… if you’re a PhD you have a scientific life, I guess, did you drop that year? Or you can work in parallel?
Alister No, I pretty much gave up on the academic side of things.
Serge You have this trait, I think, because you can see that you have this mission, your personal mission, like the educational part, because maybe you’ll fail. Because I have something like… I feel I have to somehow share my knowledge with everybody. You started commercial development, but you also have in the head some ideas about the educational parts… What was the goal you wanted to…?
Alister How that came about is, I think we got a very old version of Camtasia. I think I had Invision 2 or something like that for doing training videos for the real estate software. And I used that to make some, you know, Delphi training videos back in probably 2006. It was with Delphi 2006. So it was way back then. So it’s just kind of going back. And just before this meeting through some of my early posts, the first ones were in 2007, but I think they might have actually… YouTube didn’t really exist when I started making videos…
Serge Where did you publish then?
Alister Google video. It’s gone, it’s been wrapped into the YouTube.
Serge I remember Google acquired YouTube, but yes, you started your channel in 2007 using Delphi 2006?
Alister Yes. So there’s free uploaded… quite a lot of videos.
Serge And you were like a pioneer, I guess. Or did you have any competitors?
Alister I don’t think there was anyone else doing Delphi videos at that stage.
Serge You know, right now it’s easy to have, like, we have a phone and you can write everything you want. You can write a lot of applications right on your desktop, but not in 2007 of course.
Alister Yeah. And yeah, uploading these videos… and YouTube at that time only supported 320 by 240 resolution and five minutes was the maximum length you were allowed. So there’s a couple of early videos or an early video that I had to split into two because of that. There’s some comments on the quality of the video. Well, that was the best that could be done when they were made. I think the YouTube, sorry, the Google video supported high resolution, but I’m not sure, I think I hosted… Oiginally I hosted videos myself on… well it was at the time Codegigury.com, which is now, now, now is LearnDelphi.tv. Those first videos originally were played with a Flash player, which is now… Those probably wouldn’t work at all in any modern browsers. I don’t think Flash is supported…
Serge Yeah because of security. That’s very interesting. As I understand it, you started posting this content in 2007. Who owned Delphi, it was not a…
Alister Borland. That was Borland at the time, that spun out into Codegear, made Delphi into a sort of separate entity, owned by Boland, but operated semi-independently because they wanted to sell it. And that was for a few years before Embarcadero acquired it next.
Serge Alister, did you have the MVP program in 2007?
Serge In which year it became… the Embarcadero MVP?
Alister I’m not sure about the MVP… I was one of the first when originally the MVP program started. So I was originally the only one in New Zealand, but now I think there’s a few in Australasia, but now there’s quite a few in New Zealand and Australia now. It’s gotten a bit bigger and it’s more organized now, Jim McKeeth is doing a really fantastic job of running the MVP program and he’s now got a bit of help as well.
Serge It means that Jim mcKeeth started and introduced this program. Am I correct?
Alister He might’ve, you’d probably have to ask him.
Serge Yeah, I really can, but we had an Internet connection problem. I don’t know. Maybe on my side. I didn’t get your answer about which year you became an Embarcadero MVP, do you remember?
Alister I’m not sure when it was, it was when it was started. I was one of the first.
Serge Who initiated the moment? Did you send a request or Jim suggested to you?
Alister I think it was Jim McKeeth.
Serge That’s great. You’re like you were like a founder, let’s say. It’s very interesting.