Physicists can code

So this happened. At a startup pitch event in Santa Monica last week, one investor asked us:
how did you guys manage to build the codebase for Authorea since you're all physicists?
The answer is that physicists write code too. Ha! And as a matter of fact, it is not only physicists. Also most computational biologists and medical researchers and virtually any scholar who works with data, in some way, will learn to code. Yes, even psychologists, social scientists, and digital humanists. 
I don't think that being a physicist gives you a passport for being a great developer (I am not, for example), but there are some very basic characteristics of physicists that are important to point out.
Why do physicists make potentially good developers?  
  1. mathematical knowledge
  2. a passion for solving complex systems
  3. the ability to work in a team, as most physics work involves large collaborations
  4. experience of basic programming languages (such as C#)
  5. computer science is just a special case of physics anyway :)
Re point 4: it is true that most physicists will not learn or use Ruby on Rails or Javascript for their Ph.D. work. To build a website or an app, your knowledge of Fortran (still wildly popular among astronomers!) will not really help. But by default, most physicists will learn C# or C++, as well as basic database languages, and HTML/CSS. Moreover, nearly all physicists (and astronomers) will compile their papers in LaTeX, which is, after all, a programming language? The next generation of physicists (some of whom are increasingly becoming data scientists) is more familiar than ever with Python and Javascript (e.g. d3.js). My view is that the gap between the computational skills of a computer scientists and a physicist is getting more and more narrow, as we enter an age where all of physics research requires data handling and computation. Physicists can code.
Our story
For the record, Authorea was mostly built by physicists. My background is in Astronomy and Information Science and Nate's in Physics (Condensed Matter). Matteo, who has been involved since day one, is still a full-time Astrophysicist at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics where he researches stellar interiors. Before starting Authorea we were all familiar with Python (as well as R, Mathematica, IDL, and yes, Fortran). Nate decided to use Ruby on Rails to build Authorea and we couldn't be happier with that decision. Also, we all had to learn Ruby on Rails from scratch. The members of our fantastic team - Deyan, Alec, Neel, Tanya, David, and Jace - all have graduate degrees in Physics. Ok, that's a lie. Deyan is a computer scientist but he took a class in Quantum Computing once, so he's excused.

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