Seven Questions with Baldur

Baldur is an all-around lovely person who inspires me quite a bit. He works on his free and open source graphics debugging tool, RenderDoc, up out of his home in Ireland, and makes a living off of doing just that. (It's an excellent tool.) He loves graphics programming and helping others through coding.

Enjoy. :)

1. What makes you happy about coding RenderDoc?

Mostly hearing about how much time/pain/effort it saves people. I know what it's like to be stuck without any good way to investigate a bug so I always like hearing that it's helping.

2. What would you work on if you weren't a programmer? What other things/hobbies make you happy in life?

I'm not really sure to be honest! It's kind of a cop-out answer but I've wanted to work in computers/programming for a long time, since even before high school (stereotypes abound! :) ). If I wasn't programming I'd probably be in something closely related like sysadmin, hardware design, or something like that.

3. Where do you live (or will be living soon) and why?

Currently I'm in Copenhagen, I moved here in the first half of 2015 to work at Unity's office. I'm soon moving to Ireland as now that I'm working from home I have much more flexibility on where I can live. I can go somewhere with more space, and also quieter and out of a big city.

4. What's RenderDoc (for readers who don't already know!)?

It's a standalone graphics debugger, so it basically allows you to capture a single frame of a graphics program (1/30th, 1/60th or 1/90th of a second), and then see exactly what individual steps are executing on the GPU to build up the end result of the frame. Then it lets you dive in and see all the components and settings that control what each step does. That lets you diagnose in detail what exactly is wrong with an intermediate step, which results in hard to diagnose bugs just looking at screenshot or the code. It's totally free and open source, and it works on a bunch of different APIs and pretty soon on multiple platforms.

5. How are you able to make a living off of a free and open source tool like this?

For a long time I wasn't, I worked on it entirely in my spare time and I just contributed when I was able to. After a while though people started to pick it up and appreciate it, and I got the opportunity to work part-time on it while I was at Unity to prepare support for Vulkan on launch day. That went really well, and not too long afterwards I was approached by a number of companies who were interested in me contracting on it full time to work on different kinds of improvements at a larger scale than I had before. I ended up contracting with Valve, and for the last 6 months or so I've been making a lot of really good improvements that I wouldn't have had the capacity to before, like proper linux UI support which I'm working on just now.

6. What would your ideal life look like, if you didn't need to make money?

It sounds kind of corny but right now working on renderdoc would have been exactly the answer to your question if you'd asked a year ago. It's still enjoyable for me to tackle the kinds of problems that come up and like I say it's really useful to people which makes it worthwhile to work on even aside from making money. I think probably I would want to continue working on projects like renderdoc that would be useful to people as well, and many of them wouldn't make money, but I'd also like to spend the time to be able to write. I've written some posts before and I enjoy the process of trying to find ways to explain concepts to people - either in conversation or in writing. So probably some mixture of that I think. :)

7. Do you have any advice to pass on to new coders?

I think it's really good just to get going into something rather than second guessing yourself. Find a task or a project that you find interesting or enjoyable and go for it. Ignore people who say "real programmers do X" or anything like that, just experiment and try things and get immersed in it. If you enjoy programming you will learn and you can expand your experience in any direction that interests you. Don't be afraid to ask questions and ask for help, there are loads of people around who'll be happy to help, and don't count yourself out of something before you've tried it. These days with the amount of resources and helpful people on the internet it's so easy to get started that it doesn't matter what your background or experience is - the bottom line is that if you're motivated then you can totally do it.

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