Introducing Spencer Davis, our Vice-President of Technology. Just to be clear, while Spencer is an admirer of such hits as “I’m a man” and “Gimme Some Loving“, he is not their author. And while the guitarist of The Spencer Davis Group (who is still going strong at 70) also shares the nickname ‘The professor’ with our Spencer, he has little else in common with Memrise’s resident 18 year-old programming prodigy.
In From Dawn Till Decadence, Jacques Barzun insisted that his survey of the last 500 years of Western Culture be about men and women, as might be expected, but also about teenagers and children. In our ageist society, he pointed out, we tend to forget or disdain the accomplishments of the young, assuming them incapable of serious merit. But an even glance at history furnishes us with a hundred examples of teenagers whose deeds rank at the very summit of human achievement.
To take just a handful of examples: Joan of Arc was supreme commander of her national armies at 17; Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens wrote their greatest compositions before their nineteenth birthdays; Evariste Galois, before he died in a duel at the age of 20, had already founded a major branch of abstract algebra; Arthur Rimbaud wrote some of the greatest poems in the French language as a teen; and though I say so myself… oh forget it.
Spencer -schoolboy winner of a Google coding contest, fluent in seven programming languages, an informational aesthete who savors the subtleties of Django and Lisp while scorning the clumsier offerings of Objective-C- belongs in just this company.
And while the similarities with, say, Mendelssohn at a similar age are incontrovertible, Spencer is not the type to peak too early: he won’t waste his maturity on anything so inept as an Elijah. The depth of his intellectual resources is too great, the texture of his insight too fine, for his talents to be so easily exhausted. As with Mozart, it will be between the ages of 25 and 35, one senses, that the masterpieces will really begin to flow from his fingers.
By that time, who knows what Spencer will be doing, where he’ll be? Will he even have the time patiently to click ‘reject’ to each of Mark Zuckerberg’s torrent of friend-requests, or to accede to Andy Bechtolsheim‘s plea for a reference? We cannot say. For the moment, though, what an honour it is that it should be at Memrise that Spencer has elected to grow his talents, refine his craft and compose his first authentic masterpiece of code. Having just re-orchestrated the whole code-base so that it positively rings with Mozartian poise and harmony, Spencer is now turning his talents to the exciting new features whose praises our users will soon, no doubt, be singing.