Mostly through my maths degree. My degree really came alight for my in my third year. That year I had to study 2 hard maths papers of my choice and 2 non maths but related papers (I decided not to do the masters purely so I'd be able to do this). I studied Set Theory and Logic and Functional Programming and Algorithm Design (the other 2 were Algebra and the History of Philosophy from Descarte to Kant but that's not relevant here). I absolutely loved the Set Theory and Logic paper - it actually changed the way I thought (meaning my actual process of thinking). I loved the extreme formal rigour of working on logic problems. The programming paper on the other hand suggested to me that if I wanted to work with that sort of thing I could do worse than going into computers. As a result, I started to apply for investment banking IT jobs, targetting them as the sort of companies who would take me on as someone who knew they would be a good programmer but wasn't yet actually a programmer and train me. Once in, I got onto databases, which takes you right back to set theory and then I was off!
2. If computer programming did not exist as a profession, what do you think you'd be doing, and why?
That's a hard one. There's a serious risk I'd be an accountant :) It's also possible I'd have gone straight into teaching, which is still something I hope to do in the future. I find it so hard to imagine because a world without professional programmers (as opposed to academic programmers) is by implication a world where computers and computing are hardly used outside academia and it's hard for me to imagine what those workplaces were like!
3. What is your favourite novel by Neal Stephenson, and why?
I'm torn. Diamond Age I find very emotionally affecting because I identify very strongly with the character of Nell but for sheer style and readability I just love Snow Crash to bits. I've found Cryptonomicon much less readable and haven't read any of the latest ones because they're so big and somehow the subject matter doesn't grab me.
4. I confess that I have never read a Terry Pratchett novel and had no intention of doing so until I heard a trailer for BBC Radio 4’s adaptation of Small Gods (which I missed). What book would you recommend as an introduction to his work?
Small Gods would actually be right up there - I recently lent it to my Dad to introduce him to Pratchett. It has the nice combination of being in what I think of as being Pratchetts best period but being completely stand alone from the rest of the books. A lot of people recommend Mort, but to my mind that doesn't have the sharpness of satire that I love in his slightly later stuff. I'm very fond of Men at Arms and Feet of Clay, the 2nd and 3rd books which follow the Ankh-Morkpork city watch (the first is Guards, Guards but I don't think you have to have read that to enjoy Men at Arms). I also love Wyrd Sisters, one of the early witches books - I think that would be a good one too.