Crazy Week

Posted May 20, 2007

This week has been crazy. On Monday I got a call from Sumana telling me that a reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal was trying to track me down to ask about my Grand Canyon Skywalk post. The reporter, Henry Brean, was writing a follow-up story on the Skywalk and wanted a few quotes from someone who had visited.

After I talked to Henry, I went class, CS343: What Great Software Developers Know. The class consists of a series of speakers from academia and industry who come in to talk about what has improved their lives as software developers. For each class, 1 or 2 students take notes on the day's speaker, which are then uploaded to a public wiki. After class, if the speaker has time, your professor takes the speaker and the students out to lunch. Monday's class featured Joshua Schachter, founder of, who talked about how and why he created the link-tagging site. A good summary of Joshua's talk has been posted to the wiki.

Because the speaker we were going to take notes for on Wednesday was probably not going to be able to go to lunch after his talk, we were able to tag along and eat with Joshua. He told us more about his transition into Yahoo, his future goals for, and some of his ideas for the future of the internet.

On Tuesday, as I quickly wrote about, a blog post about My eBay Fox made it onto Slashdot. Over the past 5 days, the article and ensuing blog buzz have driven nearly 40,000 unique visitors to the site, resulting in over 13,000 downloads. I'm working now to make the eBay Toolbar compatible with the international versions of eBay.

Wednesday was our turn to take notes. Our speaker was David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails. To be honest, I was a little skeptical of him at first. From the recent back and forth(5th post down) about Twitter, and the title of his talk, "Keep engineers and scientists out of programming, they're damaged goods", I thought he might be a bit full of himself.

He started the talk by listing reasons why engineering and science are not good for programming, which seemed a little "shock and awe". But he soon settled into his main point, which I actually find very compelling. Engineers and scientists, he says, pay far too little attention to happiness, from both the perspective of the user and the developer. Too much time is spent optimizing algorithms and implementing PhD theses and too little on the actual user experience. As anyone who knows 37Signals is aware, they believe that less software is more, and that more time should be spent on the front end than the back. He also talks about how many developers these days spend too much time working. They invest 60 and 80 hour weeks, only to develop features that aren't necessary. He advocates trying to get 80% of the work done by spending only 20% of the time, because often, less software is much more valuable.

Fortunately, he had time after class, so we were able to grab lunch with him. While we were eating, he revealed that 37Signals does not look for people who like working long hours. "Heros", as he calls them, tend to lose sight of what is really important because they get too involved in what they are working on. He would rather higher someone who is married with children than someone straight out of school because the former will have a better handle on balancing his or her life. On the walk back, he also told me that he's a big fan of Copilot, especially the Mac version that Ben put together. My initial skepticism seems to have been unfounded; I very much enjoyed having the chance to talk with him.

On Thursday, Chip Heath, author of Made to Stick, came to speak about his book in my class. The book focuses on why some ideas stick with people, and others just pass from one ear to the other. The key principles he can be summarized by the acronym SUCCES: Simple. Unexpected. Concrete. Credible. Emotional. Stories. One of his examples was using what he called High Concept Pitches to pitch new movies, like "Jaws on a spaceship" (Aliens) to get the point across in a simple way. Another example was to make things concrete by attaching the idea to a visual, like "Driving less saves panda bears" instead of "Drive less to help reduce pollution and improve the environment." It sounds like a good book, I'm looking forward to reading it.

Finally, yesterday Mada and I went over to Mozilla to talk about our recent successes and what we need to do with the site as we move forward. I won't get into specifics, but expect to see some changes to My Friendly Fox over the next week.