John maeda

John Maeda

Chief Experience Officer Publicis Sapient

John Maeda is an American technologist, designer, engineer, artist, investor, author, and teacher. He is Chief Experience Officer at Publicis Sapient, the technology consulting and delivery arm of communications and marketing conglomerate Publicis. He has held positions with Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.com; the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins; served as president of the Rhode Island School of Design; and began his early career at the MIT Media Lab at the intersection of computer science and visual art. Named as one of the “75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century” by Esquire, Maeda draws on his diverse background as an MIT-trained engineer, award-winning designer, and MBA-community translator to bring people and ideas together at scale. He is the author of several celebrated books, including The Laws of Simplicity and Redesigning Leadership. He has appeared as a speaker all over the world, from Davos to Beijing to São Paulo to New York, and his talks for TED have received millions of views.

Transcript

[00:00:05] SY: (Music) Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today, we’re talking about computational design with John Maeda, Chief Experience Officer at Publicis Sapient.

[00:00:19] JM: And he said, “This work will never amount to anything.” It was quite blistering. And so I left his office thinking, “Wow. If I really didn’t have conviction around what I did, I’ll probably listen to him.”

[00:00:33] SY: John talks about his journey into combining art and technology, the traits of innovators, and going from working in academia to Silicon Valley after this.

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[00:01:39] If you like this podcast, there’s a good chance you’ll also like one of the other tech podcast that I host. It’s called Command Line Heroes and it’s produced by Red Hat. So if you’re looking for some really fun and informative tech podcast to fill your feed, check out Command Line Heroes at redhat.com/command-line-heroes. That’s redhat.com/command-line-heroes.

[00:02:08] SY: Thanks so much for being here.

[00:02:09] JM: Thank you.

[00:02:10] SY: So tell me about how you got into coding.

[00:02:14] JM: Well, I was lucky to get access to a computer when I was in my early teens. I grew up in a poor part of Seattle and I was bussed across town because of the Civil Rights Movement and got to go to a school that had nice textbooks and nice things like that and there was a computer in the math class and I got to see my first computer there.

[00:02:37] SY: What was that computer like? What did you get to do on it?

[00:02:40] JM: Absolutely nothing. That didn’t do anything. I think people forget that computers used to be useless. They were like fancy light bulbs. There was no software to install. You got to write it yourself. My first program was printing my name, the essence of vanity, say my name. So I had to print my name forever.

[00:03:00] SY: And did you find that interesting? Was that intriguing to you?

[00:03:04] JM: I thought it was strange because it just started going. It’s a print my name and go to 10 and then kept doing it and I thought it doesn’t seem to get tired or bored. It seems so excited.

[00:03:15] SY: It’s kind of the perfect friend. Never sick of you.

[00:03:17] JM: I know. Some people have said that, that’s the definition, perfect friend. It kind of made me wonder.

[00:03:22] SY: So what resonated with you about computers and coding especially at that young age when the computers weren’t really doing very much? At what point did it start connecting with you?

[00:03:32] JM: Oh, well, you know, like I said, I grew up on the less fortunate side of the tracks. And so when you’re in that world, you’re told you want to get a job someday and work and make money. So over time, as I got older, it looked like there was going to be this whole world where computers were ways to make a living.

[00:03:53] SY: Were there any particular careers or positions you were interested in at that point?

[00:03:57] JM: I’m laughing because you look up like, “What kind of jobs involve computers?” And I think maybe by like eighth grade, you look in the job book and there’s something called “systems analyst”. I had no idea what that job was, but I did some kind of like in-school program where I shadowed an IBM sales rep. IBM had just introduced this radical technology where supermarkets could let you like scan a barcode. It’s bizarre. I was like, “What? You can like take this can and you scan it and it can mark in the cash register?” And it was like an amazing thing and his job was to go to all the supermarkets and make sure the machines are working. So I thought I would be a computer repair person.

[00:04:43] SY: And did you find that interesting?

[00:04:44] JM: Clearly, he was making enough to eat. So I thought that’s not bad value proposition. I did.

[00:04:50] SY: Yeah.

[00:04:50] JM: I didn’t have any dreams, the kind of dreams that I know that I think when your parents are college educated, you can tell your kids about the world. My parents had no education. My parents had a tofu factory, which is kind of like a bakery or a pizza, like a pizza shop. So there wasn’t really an idea that you could advance in the world. So for me like getting a job where you didn’t have to have your hands burn, you know, it was like over a hot stove or hot anything seemed pretty cool.

[00:05:22] SY: So your career is a combination of design, art, and technology. When did your passion for art come about?

[00:05:30] JM: I was good at art and math since I was a kid and I think my parents always said I was good at math. It kind of forget the art part because into the art part is somehow leading to job.

[00:05:42] SY: Not lucrative. Yeah.

[00:05:43] JM: So I was good at math and that’s how I stayed involved with computers and luckily computers were becoming a real thing. They were becoming important, like no one thought in the ’80s that everybody would have a computer someday. It was like a wild idea.

[00:06:00] SY: And you studied computer science at MIT and then you got your PhD in design. So art and design, design and computer science has always come together for you it seems in your career. When did you start to think about combining art and computers?

[00:06:15] JM: I went to MIT for the engineering part. I’m a master’s actually in Silicon Device Simulation. So super low level [inaudible 00:06:25] design and things like that. So I got to see the computer from the high level to the lowest level. I went to art school and that was very different because I didn’t have to use a computer anymore and just use my hands and my brain and reference history and it was a whole different world and I was pretty happy there. But my adviser, one of my advisers said to me that I’m young. “So when you’re young, do something young with yourself,” he said. And he said, “you know this computer stuff, go do that. Don’t do this older stuff because the older stuff, the classical stuff will be around when you’re old. So do it later.”

[00:07:05] SY: Interesting.

[00:07:06] JM: Do what you can do now. So I combined the two together in the early ’90s. it wasn’t very popular to do. I remember people who were art and design thought that coding computer languages was to inhuman and people who didn’t code really didn’t care about like the experience side. So I was kind of like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of the ’90s, kind of shunned a bit, dissed, you know, on the way things are when you’re a bit different, but I’m glad that today it’s so normal. I find it so strange.

[00:07:41] SY: Yeah. I think design is kind of the perfect marriage of computers and art. But when I think about computers and I think about art, they definitely feel very different, like you mentioned. Art feels very emotional and maybe natural intuitive and computers feel even as someone who codes it still feels a little inhuman, a little sterile, I guess, is maybe you want me to put it. So were those two things ever conflicting for you? Clearly, you made a career out of mirroring them, but was there a point where they felt like they didn’t quite get along?

[00:08:11] JM: It's more a matter of if you go back to how I began, my parents wanted me to make a living somehow and so I learned engineering, which to your point after you type for I equals 0, I is less than a hundred, I + + and you run a loop, you’ll be doing that for the rest of your life over and over and over again. And is it beautiful and wonderful? No. It’s just work. It’s creative, but it works. On the other hand, if you look at the arts, you’re making stuff with your hands, but nobody’s going to buy it. It isn’t a differentiated skill. So it wasn’t until I got my MBA and got interested in the business world where I saw that the true value came from connecting the arts engineering and business. Now that’s where it gets really interesting.

[00:08:56] SY: So how did you end up connecting these things? What are some of the early projects, initiatives that you worked on?

[00:09:03] JM: I think the project that I started that I left as the reason why, I was a professor at MIT, like full professor, set for life kind of professor, and then I dropped out of world because I doubted that computer science is taught in universities or innovation with technology in universities could be more advanced than what’s happening and in industry. Up to the ’90s, I think computers were way more advanced in the academic world. But after 2000, computers began to get faster. You could be a freshman at MIT and you’d have better computers than we had in the research labs.

[00:09:45] SY: Oh, wow!

[00:09:45] JM: And maybe other companies and companies used to have no computers and they had like 10 X, a hundred X more computers than we did. So I said I had to leave and go out.

[00:09:55] SY: What was that like for you? Is it scary at all? Did you know what you’re going to do next?

[00:09:59] JM: Oh, no, no. I wasn’t scared at all because I don’t think very much about anything I do. So people would ask me that, “Were you scared?” I’m like, “No, I just kind of like, you know, just tried that.” But actually the reason why was a friend, Becky Bermont, she gave me this book called “The Audacity of Hope” and it was 2007 and there is this unknown person named Barack Obama. I read this book and I became super motivated to be “an American” and it was kind of like, “Get off of your thing and start doing stuff for your country, for the world.” And I was like, “Whoa! Maybe I have to disrupt myself.” So when I was invited to be a president of our university, I said, “I can’t do that.” But the book said in three words, “Yes, we can,” and yes, we can kind of activated me to try new things.

[00:10:56] SY: So what was the new thing that you tried?

[00:10:58] JM: I became president of Rhode Island School of Design.

[00:11:00] SY: That’s pretty awesome.

[00:11:02] JM: Well, it was awesome until, you know, it was 2008, 2009, the global financial crisis hit, really challenging time for the institution. So I had to lead it to through some of its toughest times. It taught me a lot about leadership. It’s such an amazing experience.

[00:11:19] SY: So you were running a design school during your tenure. What role did technology play? Because the RISD, right, Rhode Island School of Design, my understanding of it is it’s more on the art design side. How big of a role did technology play?

[00:11:35] JM: Oh, well, you know if you think about it, most of our design comes from technology, painting from chemistry, photography comes from chemistry and optics, graphic design comes from the printing industry, the printing press.

[00:11:48] SY: Right. Right.

[00:11:49] JM: You can go down the list and so it’s always influenced by technology. So a lot of what I did was activate the digital pieces without disturbing the classical pieces, which I love. So I just sort of added a little bit of spice to the mix, bringing the digital pieces out to the open alongside some of the older pieces.

[00:12:12] SY: So give me an example of one of those pieces. What’s an example that brought those two worlds together? Paint a picture for me.

[00:12:18] JM: I think I mentioned how I am really interested in the value of things, the business value of things, and the biggest problem for people who make things, make physical things is selling them. And I was at some conference where Jack Dorsey had just launched his Square device. And I was like, “Oh, I like this.” And the story of the Square devices that he and a friend who was a ceramicist kind of sell stuff and it was so hard to take a personal check and he wanted to get credit card instead. So I thought, “Oh, this is what I need.” So I went up to Jack and said, “Hey, can we distribute this at RISD commencement?” Be the first place to do it at scale and got the green light for that and distributed them. And of course, the reaction was, “What is this thing that John’s giving to everybody? We don’t need this.” The second year was, “What is this thing? We don’t need this. Kickstarter, what is this stuff? What is this tech stuff he’s bringing?” But what I love is that by the third year, everyone was using it and had no idea that it’s something I got started, which is the definition of success.

[00:13:27] SY: That’s really interesting because it’s a very literal combination of art and technology. You got this piece of technology. You’ve got an artist and you’re helping the artists through technology. Is that generally how that relationship works? Is it technology assisting art?

[00:13:42] JM: No, actually I used to think about it a lot. I think back to when I was primarily an engineer, a lot of artists want to collaborate with me. They wanted me to make their stuff. And then I think when you’re an artist, you either ignore technology or you get engaged. But again, you cannot make art on its own unless you have like a trust fund, unless you’re independently wealthy. So it goes back to how I strongly feel that people who mix creativity with technology have to consider the business model behind it or find a way to fund it. Otherwise, it’s making for the sake of making, which is a privilege.

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[00:15:56] SY: So I love how practical you are. For you, it’s about business and it’s about making sure that things are feasible and that they are sustainable. How did that affect your tenure, your time running RISD?

[00:16:10] JM: You know, on the day where freshmen would move into campus, I would be there at the receiving side carrying boxes in with all the staff actually just to do user research, to interview the students and interview the parents. And one thing I want to hear constantly is, “I didn’t send my kid here to become an artist. I sent my kid here to become an innovator.” And looking at examples like Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky who founded Airbnb, I saw that, “Oh, this is totally possible.” So I was basically responding to my customers and building that piece out.

[00:16:48] SY: When you think about the founders of Airbnb and trying to create more people like them who are innovating and doing really amazing things with technology and art and design, what are some of the characteristics of people who innovate?

[00:17:00] JM: People innovate are aware that the world is something to learn from not just from books, from what they see. And because of that ability to see but is limited to eyesight, someone who cannot see can also be an artist, it’s the fact that an artist can sense something that is slightly off, but they are hyper aware of it. Let me give example. So I was in the lobby of a fancy hotel in Boston a couple years ago and there were these sort of low marble tables and these super interesting chandeliers where the light would come from the top and crescendo downwards and hit the marble tabletops and create a stunning pattern, a stunning optical pattern. And so I’m sitting there, I’m sort of working the lobby and then I hear a young woman, maybe she’s like 11 years old. She walks over to the marble table and then calls her mother and says, “Mommy, mommy, come here.” And she says, “What is it?” She said, “I wonder if this pattern on the marble table is intentional.” And then of course, so the mother said, “Let’s go. We have to go. We have to go.” To rush, you know, and I just sat there thinking like, “She’s got the superpower.”

[00:18:31] SY: A little innovator.

[00:18:32] JM: And that’s what entrepreneurs do all the time. They find things that people don’t see, the things that people overlook. So I think artists, entrepreneurs just have this gift.

[00:18:43] SY: How do you build that out? Because I think that saying, “I’m going to create a school full of the Airbnb founders,” is a pretty tough and huge challenge. How do you do that?

[00:18:56] JM: Well, you make a lot of mistakes. The beauty of leadership is you try things and you see what works and find out what doesn’t really quickly. You just experiment. I think that’s what software development teaches us. We have to be agile and we have to make an MVP or make an MLP, Minimum Lovable Product, and just see what tests were on the market and find product market fit and then grow it.

[00:19:21] SY: So what’s worked for you?

[00:19:23] JM: Experiments. If I remember back in that era, you know getting STEM to become Steam was something that wasn’t commonly talked about. So just getting behind that, going to congress, advocating to put art into STEM education. Before we knew it, it would become a movement. And I find it fun today that people talk about STEAM now too. I think we activated that, but that was maybe the 15th version of something I try to do.

[00:19:53] SY: Interesting.

[00:19:54] JM: So what is it you have to outlive your naysayers and find product-market fit and be lucky.

[00:20:01] SY: What is the difference between STEAM and just having art included in general? Is there something different about the positioning of art within the STEM context?

[00:20:13] JM: I think about art is sort of misunderstood. I think that when you look at the history of art, it was all about either serving a religious motivation or being accessible to the ultra-wealthy. And so somewhere along the line this idea or ideal of art became formed. You know, this idea of the starving artist, and I think that myth has been so damaging to a lot of people who pursue arts hoping they’ll succeed, but the reality is you really can’t succeed unless you have capital to navigate a path to success. If you look at all the famous artists, I think over 90% at least come from a wealthy background, but that isn’t something that’s obvious to everyone.

[00:20:59] SY: What are some examples of innovations? We mentioned Airbnb as one. What are some other good examples out there that we might be familiar with that combine art and design and technology?

[00:21:11] JM: Well, I’m holding this Apple iPhone in my hand, a perfect example of the merging of an idea that is expressive emotional, super technical, but also has a viable business model underneath it. Looking back in history, the automobile, basically someone told me the automobile is like the first consumer robot, right? It’s like a robot you buy. It’s like, “Oh, it’s a robot. We ride robots. They’re called cars.”

[00:21:41] SY: Yeah.

[00:21:42] JM: And that's an example of a mixture technology design and business as well. So basically everything you can see that hums or lights up, whatever, that’s good mixtures. But also even the desk I’m at right now, it’s a prefabricated desk. So it’s also the product of design. You know how this desk works, technology, the milling, technology used to make this desk and also making it affordable, so the business side as well. This goes all the way to the Bauhaus school in the early 1900s that addressed one problem that we address now in the 21st century, which was the Industrial Revolution resulted in factories that would produce things that were hard to use, but made that scale. So the Bauhaus was created to be able to use the new technology of machining, to create things that were more pleasant and easier to use.

[00:22:40] SY: I like those examples because it illustrates this idea that design and technology and art are around us everywhere in ways that we might not really think about. That’s really fascinating. So after RISD, you were a global head of design at Automattic for a few years. Tell us about that position. It sounds like it’s such an important position. What is a global head of design do?

[00:23:04] JM: So Automattic is an all-distributed company, which means there’s no headquarters and it’s about 800, 900 people. And so imagine a company that has no headquarters, all distributed.

[00:23:18] SY: Yeah.

[00:23:18] JM: Maybe this thing that you all do is similar, but running at scale, it’s just an amazing thing. And I oversaw the design of the products. I was able to grow the team, build the team, refined its culture, making it much more product oriented. I really enjoyed that, but what I knew is that I wanted to apply those learnings at a larger scale and that’s what afforded me at Publicis Sapient as Chief Experience Officer.

[00:23:45] SY: So Automattic is the creator of WordPress.

[00:23:49] JM: It’s a little complex. It’s kind of like WordPress was created as an open source system and Automattic was a company that was later created by one of the cofounders of the WordPress project. I had that caveat because it’s super subtle, because the neat thing about WordPress is it’s not owned by anyone. It’s owned by the commons. And so I think of Automattic as like the helper, the Mr. Rogers helper of the system that keeps it healthy and growing.

[00:24:19] SY: So did you get to do any work on WordPress directly?

[00:24:22] JM: Oh my gosh, yes. I got to hang out with the WordPress community. It’s the beauty of open source. It’s the fact that the software is made in the commons and there’s communities of people who really fight to keep it the way that they want it to be and not the way being led by any single interest.

[00:24:41] SY: So what was it like going from the academic world to this world that is I guess technically corporate but has this huge open source component? What was that change in context like?

[00:24:52] JM: Well, you know, I was a professor and I ran the university, I wasn’t teaching anymore. So I was just being CEO and so I was taking on the business aspect of institution. Then I went to venture capital in Silicon Valley, worked for Kleiner Perkins. That was already kind of on this path of trying to understand how to maximize business impact in the technology sphere by combining design and engineering. And so to me, in this larger job, chief experience officer, I’m charged with connecting engineering at scale, with experience at scale, with marketing IT sections, product, the whole thing for some of the largest companies in the world.

[00:25:40] SY: And actually one of your roles, design partner at Kleiner Perkins is really interesting. Kleiner Perkins is a huge VC firm because I don’t think it’s common for VC firms to have design partners. Is that right?

[00:25:53] JM: At the time it wasn’t, but I pointed out in the design and tech reports, I made a report every year where I highlight this phenomenon of venture capital firms taking on people from the non-pure engineering world or non-pure business world. And so I think after I was announced as design partner, I think 10 other partners were introduced. So I’m no big deal, that’s what I tell everyone. One of the many. But it was great because I got to see how, going back to my point on business, you can have a good idea, but if you don’t have capital behind it, it’s really hard to scale. The best idea does not win. The best funded idea sometimes wins.

[00:26:36] SY: I love that. That is very accurate. Yes. So as design partner, were you working directly with the startups? Were you helping the venture capitalists themselves?

[00:26:47] JM: Great question. I was helping both. I was working with the investing partners and also working with all the companies that go from early stage to late stage and working with the design functions in each company and trying to debug ways to facilitate design performing better, oftentimes as simple as working with the CEO of the company itself to give a tutorial on how design and engineering mix the best.

[00:27:16] SY: Can you maybe share a story or tell me about a time when you got to help a startup making some good design decisions?

[00:27:22] JM: It was a company, it just got a Series B. The relationship between the designer, head of design, and the CEO wasn’t quite right. So I went to their office and the CEO showed me some work that’s been produced and they asked me, “What do you think of this?” With the head of design there, and I turned to the head of design and asked, “What do you think of this?”

[00:27:49] SY: Yeah.

[00:27:49] JM: Of course, they weighed it in and gave a rational overview of what they were presenting and then the CEO’s response was, “Wow, that sounds like a good outcome.” And so it really was a matter of building these one-to-one communication paths that weren’t working as well.

[00:28:05] SY: So that’s an interesting example because that feels less like design and more of, I don’t know, mediation or like leadership management. You know what that means? Like it feels like more communication base than what I would think of as design.

[00:28:19] JM: I think the biggest challenges in any organization larger than one are people challenges and communication challenges and skill different challenges and bias difference challenges. So I think you end up with an incredible product when the parts of the company are working well.

[00:28:39] SY: So what are some startups that you’ve worked with that had a really great design?

[00:28:44] JM: One company I loved working with was Flipboard, which I thought was incredible and I had nothing to do with it being amazing. That was incredible out of the gate, but just to kind of like to talk with the people there, it was clear that its culture around making great experience was sort of how it was built. There were other companies in that category. I can’t remember them now. I’m in this new life. So it’s a little hard to remember.

[00:29:12] SY: So this new life, you are at a new position, in your new position, chief experience officer at Sapient. Tell us what Sapient is.

[00:29:19] JM: Well, Sapient is a part of a publicist group of companies and it’s a hard company name to remember because it’s been rebranded as Publicis Sapient. So when I think about Publicis Sapient and what we do, we empower older established companies to behave, work, and tech up like startups. And what that means is a lot of older companies know about the cloud, but don’t know how to plug it into how they work. A lot of companies have a lot of employees who are not used to using some of these newer systems and moving with them agile learn, test, build type of loop. It’s a new thing. So we coach companies. We bring in full technologies, full stacks, and we turbocharge companies to be more adapted to the exponential speed of computation.

[00:30:22] SY: So tell me about how this job differs from the work that you got to do as global head of design at Automattic. What are some of the big differences there?

[00:30:30] JM: Now the biggest differences that I was previously working mainly on digital product and the design piece. Now I’m working on all pieces, the product, engineering, marketing, business, IT, C-suite, it’s like the whole supermarket, the whole thing.

[00:30:52] SY: It sounds like fun.

[00:30:53] JM: I was working in the vegetable section, the produce section, I guess, and then I go across the whole supermarket. I’m also pushing shopping carts in the parking lot too probably. So all of that.

[00:31:11] SY: Coming up next, John talks about his new book: How to Speak Machine: Laws of Design for a Computational Age after this.

[00:31:31] Command line Heroes, an original podcast from Red Hat that I host is back for its third season and it’s all about programming languages. Here’s a clip from the first episode, telling the tale of Python where I’m chatting with Emily Morehouse, one of five women currently working as a core developer on Python about how the language’s extensibility is the key to Python’s attractiveness.

[00:31:55] EM: When approaching software design, you often will have to take either existing software or other software systems and kind of get them all to work together. And one of the very true values of how you can design software is making sure that it’s extensible.

[00:32:16] SY: It sounds like a no-brainer but not every language has achieved the level of extensibility that Python had right from the start. And the truth is if a language doesn’t have extensibility baked into it, there’s a good chance it’ll end up collapsing under its own weight as it grows.

[00:32:33] EM: Python has been designed in a very interesting way that allows it to be kind of extensible at its core. You can actually like patch different pieces of the system at run time. So if you want to switch out how modules are imported or you want to switch out your string type or your integer types, Python allows you to do all of these things fairly easily. At the heart of Python’s extensibility is something called C extensions or C modules. And so Python has actually been designed to give you an entry point to other languages, and essentially if you can write a C extension or a C module that can then bridge to, I mean, hundreds of other languages, you can kind of hack Python.

[00:33:32] SY: You can find it wherever you get your podcast and make sure to check out the show at redhat.com/commandline.

[00:33:44] So you are also author of several books on the intersection of tech and design. You have one coming out later this year called How to Speak Machine: Laws of Design for a Computational Age. Tell us a little bit about this book.

[00:33:57] JM: This book has taken me six years to create and even in the last half year, it’s changed. The title actually changed to “How to Speak Machine: Computational Thinking for the Rest of Us”.

[00:34:11] SY: Okay. A little more relatable. I like it. I like it.

[00:34:14] JM: Thanks. That was the idea by the acquisitions editor. I said, “Wow! That’s much better.”

[00:34:19] SY: Yeah.

[00:34:20] JM: And the idea behind that book is to get to the crux of the problem, which is why is it that the tech companies are winning? And I think it’s because they all understand what computation is. They all understand code. It isn’t that they know how to code. They understand what code can do, like I love how you describe how you coded, it’s super powerful, but is this exciting? And in reality, when you have a bunch of people who make code together, they’re making all the time, they tend to make companies that perform extremely well. They’re super powerful. And why are they powerful? They’re powerful because you’re using an alien life form, an alien material called “computation” that never gets tired, that can span infinite space, that can model living systems. It’s not a normal material. Everyone who is in tech knows that but everyone else has no idea what that is. “Oh, you’re sitting there typing. Great!” Looks really hard, but how to speak machine lets anyone understand what’s happening in the computer and not just in the computer, in the cloud. And once you realize what the computer can do, you’re like, “Oh my gosh! Is that how all these tech companies work?” And then number two, it gives a layperson sufficient information to be able to change how they solve problems, the way someone who can code would change.

[00:35:53] SY: So tell me a little bit more about that. Is the idea that once I understand how to speak machine, I’ll start coding or?

[00:36:02] JM: You know, the conclusion of that is if you want to code, great, but you should be more aware of the following things. The first thing is that when your team creates a product built in a computation, it doesn’t have to be perfect because you can deploy it and you can also change it live, right?

[00:36:20] SY: Yeah.

[00:36:20] JM: That’s a weird thing. Like what? No. I got to make this thing perfect. Let’s wait. Let’s wait. Let’s spend a year working on this. That’s a normal mentality. But as you know with code, you can deploy it now and there’s no penalty because it doesn’t cost anything to deploy it. You can also instrument the code to be able to see what’s happening out there with your code, your system, and you can get live data so you can know what to change in your code. That’s weird and also its marginal cost 0 to instrument software. Third thing though is that once you master these two properties of shipping and complete and instrumenting to learn, there are some ethical concerns that occur and those ethical concerns are creating vast imbalance in the world.

[00:37:07] SY: Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:37:08] JM: And so we have to sort of pay attention to that. It isn’t a dark book per se, but it’s a very realistic book about how computation was, is, and is becoming.

[00:37:19] SY: So tell me about the structure of the book, the table of contents so to speak. What are the different parts? What should I expect to find in here?

[00:37:27] JM: It’s basically these six chapters. The first three are about how the material is different and the next three chapters are about how it changes products.

[00:37:36] SY: So if people are interested in getting into the world of design, art, and technology, they want to break through, they want to maybe take advantage of some of the things that we talked about in this episode, where can they start? Where are some tools or resources you’d recommend?

[00:37:51] JM: Just learn Flutter and Dart to deploy mobile apps on any platform. I spent like two weeks just sort of catching up on mobile web design and I was so impressed. I built a deployable iOS and Android apps so quickly.

[00:38:07] SY: How long did it take you?

[00:38:08] JM: It took me three weeks.

[00:38:09] SY: Nice.

[00:38:10] JM: Yeah. And I’ve written software on various platforms over the years. So that said, I don’t do this every day.

[00:38:17] SY: I was going to ask. Yeah. How often do you get to code nowadays?

[00:38:20] JM: I was like, “Wow!” It’s gotten so much not easier, it’s gotten so much better, which is a different kind of easy. So the return on your time is so good. So I loved writing once and deploying to multiple platforms. I did iOS Dev, I did [inaudible 00:38:35], I did Android Dev, I love like writing in one thing and deploying to all platforms.

[00:38:46] SY: So now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions John, are you ready to fill in the blanks?

[00:38:54] JM: Yes, go ahead.

[00:38:56] SY: Number one worst advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:39:00] JM: None.

[00:39:01] SY: Anything you’ve ignored, maybe some good advice that just didn’t work out for you.

[00:39:05] JM: I remember I was visiting my teacher, one of my mentors in art school and he didn’t arrive. So the person who is next door to him like saw me and said, “Hey, come inside. I have something to tell you.” So I went to his office. He closed the door. He sat me down and spent about half an hour berating me.

[00:39:27] SY: Oh, no.

[00:39:27] JM: It was a time when my work was getting notoriety mixing computer science and visual art and he said, “This work will never amount to anything.” It was quite blistering. And so I left his office thinking, “Wow. If I really didn’t have conviction around what I did, I’ll probably listen to him. But well, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.” I’m glad I did.

[00:39:50] SY: That’s great. Good for you. Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:39:56] JM: The best advice is the advice I’ve always told myself, I don’t listen to myself also. I think I was right when I was younger, but then when I got older, I’m like, “Maybe I shouldn’t like, you know, believe I’m right.” There were these two incredible people I worked with in the ’90s, Ben Fry and Casey Reas. They were in my research team at MIT. They had this idea built on [00:40:22]. I wrote a computer language called “Designed by Numbers” and it was in the late ’90s. It was a way to teach anyone coding who is what I called not mathematically inclined and it can draw in a hundred by hundred square, black and white, numbers range from 0 to 100. It was understandable. And then Casey said, “I think this could be much more powerful if they could do color or if they could like draw in a bigger thing than a hundred by a hundred.” And I said, “No, I don’t really think so.” And so they began working on this thing called processing.

[00:40:52] SY: Oh, wow.

[00:40:52] JM: And I was like, “Hey, I think you should work on your like other stuff.” And I’m so glad they didn’t listen to me.

[00:41:01] SY: Because processing is a big deal now.

[00:41:04] JM: Oh my gosh, that’s a big deal. So that’s why I always tell people. Whenever I say something, I say, “And don’t listen to me.”

[00:41:09] SY: Yeah. Nice. Number three, my first coding project was about?

[00:41:16] JM: It was an accounting program for my mom to be able to handle the billing of the tofu factory.

[00:41:23] SY: Nice. Oh, very applicable, very useful. Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

[00:41:31] JM: When I made that program for my mother, I didn’t know about loops. So I made individual entry points for 365 days and it was an era when there was no cut-copy-paste.

[00:41:44] SY: Oh, wow.

[00:41:45] JM: And there was no text editor also. I remember like writing it all out and it took me a while. I was a fast typist. I remembered like going back to my middle school days. My math teacher said, “Hey, John, you should come to the computer club stuff, just hangout, learn stuff.” And you know when anyone is younger like, “No, I don’t need that, teacher. I got this figured out.” And so I remember like hanging out a little bit later and going to his computer club thing and he started describing this thing called “The Loop”. And I sat there with this kind of like chill in my body like, “Wait a second.” And so I went home and I rewrote the thing and it was like of course 1 over 365 smaller program. Boy, did I feel ridiculous?

[00:42:36] SY: That’s right. You learn something and you’ll never forget it.

[00:42:38] JM: I’ll never forget it, always stick in the loop.

[00:42:41] SY: Well, thank you so much John for joining us.

[00:42:43] JM: Thank you.

[00:42:51] SY: This episode was edited and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, hello@codenewbie.org. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.

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