Ze frank

Ze Frank

Founder Ze Frank Consulting LLC

Ze Frank is the former president of Buzzfeed Motion Pictures, and the creator of True Facts, The Show. and zefrank.com, which won a 2002 Webby Award for Best Personal Website and in 2005, was featured in Time Magazine’s “50 Coolest Websites.”

Description

In this episode, we’re talking about personal projects, with Ze Frank, former president of Buzzfeed Motion Pictures, and creator of the massively popular website, zefrank.com. Ze talks about his creative process, the wild west that was the internet of the early aughts, and the ubiquity of Flash. He also shares his journey into coding by creating funny and obtuse interactive projects on his personal website, zefrank.com, which won a 2002 Webby Award for Best Personal Website and in 2005, was featured in Time Magazine’s “50 Coolest Websites.”

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:05] SY: 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 personal projects and the Wild West that was the internet of the early aughts with Ze Frank, former President of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and creator of the massively popular website, ZeFrank.com.

[00:00:26] ZF: I would still say that at the level that I got to, which I would say was not a coder, it had a remarkable transformative effect on my thinking.

[00:00:37] SY: Ze Frank talks about his creative process. He also shares his journey into coding by creating funny and obtuse interactive projects on his personal website, which won in 2002 Webby Award for Best Personal Website, and in 2005 was featured in Time Magazine’s 50 Coolest Websites after this.

[00:01:03] Heroku is a platform that enables developers to build, run, and operate applications entirely in the cloud. It streamlines development, allowing you to focus on your code, not your infrastructure. It also lets you use the most popular open source languages to build web apps. Also, you’re locked in to the service. So why not start building your apps today with Heroku?

[00:01:26] TwilioQuest is a desktop roleplaying game for Mac, Windows, and Linux to teach you real world developer skills. The TwilioQuest Program was created in secret to train an elite group of leaders to combat a shadowy organization known only as the Legacy Systems. Take up the tools of software development, become an operator, save the cloud. Download and play TwilioQuest for free at twilio.com/quest.

[00:01:55] DigitalOcean offers the simplest, most developer friendly cloud platform. It’s optimized to make managing and scaling apps easy with an intuitive API, multiple storage options, integrated firewalls, load balancers, and more. Get started on DigitalOcean for free with the free $100 credit at DO.co/codenewbie. That’s DO.co/codenewbie.

[00:02:19] When you need to focus on building, do you want to get bogged down by your database? MongoDB is an intuitive, flexible document database that lets you get to building. MongoDB’s document model is a natural way to represent data so you can focus on what matters. MongoDB Atlas is the best way to use MongoDB. It’s a global cloud database service that gives you all of the developer productivity of MongoDB, plus the added simplicity of a fully managed database service. You can get started free with MongoDB Atlas at mongodb.com/atlas.

[00:02:57] SY: Thank you so much for being here.

[00:02:58] ZF: Thank you.

[00:02:59] SY: So how did you get into coding?

[00:03:00] ZF: Well, my dad is a scientist, and when I was growing up, I was just on the cusp of the kind of video game era. So one of the first experiences I had was when I asked my dad for a video game and he tried to teach me in basic how to make one. You know, obviously the result is a pretty terrible video game. But I got some fundamentals there. And then in college I studied neuroscience and CS was part of that degree. After that, it was ’97 or ’98, I was hired by an agency, Dennis Interactive. I was hired as an illustrator, but it was just when Flash 3 kind of came out and Flash 3 had this very, very rudimentary coding interface and it was sort of all the rage and that’s where I got back into it and really was looking at coding related to motion and design.

[00:04:08] SY: So let me talk about Flash for a second because Flash was the thing to use back in the day and then suddenly people started really hating Flash. Why do people hate Flash?

[00:04:17] ZF: Flash was beautiful in its limitations. And I think that after a while people kind of caught up to the limitations. In Flash 3, for example, no serious coder touched that. And what it was in the end was a bridge for people like me and I’d say animators in general to learn some of the fundamentals of coding, but you did it in this crazy watchmaker sort of way because what you would do is you would put script into keyframes and then you would move the key frames to activate the scripts. Inside Flash, the next sort of wave was that you would be able to put action script, the coding language of Flash onto movie clips, and that had event handlers. But prior to that, you would basically, to activate a script, you would say, “Tell target,” which was kind of a weird nesting format within Flash, tell target, the name of some layer that you had to move to Frame 5 and then Frame 5 would have the script that you would want to activate. So anything complex was sort of like a watch. It was this big ticking machine, and like I said, there was something very beautiful about it because it was a very straightforward metaphor for how to activate commands, which was just, “Oh, they’re sitting on that frame. If you want them to go, you go to that frame.” So as action scripts developed and tried to become more like a sophisticated coding language, I think some of the root limitations of how the framework was established came up to the four and then they were in the middle, right? They were too advanced for most of the people that had been dabbling around and playing and they were too unsophisticated for coders. That was right around Flash 5 where it got all murky.

[00:06:18] SY: So you’re known for a bunch of things. One of those things is your personal website where you have a bunch of games, interactive toys. How did all that get started?

[00:06:26] ZF: Yeah. I haven’t touched that site for I think 10 years now.

[00:06:30] SY: Wow!

[00:06:31] ZF: So I was working at this advertising company and I became kind of fascinated with Flash and what you could do with it. One of the things that I started to do early on was use it to create movies. I mean, really what it was they were animated GIFs. But you have to remember it, in 2000, in 1999, there was no standard video player at all on the web. So when people shared videos, they would attach them in emails. Some of these early viral videos were really mediated by email, not by browsers. So the dancing baby and things like that. So I looked at the ubiquity of the Flash Player install is this really great opportunity to get videos out there. So I started messing around with compression and really crunching down video files, like exporting them frame by frame, and then running them through Photoshop filters. And I made a little thing called “How to Dance Properly”, which was a little Flash silly dancing and you could click radio buttons and see different dances that had commentary on them. That became this massive viral sensation. It was in the first handful of big viral things and I was hooked. So I stopped working and just started to devote my time to recapturing that virality. And that meant that I had tried everything. I tried to copy myself, I did all sorts of things, and then I just started playing. I challenged myself to try to do a project every day and that could be a piece of writing or other things. Some of the projects took a little longer, but I released something almost every day.

[00:08:24] SY: Wow!

[00:08:25] ZF: I got obsessed with little Flash toys and especially tools, like I was really interested in art tools. So instead of making an animation or a video, creating tools that other people could use to feel creative.

[00:08:40] SY: What was it about that first hit that made it a hit? What was so special about it? Did you know?

[00:08:46] ZF: No. I’ve spent so much time now trying to understand virality. Really it’s been, gosh, almost 20 years. I think that you look at the content itself outside of the context of what was happening. I mean, my best guess is that there was very little video online, the Flash Player, for example. So there was a kind of an oddity about it. I think it was also funny and then there were some network properties probably at play in terms of how people shared and things like that, caused it to catch on having chased similar things and many kinds of iterations on all the different things that I thought may have been responsible for it didn’t yield all that much.

[00:09:37] SY: What were some of your other hits?

[00:09:39] ZF: Oh gosh. I mean, there was a tool called “The Scribbler” early on. I was trying to figure out how you could emulate sketchy pencil drawings, but in an algorithmic way. So I had this tool where you could draw a very rudimentary line drawing and then you would press “start scribbling” and it sent out these little invisible wandering clips that would attach to the line that you drew and then each one would have a little logic embedded in it to search for the next point that it would draw a line too. So some of them would kind of circle around themselves until they found another point and some of them would try to edge detect and things like that, and that became very popular and a number of other folks did some really great work, sort of extending that way of thinking. Oh man, I don’t know. There was a flower maker. You could grow gardens. So if you made a flower, you would save it with the name of the flower and then where it was made, and then you could grow these gardens and see all the different flowers that were made from people around the world. There’s just so much stuff on there.

[00:10:57] SY: So you said that you quit your job to make all these things. You made something almost every single day. What was the goal behind that? Were you trying to make money off of it? Were you looking for another job to kind of supplement this? How are you able to afford making awesome toys every day?

[00:11:15] ZF: Well, I mean, I was in my 20s. So I didn’t need much. I mean, partially it’s being able to live very cheaply. I’d say a couple of things. The first is there was no real goal. The virality or the experience of virality was so powerful, and I had never experienced anything like that and then the world really hadn’t come to terms with what that was. But what I knew was that there was a way to connect with massive amounts of people. There wasn’t much of an industry related to online stuff. It was still considered pretty low end overall and there wasn’t really much of an advertising world at that point in digital. So there wasn’t much money to make. But on the other hand, there was a scene, I would say. So a lot of really interesting people had taken to the medium and were making really cool stuff. I got to kind of be part of a group of people that were playing in this space and that drove me to stick with it and to make money. I mean, I made banners for lotto. I did whatever I could to make money.

[00:12:27] SY: Yeah.

[00:12:28] ZF: I think I experienced a lot of anxiety about that, but the pleasure of doing it was so powerful.

[00:12:34] SY: And how long did this period of creating on the website, doing other jobs on the side? How long did that period last?

[00:12:40] ZF: I’d say that it was three years of really just working in complete isolation. I then started to talk about the work that I did because there weren’t that many people that were doing stuff like this and with fairly large audiences. I also got pretty heavily into things that involve participation, asking people to submit photos and all these kinds of things. Then I started doing some speaking around it and eventually the curator of a TED Conference saw one of them in 2004.

[00:13:20] SY: Oh wow!

[00:13:20] ZF: Or 2003. I forget which one. I did my first TED Talk about the projects that I had put together, but I did it kind of as a performance and that led to my signing with a speaking agency, then I had a little bit more stability in my income, which really allowed me to focus on the work.

[00:13:42] SY: So we’re talking about the late ’90s. Can you paint us a picture of what the internet looked like in those days?

[00:13:49] ZF: It’s all kind of jumbled together for me. It’s just so hard to remember back to all the memory constraints and sort of the load times and what the capacity was. I distinctly remember logging more hours in Quake, the online game, than my job at that point, but I still had a new car smell to it. I mean, I think that the industry was just really starting at that point. You had a lot of digital agencies. It was the kind of cool thing to do. You started to hear about these young people that were becoming millionaires and there was a pretty vibrant, interactive art scene going on. People like Josh Davis really started to popularize coding and art as this sort of cross section. You had places like Eyebeam in New York City, which were these kinds of collaborative digital arts spaces, people like Adam Frank were doing really amazing kinds of motion capture projects, and it was just an incredibly exciting time, despite all the limitations. I mean, obviously we just didn’t know what the limitations were at that point, but I grew up on the real cusp. Right? I mean, I remember saving my games to audio tape back in the day and then prior to that, when I was sort of in middle school playing some of these early video games and being on these back sort of IRC type channels and things like that. So the ’90s to me felt very sophisticated.

[00:15:51] TwilioQuest is a desktop roleplaying game for Mac, Windows, and Linux to teach you real world developer skills. Explore the Mysteries of the Pythonic Temple, the JavaScript Test Lab, and more all while learning the tools of software development with TwilioQuest. Become an operator, save the cloud. Download and play TwilioQuest for free at twilio.com/quest.

[00:16:16] No one wants to manage databases if they can avoid it. That’s why MongoDB made a MongoDB Atlas, a global cloud database service that runs on AWS, GCP, and Azure. You can deploy a fully managed MongoDB database in minutes with just a few clicks or API calls. MongoDB Atlas automates deployment, updates, scaling, and more so that you can focus on your application instead of taking care of your database. You can get started free at mongodb.com/atlas. If you’re already managing a MongoDB deployment, Atlas has a live migration service, so you can migrate it easily and with minimal downtime then get back to what matters. Stop managing your database and start using MongoDB Atlas.

[00:17:05] SY: So I want to dig into your creative process because you built so many things and you built them pretty quickly. Doing a project today is no joke. That’s really impressive. What was the process like for you to learn how to do new things, new games, new interactive toys?

[00:17:20] ZF: I should say right off the bat that I’m not a coder by any stretch of the imagination. I know just enough to mess things up. The way that I learn is very project based. So I would come up with some sort of a project to learn about something. I found that pure abstraction, just learning things in the abstract for some potential use in the future wasn’t very satisfying for me. There were a couple different things. One is I would really play. Sometimes I would find somebody else’s script and then just start changing variables to see what would happen, and then that was a way to start understanding how they were constructing things. Sometimes I would just get it into my mind that I wanted a particular visual effect or something like that and then I would chase it, try to understand it. There’s a little toy. I don’t even know if a lot of these things are viewable anymore because the Flash Player has kind of corroded so much, but there’s a little project called Bug, and Bug, it’s a body and then there’s all these little arms that are two jointed arms and it sort of tries to hug your cursor. It’s a really interesting problem to do that single joint manipulation because for every two-jointed system, there’s two possible ways that the joints can come together to reach that point, right? There’s the elbow flex and then the reverse elbow flex essentially. So trying to come up with that geometry, for example, was incredibly satisfying for me and took me a little while to look into, and ends up being the arc tangent that helps you do it. So that was it. And there were a lot of false starts too or not false starts, but things that I got into my mind that I wanted to do and then I realized that it was way too much because there was no Z, the X, Y coordinates on the screen are the sort of two dimensional space that you can move objects around and X equals X plus 1. That would be moving dots across the stream horizontally. The Z axis is necessary if you want to do anything in three dimensions. And that dimension didn’t exist for a long time in Flash. So you would have to fake it by moving objects in front of one another and that was the layering on the stage. And so I started to think that I could create something that’s sort of resembled three dimensions, a little game where you could move characters around and things like that. I got way into it and did a lot of work on it and then realized that it was just too much for me to get through. It was pushing the boundaries of not only my knowledge but my patients.

[00:20:26] SY: It’s too far.

[00:20:26] ZF: Yeah, exactly. That’s what led to those games like Atheist and Buddhist and Christian, which are on the site, which are actually the coding behind them is very heavy.

[00:20:35] SY: Tell me a little bit more about what it was like to code in Flash. What did that look like?

[00:20:41] ZF: It’s almost a bygone era because one aspect of Flash that I found very interesting was that there’s a kind of metaphorical or abstract notion of an object in code. So you create functions, you can create objects, and then there’s a sense that there’s something inside of something else, right? These functions or objects do something internally and then they return something. In the case of Flash, as Flash developed, these were actual movie clips. You actually created a thing on the stage, and if you had a code heavy project, it would be this little tiny dot because there was nothing in it. You just used it as a receptacle for code. So it was like this very beautiful spatial metaphor for what objects were to some extent. Like I sort of said before, Flash was evolving and so you got to stretch as far as you could in Flash 3 and then ActionScript 1.0 came out and you had this whole another kind of palette, but it still was pretty rudimentary. So it was sort of a way to grow your experience and language along with the application.

[00:22:06] SY: From just looking at your website, it looks like you had a lot of fun. It looks like you really enjoyed what you were doing and were making lots of fun stuff. And I’m wondering what was the emotional journey like? Was it fun? Did you run into a lot of obstacles or was it frustrating at times?

[00:22:22] ZF: Yeah, I think it’s all of the above, but I think that it resembles pretty much any creative kind of a project that I’ve done where there’s some sort of initial pulse kind of in your body that gets you motivated to do it. Oftentimes, that pulse has to do with some perceived end point, right? So like, “Oh my gosh, it would be so cool if I was able to do X,” and then you have this glimmering of understanding how it might be done. And when those two things come together, that’s this kind of like impulse that can push you forward into the first phase of these projects. The first phase of the project is always this laying down of the groundwork. I would call it like a palpation, meaning that you’re like touching the project over and over again to just make sure that it’s viable and kind of real and then there’s this secondary stage, which is the bricklaying and a lot of times that was like crafting some basic functions that I could use to get the job done, and whether that was the basic physics for something or like things that would return different kinds of randomness, even though that it doesn’t totally make sense, laying that kind of stuff out and then there would be like design elements that I’d have to make and then ultimately there’s always just some moment where you just get smacked in the head. That can come in a lot of different ways. I mean, I remember very clearly not being able to access some command, right? Like I would call it and it would just return nothing. And then you’re in that canyon of error trapping and sort of despair, just that grinding of changing punctuation, doing whatever you can, oftentimes for me anyways, there would be some situations where I would be able to solve those problems and then some situations where I would realize that I was in a space that was either unsolvable or unsolvable for me, in which case I would have to re-imagine what the end product was. That’s just such a fundamental part of the creative process is that you can decide that your imagined end product is the only option or you can decide that the whole thing is kind of a journey and faced with difficulties. You have a chance to reimagine what the end product might be. I found myself in that space a lot more. I found myself shifting my goals more than I did executing on what I started imagining.

[00:25:29] SY: Ze Frank talks about his distinction between a coder, hobbyist, and a tinkerer. He also gives advice on how people who want to start doing personal projects, but might feel creatively stuck can get inspired after this. Over nine million apps have been created and ran on Heroku’s cloud service. It scales and grows with you from free apps to enterprise apps, supporting things at enterprise scale. It also manages over two million data stores and makes over 175 add-on services available. Also, make sure to check out their podcast, Code[ish], which explores code, technology, tools, tips, and the life of the developer. Find it at heroku.com/podcast.

[00:26:25] With DigitalOcean’s cloud infrastructure, you’ll be able to build faster and scale easier from predicting pricing, to flexible configurations, to world-class customer support. You’ll get access to all the infrastructure services you need to grow. Plus, DigitalOcean’s community provides over 2,000 tutorials to help you stay up to date with the latest open source software, languages and frameworks. Get started on DigitalOcean for free with a free $100 credit at DO.co/codenewbie. That’s DO.co/codenewbie. So I want to explore something you said a little bit earlier where you said you were not a coder by any stretch of the imagination, which I was really surprised by because you use code in a lot of the projects that you did in the past. So what defines a coder?

[00:27:17] ZF: I mean, saying that I’m not a coder doesn’t mean that I don’t feel some level of comfort in code. Like I think that there’s a way of thinking and an approach to error trapping and iterating that is fundamental to the process of coding. And I feel like I got a lot of experience with that and in a sense like that language space or that way of thinking is familiar to me. What I think of in terms of a coder is someone that really has dedicated themselves to the craft, who is really trying to go deeper with it and has I think a little bit of a relationship to the history and some of the sort of modern problems that are being solved in code. So that’s not to say it's a purely ridiculous distinction, but like my little sister I think is a coder because that’s what she’s doing every day and I would call myself a tinkerer.

[00:28:27] SY: A hobbyist.

[00:28:28] ZF: Not even at this point.

[00:28:30] SY: Not even? How?

[00:28:31] ZF: Yeah. I don’t do any of it anymore, but one way of thinking about it is I think that code and exploring code and understanding code is kind of like getting a degree in robot psychology. So what I’m left with is an understanding of the digital world that includes understanding how machines think to some extent. So I do a lot of video work. At BuzzFeed, we publish a lot online. I feel like I have a basic understanding of how the algorithms are thinking and how these systems kind of can come together and that really helps me, I would say like meta error trap, like all the things that are kind of going wrong or why these platforms behave the way that they do.

[00:29:24] SY: I want to dig into the definition of coding. So I’m fascinated by this line between a coder and a tinkerer and maybe even a hobbyist. So for you, is it that you aren’t trained as a coder? Is it about getting paid to code? Where’s the line? At what point can I as a tinker call myself a coder?

[00:29:46] ZF: I mean, honestly, I think that anyone can call themselves whatever they want.

[00:29:51] SY: That is true.

[00:29:52] ZF: Yeah. I think that it’s a little bit out of respect to the people who professionally put in so much time and effort into the craft. I don’t have the vocabulary, for example. Like if you ask me to describe how I built certain things, I think I would use the wrong words. I would say that often I would probably be using some pretty unorthodox approaches because of the fact that I learned in Flash. I had a very specific kind of spatial metaphor for how code nested, which is object related, but not really. So I had my own kind of like ways of crafting things, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I mean, I think anyone can call themselves a coder, but it’s in the same way that there’s comedians and then there’s stand up comedians. If you’re not standing up, like, don’t call yourself a standup comedian.

[00:30:54] SY: Okay. So one thing that I find really interesting about the distinction between tinker and coder is that nowadays, I think we have similar feelings about the words coder, developer, and engineer where each of those words kind of have a different weight to them. I’m already comfortable calling myself a developer, but engineer seems pretty high up there, and I would hesitate to call myself an engineer. So I’m wondering for you as times have changed, technologies have changed, has the idea of what a coder is or just what coding is, has that evolved for you over time?

[00:31:34] ZF: I mean, my father programmed on cards, punch cards. I was familiar with the computing technology that existed in the ’70s and ’80s. So I was aware that there was a highly skilled profession that had to do with algorithms and the procedures that are used in coding. I met some of those folks when I started playing around. When I was in CS class, it was obvious that there were some folks that were so far ahead. So I was always kind of aware that there was a real deep kind of professional aspect. I think that there was this time where HTML kind of arrived and people started referring to that as code. To me, that always felt a little off because markup languages aren’t, to me, part of the real language of machines, but really it’s loops for a while, assigning and reassigning variables. That kind of stuff to me is the beating heart of the psychology of machines. To me, anyways, coder was always a pretty high level of distinction and maybe that’s why I use it in the way that I do. I would never have called myself a developer engineer. That would be utter blasphemy, but it was always additionally difficult for me to call myself a coder. In the spirit of this particular podcast and energizing people around this particular practice, I would still say that at the level that I got to, which I would say was not a coder, it had a remarkable transformative effect on my thinking and this was at a time where the resources were not as available as they are now in order to learn this stuff. So whether it’s a semantic thing or whether there actually are these kind of set rubrics for how experienced you are, this sort of language of machines I think is so crucially important to understand if you want to sort of feel comfortable in the digital era.

[00:34:02] SY: You mentioned that you haven’t really posted or touched your website in about 10 years now. What made you stop making personal projects on your website?

[00:34:12] ZF: So around 2006, I kind of gassed out a little bit. I had talked about the work that I’d done. I’d had a lot of fun with it. I think that five years of kind of struggling or not really building much of a career, at least that’s what it felt like, I kind of started to feel a little bit desperate. That was a time where I put together some applications for art school and I was thinking about maybe even applying to law school or something like that. On a whim, as I was going through a particularly low point, I just turned on a camera and I just started talking into it and that led to this project, which took about a year, which was called “The Show”, and that was an early video blog. I don’t know. It kind of broke open the web a little bit more for me into sort of a more overall performative space. And I did a little bit of coding for that, but I guess I sort of moved away from that kind of isolated craft of putting little toys together and into sort of a more performative space.

[00:35:30] SY: So what’s next for you in terms of your creative journey?

[00:35:33] ZF: I have a series called True Facts that I love, just like an animal documentary series. That’s taking up quite a bit of my time. I take little pictures of dead bees. That’s what I’ve been doing lately.

[00:35:48] SY: Interesting.

[00:35:49] ZF: I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about the sort of bee apocalypse in a creative way. So when I find dead bees, which I find a lot of, I make tiny little funeral pyres for them and then take photographs of those. But yeah, I’m not totally sure. I’m a little bit of a juncture right now. I’m trying to figure it out.

[00:36:09] SY: So personal projects have been a huge, huge part of your life, and I’m wondering outside of getting to be a TED Talk speaker and sharing what you’re working on, have these projects benefited you in other ways? Maybe more personal ways?

[00:36:25] ZF: Yeah. I have a view on creativity, and I think of it in a kind of visual way. I think of it as this sort of glowing orb or something that you have inside of you, and it has only one channel for expression, which is you. It’s sort of weird because I don’t totally consider it like me. I consider it almost outside of me because of the way it behaves, right? I can’t tell that part of me to just do stuff. It yields things at certain times. I do know that I can take care of it, like get more sleep and take care of my body and be inspired by things and read and things like that. But it kind of gives me stuff at certain times. So in a sense, these projects are just part of living for me. I mean, I think it’s just sort of an obligation to try things and to see what your person makes in the world. So I don’t see much of a separation between the projects and who I am, and not that the projects are who I am, but they’re proof that I’m still alive.

[00:37:44] SY: So for people who want to do personal projects, maybe they’re feeling creatively stuck or they’re not sure where to start, what advice do you have for them?

[00:37:53] ZF: That’s a really great question. It’s super fundamental. I think that everyone has to kind of come to their own understanding of how to deal with it. There’s a couple different approaches that I’ve taken over time. One is that I have this sort of differentiation between two types of things and one I would call solvable problems and the other I would call unsolvable problems. So solvable problems are like when you take a picture of a dead bee every day, that’s like a solvable problem. You can just do that. That’s not true. I mean, you have to find a dead bee, but you know what I’m saying. It’s like take a picture every day or these things where there’s something very, very concrete about it. Unsolvable problems are like writing a novel or the things that are more aesthetically driven that I don’t have a finite solution to them. They’re more expressive or abstract and I find that the unsolvable problems are the ones that generally gives me a lot of fulfillment, but there are times that I just can’t do that kind of stuff. So I have a bank of solvable things, like little tasks that I can do every day in order to make sure that I’m always kind of working and doing. I think learning is solvable. And so just getting into a practice of constantly pushing yourself forward I think is really worth it. And then the other part sometimes is wrestling with what it is that’s kind of stopping you, and whether that’s fear or stories that you tell yourself about your own capacity and all that kind of stuff, there’s lots of approaches. I mean, that’s the field of psychology as to some extent is trying to help you deal with it, but a lot of times I’m kind of like, “Well, what’s the big deal? Just do it.” I wish I had the answer.

[00:39:54] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Ze, are you ready to fill in the blanks?

[00:40:01] ZF: Sure.

[00:40:02] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:40:07] ZF: When I came out to Los Angeles initially, I met a studio executive and the studio executive, he said, “Okay. Whatever you do, just focus on just your own voice. Don’t care about what anyone else does or thinks. You just develop your own voice.” And I know that sounds like a good piece of advice.

[00:40:32] SY: Yeah, it sounds.

[00:40:34] ZF: But I think that the problem with it is that in creative disciplines, there’s two things. One is your voice, which has your sensibilities, your aesthetics, and then there’s the other side of it, which is the business of creativity, and the business of creativity is really a negotiation between the things that you love and you’re interested in and what other people love and are interested in. And so from the standpoint of the studio executive, it makes sense to tell lots of young people to just follow their pure voice because they get to sort of sit back and then just pick the ones that happen to correspond with their business. But for the individuals that stay true to their voice and don’t ever take feedback or don’t wrestle with these wider problems of creative business, it potentially spells disaster.

[00:41:29] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:41:33] ZF: I think get an electric toothbrush. I think that would be it because I wish I had gotten into that.

[00:41:41] SY: So practical.

[00:41:41] ZF: I wish I’d gotten into that way, way earlier because it’s just so good.

[00:41:47] SY: Changed your life?

[00:41:47] ZF: Oh yeah. Totally.

[00:41:49] SY: Nice. Number three, my first coding project was about?

[00:41:53] ZF: My first coding project was trying to get a dot to move up the screen, which was going to be like a laser that little spaceship fired. It was essentially trying to copy Space Invaders.

[00:42:06] SY: Nice. Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

[00:42:12] ZF: There’s this one thing that I like to remember, which I call the “Photoshop Problem”, which is when you look at the toolbar in Photoshop, there’s all these different tools you can use, but if you scaled them based on how often you’re going to use them, the marquee tool in the selection tool would be like massive and everything else would be like tiny. I think that applies a little to coding as well, is that there’s a few real deep fundamental things to understand and then there’s a lot of complex sort of nuanced stuff that you’ll not use very often. So I think it’s not being intimidated by all of these additional things that are so overwhelming and complicated and realize that most of the time you’re going to be doing stuff that you can kind of get a grasp on.

[00:43:10] SY: That’s a really good perspective. Thank you for that.

[00:43:12] ZF: Sure.

[00:43:13] SY: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Ze.

[00:43:15] ZF: Thank you for having me.

[00:43:23] SY: This show is produced 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.

Thank you to these sponsors for supporting the show!

Thank you to these sponsors for supporting the show!