The empathy gap in tech: interview with a software engineer

The empathy gap in tech: interview with a software engineer

Last year I was working on an article about the tech industry when I decided to interview a software engineer who writes for Quillette under the pseudonym “Gideon Scopes”. Gideon had mentioned to me in passing that he had Asperger’s Syndrome (a mild variant of autism spectrum disorder) and I wanted to find out more about the industry from the point of view of someone who is not neurotypical.

I first asked him when it was that he knew he wanted to work in technology. He told me that he first knew it when he was five. His family got their first home computer and he was transfixed. Later, he would come across a brief introduction to the BASIC programming language in a book and proceed to teach himself his first programming language. He was only seven.

As a child he taught himself programming out of books, mostly alone at home. He told me that his family were not particularly supportive of his hobby. His mother was not happy to see him focus so intently on one interest and viewed his study of programming “as the equivalent of a kid spending too much time watching TV.”

Growing up in suburban New York, he told me that a compiler for a programming language would cost at least $100, and programming books generally cost $40-60 each. His only source of income was a $1 per week allowance, so it would take him a year or two to save for just one item. This was despite the fact that his parents were in a high income bracket, and could have easily provided resources to help him learn. He learned anyway.

Despite his cognitive ability, however, Gideon underperformed early on in his schooling. He thinks it may have been because he experienced the school environment as overly rigid and inflexible, and the work was just not challenging enough to engage him. It wasn’t until he was able to take accelerated math and science classes that his grades reflected his ability.

Continue reading

How to fix Facebook - before it fixes us

How to fix Facebook - before it fixes us

In early 2006, I got a call from Chris Kelly, then the chief privacy officer at Facebook, asking if I would be willing to meet with his boss, Mark Zuckerberg. I had been a technology investor for more than two decades, but the meeting was unlike any I had ever had. Mark was only twenty-two. He was facing a difficult decision, Chris said, and wanted advice from an experienced person with no stake in the outcome.

When we met, I began by letting Mark know the perspective I was coming from. Soon, I predicted, he would get a billion-dollar offer to buy Facebook from either Microsoft or Yahoo, and everyone, from the company’s board to the executive staff to Mark’s parents, would advise him to take it. I told Mark that he should turn down any acquisition offer. He had an opportunity to create a uniquely great company if he remained true to his vision. At two years old, Facebook was still years away from its first dollar of profit. It was still mostly limited to students and lacked most of the features we take for granted today. But I was convinced that Mark had created a game-changing platform that would eventually be bigger than Google was at the time. Facebook wasn’t the first social network, but it was the first to combine true identity with scalable technology. I told Mark the market was much bigger than just young people; the real value would come when busy adults, parents and grandparents, joined the network and used it to keep in touch with people they didn’t get to see often.

My little speech only took a few minutes. What ensued was the most painful silence of my professional career. It felt like an hour. Finally, Mark revealed why he had asked to meet with me: Yahoo had made that billion-dollar offer, and everyone was telling him to take it.

It only took a few minutes to help him figure out how to get out of the deal. So began a three-year mentoring relationship. In 2007, Mark offered me a choice between investing or joining the board of Facebook. As a professional investor, I chose the former. We spoke often about a range of issues, culminating in my suggestion that he hire Sheryl Sandberg as chief operating officer, and then my help in recruiting her. (Sheryl had introduced me to Bono in 2000; a few years later, he and I formed Elevation Partners, a private equity firm.) My role as a mentor ended prior to the Facebook IPO, when board members like Marc Andreessen and Peter Thiel took on that role.

Read More (Washington Monthly)

A tale of two philosophies (or, how philosophy saved me from the pressures of social media)

A tale of two philosophies (or, how philosophy saved me from the pressures of social media)

In September 2003, philosophy changed my life. I didn’t realise it then, but hindsight is 20/20. And, looking back, I now realise how important it would become for my future. I was entering secondary school in Portugal, and we were offered some optional classes. We could choose either French or German as our secondary languages; I chose German. We were also given a choice between Philosophy and Latin; I went with Philosophy. It’s not that I knew what was expecting me. To be honest, I think I just didn’t feel like learning two new languages in one go.

Continue reading

Web Curios 05/01/18

Well that's disappointing. Despite all the end of year excitement and promises of a fresh start and OUT WITH THE OLD and the like, turns out 2018 is just like 2017. 

YES THAT'S RIGHT IT'S A WHOLE NEW YEAR! A whole new twelve months of Trump and war and corruption and idiocy and beef and snark and cant and sexism and cronyism and hatred and nazis and fools and influencers and brands and work and disappointment and indigestion and sleeplessness and anxiety and loss and tears and fear and and and and

And, of course, LINKS! That's right, whilst the pages on the calendar may turn and the seasons may cycle, some things remain inviolate, such as my ceaseless devotion to finding stuff on the web to share with YOU, my silent, faceless, tiny readership. I fervently hope that each and every one of had a time this Christmas (whichever sort of time you like best), and that you're facing the coming 12 months with a spring in your step and a twinkle in your eye. 

If you're not - if you're feelinng a touch tired and a touch jaded - then just dip a nostril to my mirrored surface, hold the note tightly and just inhale the linklines I lovingly present to you; these are guaranteed to perk you right up (don't mind the taste in the back of your throat). Welcome to 2018! WELCOME TO WEB CURIOS!

Continue reading

Is Bauhaus relevant to 21st century design?

Is Bauhaus relevant to 21st century design?

The Bauhaus movement in Germany, roughly 1919-1933, marked a major turning point for design and its role in society. It exerted a powerful and influential role in the development of artist style. But today, for many designers, it is more of a historical curiosity than a role model. Why? What has changed?

The Bauhaus grew out of crafts and the fine arts. Its focus was style and form. Although it had a huge amount of influence, today that influence is muted by the heavy artistic emphasis. There was little emphasis upon the people for whom the objects were being designed, no discussion about practicality or everyday usage. Even in architecture, the emphasis was form, not the people who had to suffer living and working in the clean, sterile environment that the architects championed.

The Bauhaus movement provides an interesting paradox. Although it had a great cultural impact upon design as art, it failed to produce any single object that changed people’s lives in any fundamental way. Why didn't the Bauhaus rethink the nature of things, of the way that products impact people’s lives and activities? Today, designers relish the opportunity to invent entirely new ways of working, playing, and living. Instead, at the Bauhaus, the emphasis was on simplicity, which is fine as long as one is designing simple things, such as kitchen tools, tableware, and jewelry. But the world is complex, so too must be the things that enable us to work within this world (Norman, 2010). Complexity is a fact of life. Simplicity, on the other hand, is in the mind – it is the designer’s task to make the complex understandable and usable. And when a complex thing is easy to understand, we call it “simple.”

Read more (Don Norman, LinkedIn)

Invasion of the invasion: the most absurd and invasive tech screw-ups and contraventions of recent years

Invasion of the invasion: the most absurd and invasive tech screw-ups and contraventions of recent years

Chris Gilliard, a "professor and snowboarder" resident at Macomb Community College in Michigan, USA put an interesting question to Twitter over the Christmas period: "What’s the most absurd/invasive thing that tech platforms do or have done that sounds made-up but is actually true?". Our clear and present dystopia offered up hundreds of responses, to which we have summarised the best in this article.

All in all, it makes for some grim reading.

Continue reading

A city is not a computer

A city is not a computer

“What should a city optimize for?” Even in the age of peak Silicon Valley, that’s a hard question to take seriously. (Hecklers on Twitter had a few ideas, like “fish tacos” and “pez dispensers.”) 1 Look past the sarcasm, though, and you’ll find an ideology on the rise. The question was posed last summer by Y Combinator — the formidable tech accelerator that has hatched a thousand startups, from AirBnB and Dropbox to robotic greenhouses and wine-by-the-glass delivery — as the entrepreneurs announced a new research agenda: building cities from scratch. Wired’s verdict: “Not Actually Crazy.” 2

Which is not to say wise. For every reasonable question Y Combinator asked — “How can cities help more of their residents be happy and reach their potential?” — there was a preposterous one: “How should we measure the effectiveness of a city (what are its KPIs)?” That’s Key Performance Indicators, for those not steeped in business intelligence jargon. There was hardly any mention of the urban designers, planners, and scholars who have been asking the big questions for centuries: How do cities function, and how can they function better?

Of course, it’s possible that no city will be harmed in the making of this research. Half a year later, the public output of the New Cities project consists of two blog posts, one announcing the program and the other reporting the first hire. Still, the rhetoric deserves close attention, because, frankly, in this new political age, all rhetoric demands scrutiny. At the highest levels of government, we see evidence and quantitative data manipulated or manufactured to justify reckless orders, disrupting not only “politics as usual,” but also fundamental democratic principles. Much of the work in urban tech has the potential to play right into this new mode of governance.

Read more (Places Journal)

Why openness, not technology alone, must be the heart of the digital economy

Why openness, not technology alone, must be the heart of the digital economy

When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440 it was, just as the internet has been in our time, a revolutionary development. Before the printing press, it is estimated there were just 30,000 books in all of Europe. Fifty years later, there were more than ten million. Over the next 500 years Gutenberg’s invention would transform our ability to share knowledge and help create the modern world.

Continue reading

Web Curios 15/12/17

Another year done, then. Almost 12 months of getting up and sometimes going to work and coming home and eating and shitting and crying and what have I got to show for it?

Well, 33 Web Curios, approximately 230,000 words of prose, some 6,000-odd links and incipient carpal tunnel, as it happens, so IN YOUR FACE 2017!

So that was the year that was. No recap, no recriminations, certainly no predictions. I am DONE with this, and I hope you nearly are too. For those of you who don't make it to my heartfelt message at the bottom, let me deliver it once again up top - thanks for reading, and I hope you're all ok. 

Take care, happy holidays, and try not to let anything bad happen. This, as ever, will be Web Curios. Happy Holidays.

Continue reading

Web Curios 08/12/17

So, how was it for you? As you peeled the crusted lids from each other at the alarm's insistence this morning, gingerly ran the cracked, dried sponge of your dessicated tongue over the crenellated horrors that your lips seemed to have become, tentatively explored your nostrils to dislodge the lignocaine rocks obstructing the airflow, and took the first, sweet sup of the foul soup that was your morning breath, was it with a sense of fear and regret? WHAT DID YOU DO? WHO WITH? WHO SAW?

Yes, that's right, it is OFFICE PARTY SEASON! Last night was, as far as I can tell, the BIG ONE when it came to friends and acquaintances of mine having their annual ethanol celebration, so how was it for you? What tales, what gossip, what larks

I don't tend to go to office parties (this will no doubt shock you - "surely", I imagine you thinking, "surely someone with Matt's sunny demeanour and effervescent outlook on life is simply FIGHTING off the invites of a December?" well, readers, let me disabuse you of that notion) which is probably for the best; the first one I ever attended, in my second ever week of proper, full-time employment, ended with me drunkenly telling the MD of the company I'd joined that the whole industry was utterly vile and disgusting, potentially even morally  wrong, and I didn't think I could keep doing it (I lasted three years).

Anyway, I hope YOURS was fun, whatever you got up to. As we bask happily in the glory of a Brexit deal achieved (you know that Churchillian "This is not the end; this is not even the beginning of the end..." spiel? Yes, well, exactly), let me apply the following stinking poultice of words and links and images to your sweating brow - or, alternatively, maybe just head to the pub for lunch and DON'T COME BACK. 

THIS, AS EVER, IS WEB CURIOS!

Continue reading

Most of the code on GitHub is non-original

Most of the code on GitHub is non-original

If GitHub has a mission, it would be to act as the world's repository for open source code. While that's an honourable position, it brings with it an element of exploitation. This has been proven, albeit indirectly, by a team of university researchers based in the Czech Republic and the USA.

Continue reading

Web Curios 01/12/17

So, as we roll into the final month of 2017, punch-drunk and reeling and with the very real sense that whilst it's been a tough one this is not the final round, oh no siree, let's take a moment to consider that in 11 short months we've gone from a position of vague hope that it couldn't possibly be as bad as 2016 and maybe all the doom mongering is a bit much to a world in which the President of the US can actively endorse the message of a fringe bunch of racist lunatics and doesn't even have to justify himself. Meanwhile Bitcoin's wobbling like a fat trapeze artist and everyone's a wanker or a rapist - it's fair to say that things haven't panned out quite as we might have wished.

But! What is that light I see yonder? Is that the Christmas star, bringing joy and light and hope to all who bask in its nighttime glow? Or is the light at the end of the tunnel merely the headlamp of yet another train, careening towards us at unconscionable pace? WHO KNOWS? NOT I! All I know that this is the THIRD-LAST CURIOS OF THE YEAR, and as such is full of even more bile, spleen, fear and uncertainty than usual. The penny in your pudding, the cloves in your mulled wine, the coal in your stocking, the unwanted present under your tree, the knowledge that all of the material goods in the world won't compensate for that very real feeling that assails you in that weird hinterland time between Christmas and New Year that this, frankly, is it, this strange interregnum of drunkenness and indigestion, this is all you really want because it's the closest thing to being able to turn it all OFF that you will ever get...WEB CURIOS IS ALL OF THIS AND MORE!

Sorry, I'm a touch tired this week, I'm sure it'll pass. NOW TO THE LINKS!

Continue reading

Talking about my graduation: a journey into the heart of the dark ages with the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu

Talking about my graduation: a journey into the heart of the dark ages with the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu

 

The JAMs were my first love.

Long before they became The KLF, and had massive worldwide hits with What Time Is Love?, 3AM Eternal and the rest, I fell in love with The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu through the pages of the weekly music press. Their records were impossible to find when you'd just turned 16 in a West Yorkshire village, but on Janice Long's Radio 1 evening show they sounded as funny, exciting and inspiring as those interviews with Rockman Rock and King Boy D in Sounds and Melody Maker would suggest. They were primitive sonic smash & grabs, blatant cut-ups that didn't so much use samples as huge raw chunks of other peoples' songs, mashed up and welded into lumbering impossible new beasts that should never have been born. They stole only from the best: The Beatles, Abba, Samantha Fox. The resulting crush collisions were shocking, irreverent, hilarious and simultaneously very dumb and very clever, like all great art should be. They were sound collages, making their points and creating new realities through juxtaposition: colliding different ideas to see what would happen.

Continue reading

Web Curios 24/11/17

Gah! So much to do, so little time! This intro is necessarily going to be on the short side as I have STUFF to be getting on with and to be honest I imagine that most of you are going to be far too busy buying VAST QUANTITIES OF STUFF to be bothered with links today. 

Amidst the babble, clamour and NOISE of Black Friday, then, take a moment to lie back and let the soothing waves of webspaff wash over your beetled brow and troubled countenance - it's apparently great for the complexion. Web Curios!

Continue reading

British emerging artists wanted for Brazil residency

British emerging artists wanted for Brazil residency

The British Council Brazil and People’s Palace Projects are offering a residency for emerging UK artists in Brazil.

Continue reading

Web Curios 17/11/17

Russia! Sexpests! Brexit! Mugabe! And that's just the past 6 hours I've been writing this damn thing. Web Curios may take a week off but the world certainly doesn't, as evidenced by the absolute tsunami of links about to engulf you. 

I am tired, you are tired, we are ALL tired. As we limp towards the end of 2017, I can't be the only one whose general sense of 'well, that was the year that was' reflection that used to accompany the the imminence of December has been replaced by a sense of trepidation and a very real fear about how much worse it's all going to get in 2018.

God, it's good to have me back, isn't it?

Anyway, with no further ado let us smear ourselves with clunkily metaphorical honey, stretch ourselves out in the infoforest and await the ravening maws of the WEBSPAFF BEARS (no, I know that doesn't work at all, but seriously, I have been typing for literally hours and I am somewhat enervated) - THIS, AS EVER, IS WEB CURIOS!

Continue reading

The KLF want you to burn the Shard

The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu aka The KLF aka Rockman Rock and KingBoy D aka The Timelords aka Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty have invited all comers to do one thing in November: Burn the Shard.

Continue reading

Something is wrong on the internet

Something is wrong on the internet

As someone who grew up on the internet, I credit it as one of the most important influences on who I am today. I had a computer with internet access in my bedroom from the age of 13. It gave me access to a lot of things which were totally inappropriate for a young teenager, but it was OK. The culture, politics, and interpersonal relationships which I consider to be central to my identity were shaped by the internet, in ways that I have always considered to be beneficial to me personally. I have always been a critical proponent of the internet and everything it has brought, and broadly considered it to be emancipatory and beneficial. I state this at the outset because thinking through the implications of the problem I am going to describe troubles my own assumptions and prejudices in significant ways.

One of so-far hypothetical questions I ask myself frequently is how I would feel about my own children having the same kind of access to the internet today. And I find the question increasingly difficult to answer. I understand that this is a natural evolution of attitudes which happens with age, and at some point this question might be a lot less hypothetical. I don’t want to be a hypocrite about it. I would want my kids to have the same opportunities to explore and grow and express themselves as I did. I would like them to have that choice. And this belief broadens into attitudes about the role of the internet in public life as whole.

I’ve also been aware for some time of the increasingly symbiotic relationship between younger children and YouTube. I see kids engrossed in screens all the time, in pushchairs and in restaurants, and there’s always a bit of a Luddite twinge there, but I am not a parent, and I’m not making parental judgments for or on anyone else. I’ve seen family members and friend’s children plugged into Peppa Pig and nursery rhyme videos, and it makes them happy and gives everyone a break, so OK.

But I don’t even have kids and right now I just want to burn the whole thing down.

Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level. Much of what I am going to describe next has been covered elsewhere, although none of the mainstream coverage I’ve seen has really grasped the implications of what seems to be occurring.

Continue reading

Web Curios 03/11/17

Whilst the vast majority of me is gladdened at the shining of the LIGHT OF TRUTH AND JUSTICE which is being shone on the Palace of Westminster, another, smaller part of me is also enjoying the absolute bemusement being displayed in some sections of the Italian media at this; "he touched her knee?" is the general tone amongst much of the commentariat, "You mean there weren't even any sex parties? AMATEURS!"

Anyway, we certainly shouldn't look to Italy for guidance on any of this (witness, if you're unaware, the country's recent charming reaction to its daughter Asia Argento being at the centre of some of the Weinstein revelations); instead, let's all instead take bets on who the urolagniaphile is (also, I was asking the BIG QUESTIONS about this on Twitter should you care or indeed have any answers).  Not that there's actually anything wrong with that - shall we instead focus on the actual issues of power and control at the heart of all this Westminster gossip? No? Oh, fine, please yourselves. 

Anyway, Curios is early this week as I have a genuinely terrifying meeting at 2pm before which I need to spend a good hour or so sweating nervously in a corner, so on that note I am going to GET RIGHT ON WITH IT. Get into the tub, make yourself comfortable and prepare to bathed in the warm, fresh infostreams - you can choose to imbibe if you so desire, but bear in mind it does get awfully cold if you wallow in it. THIS, AS EVER, IS WEB CURIOS!

Continue reading

Brexit, the slap across the face

Brexit, the slap across the face

As a 25-year-old entrepreneur living in London, I am aware that Brexit will have the biggest impact on my generation, whether this is for better or for worse. We will be the ones forced to live the entirety of our lives with the decisions made by the government and any implications that may accompany this. Brexit will be a gamble… one that we did not want then or now.

Continue reading

EasyBlog - Search Blogs Module