Binpress Podcast Episode 12: Christian Heilmann of Mozilla
On this week’s show, we talk with Christian Heilmann, Mozilla’s Principal Evangelist. Christian covers how Mozilla is the Red Cross for the web, why mobile apps are overrated, what it takes to be a developer evangelist and why you should talk to the quiet folks at meetups. He also discusses how he got his start with web development, why more collaboration on web tech is needed, the biggest opportunities on the Internet and much more.
- Christian Heilmann: Website, Twitter, Github
- Mozilla: Website, Twitter, Github
- TED Talk: Why the Web is Dead
Alexis: Welcome to the show, Christian. Thanks for joining us.
Christian: Hello, how are you doing?
Alexis: I am alive and I’m doing okay. A little tired after moderating a conference panel yesterday, but you should be more tired because you’ve gone from conference to conference, to another conference, to another conference.
Christian: Yeah, it’s kind of bizarre. People think it’s like this cool, rock n’ roll lifestyle, but it’s kind of weird because after a while you just feel more at home at the airport than at home [chuckling]. But it’s exciting; I love going to conferences and give talks and meet people because it’s good to put faces onto just tweets and avatars. It’s superb how many people have great stories for you when you catch them in a quiet moment.
It’s always the problem at conferences – there’s a loud crowd that actually tries to communicate with each other and does great things, and then there are the silent guys that are not as comfortable in a big crowd, but these are the ones with the really good stories, so don’t be the loud guy at the conference the whole time. Get some people out of their shell. I mean, we’re not too known to be the most social people in IT, so at least at our events we should be integrating everybody.
Alexis: Absolutely, and at least I find – in personal experience at least – that once you get one of us, I should say, talking with one of the more quiet folks, then you can’t stop us because it’s just the initial interaction that may or may not be intimidating — or we might feel, “Hey, we’ll speak up when we’ve got something to contribute.”
Christian: Yeah, and a lot of times people have things to contribute and don’t know it yet. They just feel intimidated and like, “Oh, I’m just going in recording mode here, but actually I know more of that.”
It is actually my career as a speaker. The press conference that I managed to get my boss to get me a ticket after whining for a few months, I had a lot of disagreements with what speakers would talk about, so I asked every single speaker questions that I had and read questions that I prepared before. Somebody came up to me afterwards and they’re like, “Oh, you obviously know your stuff as well; have you ever thought about writing something – an article or a book?” and I’m like, “No” and that’s how I turned out to be – how I wrote my first book.
Alexis: Oh, wow!
Christian: Yeah. By just showing that I’ve got interest; not by trying to trip the speakers, but just trying to get the best out of the conference as possible. We should not use this lightly because it’s a great opportunity for us and not everybody has that opportunity. I don’t like when people go to conferences and go there because, “Well, my boss gave me a ticket so I don’t care anymore.” Just get as much out of it as you can. This is a time where we should communicate with each other and not just get a sticker and a t-shirt and go home.
Alexis: Agreed. Actually since – again, as you said, it’s nice to have that kind of physical interaction or face-to-face interaction, whereas everything’s just so disconnected in a way while we’re all connected on the web.
Christian: Yeah. This research that I’m writing and will talk about is for a TEDx conference says that the amount of communication that we do online that is so fast and so competitive and so you always have to have the newest to be the coolest. You do upload, you download – well, you only upload. It’s just this massive rat race and we don’t actually stop and actually start communicating with each other; we just try to win arguments instead of really discussing things.
Alexis: Now I’ve got a question related to that, but we’ll leave it for a bit later. Before we get to Mozilla and your work there, tell us a bit about your background.
Christian: Well my background comes originally from radio journalism. Originally, I was just amazed by computers. I was this kind of kid that stayed up long at night to watch a computer animation in a movie, or watch science fiction things. For my parents, computers were always these time-wasting things, things that nobody would ever make money with and nobody would ever have a real job with, but I was always fascinated. I was kind of rebelling that way.
I started with code computers, like Commodore 64s and things like that, and started writing in BASIC, and later on in Assembly and built my first things. Got games, analyzed these games, and gave myself endless lives because I was terrible at playing games, but I was good at analyzing things and seeing how I can fix that. It was rather simple if you’ve got five lives and you get killed and one of them changes in the screen, you just check whether its screen got changed and what made it change, and then you overwrote that, and all of a sudden you have endless lives. So that was pretty cool.
That was, of course, nothing to make much money with, but I had a few things where I had little games published in magazines and stuff like that.
Alexis: Oh, wow.
Christian: And yeah, when I finished my school, I basically realized there’s nothing that I can do except for having to go that one year of social service that we had to do back home, so I worked for the Red Cross then. I worked with the elderly and worked with kids with disabilities, and drove them to school and basically had an insight into the people who were not as healthy as I am, but was still super happy about it.
I also learned that the people that are okay with their lives afterwards are the ones that communicated their whole life and learned their whole life, so I wanted to communicate more. I just went to a local radio station and said, “I know how to speak; I like how to speak” – which should be obvious by now – “and I want to be in radio.” I started doing a career in radio there, was a newscaster after a while, did the news and did a night program as well.
And then the Internet came around in ’96 and I got Internet access at work, and I just lost it. I realized that anybody can go on the Internet and can publish themselves. And it’s worldwide – people give you feedback. From China, I got emails all of a sudden; that I would’ve never gotten from radio, and I’m, “Okay, this is it.” So I just quit my job. I had to go to the hospital for a slight surgery, took a laptop with me – one of those big, clunky ones back then – and built my first website, and taught myself HTML.
There was nothing out there to learn from except for the WC3 website. I built my first website, and then got a few little clients in my area, and then BMW called and said, “Oh, we want somebody to work on our Internet because [crosstalk 06:21] is happening.
I got that contract, and after I had that on my CV, I could start working for bigger companies. I worked for eToys in America – they invited me to America to work there and the eCommerce websites there, and several other agencies – to big websites, like McDonalds.co.uk, VisitBritain.com. And then I started at Yahoo! for a few years. I have amazing – it’s the biggest website on this planet. Back then, I was always – I checked, if I was online, if I type in “yahoo.com” and got connected, and all of a sudden I worked on that thing.
During that whole time, I was always the guy that was rooting for the underdog. Everybody was like, “Internet Explorer is the only browser out there that will ever be necessary,” and I didn’t like it. I was like, “This is just one of them, and there are others out there as well.” I was a big Netscape fan, because that what’s the rebellious thing, again, to do [chuckles]. And then when Netscape basically got forcefully shot down and Mozilla emerged, I was rooting for that a lot, and I helped it a lot, and I started telling people about Mozilla; I’m using it.
During the time, at Yahoo!, they already approached me to do outreach for people and tell people more about Firefox itself, and I’m like, “Well, I want to tell people about the web.” When HTML5 came around and we needed the open web platform to be advocated, I got also a bit bored by my job at Yahoo! and then I started joining Mozilla – that was three years ago – and I’m the official spokesperson of open web and HTML5, the Principal Evangelist of Mozilla now. That’s been a great ride so far because it’s not a company; it’s not another commercial product, but it’s a non-profit organization with lots and lots of volunteers and lots and lots of international things, and that’s why I’m there.
So far, it’s been a really wild ride and it’s really tough to write a CV that a normal recruiter would look at like, “What the –? What have you been doing?” I finished a job education and I’ve never been to university, I just basically –.
Alexis: You jumped right in, yeah?
Christian: Yeah, and I was lucky to be at the right time, at the right place. I’m not saying that this is working for everybody; I was super lucky with it. But on the other hand, it says, “Luck favors the bold,” so from time to time, if there was a job somewhere else that you have to move out to, do it. Physical location should not hinder you from actually having a career, and I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand, that, “Oh, there’s nothing in my area.” So move away. A lot of companies will help you with that as well.
Alexis: I have to say, it’s interesting that you stayed with Yahoo! for quite a long time.
There was a lot of groundbreaking stuff being done, and a lot of it got released open source as well, most of the time, because we released it open source and then we asked the financial department and the legal department if that’s okay, because it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. And that worked out.
It was an exciting environment to work with, because for the first time in my career, I had numbers to deal with from the very beginning. There was no question if people were going to use my stuff. The question was like, “Can we build things that stand up to the amount of users that are just coming every single day?”
Alexis: Yeah, that’s, as I say, a good problem to have.
Before we go further into Mozilla stuff, I – just personal interest here because it seemed that you were well-prepared to do Internet broadcasting, in a way, at the time. You had your experience with the radio and your interest with the Internet – was there anything that you dabbled in at the time?
Christian: In terms of –?
Alexis: Broadcasting on the Internet or podcasting, or that kind of thing. Or was that something that you thought maybe was still a bit too nascent to deal with?
Christian: I did, but I actually wanted to do different things. I wanted to move the medium as well. I wanted to not only be my voice to sing, but I wanted to –.
As a developer, when I wrote code back then on all the computers as well, I didn’t like writing algorithms that just do number crunching; I always liked building interfaces. On the web, it became super easy to build an interface. I mean, back in 1999 or something like that, you could win a pitch by changing the color of a text by moving a mouse over it, and that kind of thing excited me. It was that easy to do, whereas in radio, I had a lot more people that were much better than me and much more suited than me. I just found it exciting to have found a new way of medium to communicate with each other, like these underlined things that you click on and then you go to the next text.
I also found it very exciting that I had a medium that I never owned. I always have to keep the reader with me, because they have all the choices in the world at their fingertips. They can’t just go away. Okay, they can turn off the radio as well, but they’d have to find another station, [crosstalk 11:40] it was much, much easier.
What I found, the skillset that I learned from radio were very applicable to writing on the web. Because on the radio, nobody’s glued in front of the radio and just listens to you; people are just driving, or ironing, or doing all kinds of things at the same time, so you have to make every sentence count. With these short attention spans skimming on the web and reading on the web – that taught us as well. You’re exactly in the same position. Your writing has to be super concise and clear and entertaining, or you lose your readers, and that’s why the skillsets were the same, but it was a new medium for me to explore.
I didn’t want to go into podcasting because it felt like just radio on the web and other people did it better. I contributed to a lot of podcasts, but I didn’t want to build a living around it; I wanted to go back to programming as well.
Alexis: Most people know Mozilla as the force behind Firefox. More programmers and people that are in these kinds of circles also are cognizant of the fact that it’s non-profit, that they have other projects that they’re working on. But give us a – put some broad strokes to kind of pull out a better picture of Mozilla for folks who have some sort of idea, but still not quite the whole picture.
Christian: Well, it’s partly – the interesting thing for me is having worked for the Red Cross. Mozilla is like the Red Cross for the web – it is there to keep the web open, it is there to protect your privacy, and it’s there to keep the web as a platform for you to use without having to subscribe to the beck and call of one company or a few companies.
A lot of the work that we do is, of course, in software – building a browser, because that’s the platform that we use that for – but we also work a lot in privacy; we work a lot with government, on legislation of Internet content. We work a lot with coaching people, how to actually use the Internet and to keep reminding people exactly about the fascination that made me join the Internet and join Mozilla, that anybody can be a publisher on the web. That you should not have to pay, that you should not have to be rich, that you should not have to be in the Western world and have a fancy phone to consume and also to contribute to the web.
It’s the open platform out there that’s for everybody to use, and we’re there to keep that thing open and also to introduce new people to that voice. For a lot of people, the Internet is not about kittens and buying things like it is in the Western world, sadly enough, or actually telling each other how awesome we are on Facebook. For a lot of people, it’s a new way out.
The job of Mozilla is not only to build a software but also to help people realize the potential of the web and to teach them how to use it. That includes learning to program, but also just what it means to be secure on the Internet, how to pick a good password, what not to upload onto your phones so it might leak out in public, which channels you can trust and what might be a place that views your credit card details, and also make sure that the Internet and mobile devices with Firefox OS is an environment where you don’t need a credit card to actually take part in.
I find it hard that when the Internet in the last two years moved from desktop machines to mobiles, the first thing you need in a lot of cases is, first of all, an email of a certain company – not any email – to use your phone, that is one platform that is a bit of a weird thing to me. And the other one, if you want to be a publisher, you have to spend $100 and you have to have a credit card and to have to subscribe to it, then you can publish something, and then it’s up to the company to say, “Well, that’s nice. You can put it on our marketplace and make money with it” or they can just say flat-out, “No, sorry we don’t take that; there’s nothing you can do about it.”
On the Internet, it’s a different story. The end-users decide if your system is good enough or if your app is worthy for downloading, and you don’t need to have a credit card. All you need to do is have an idea and a bit of technical skill and our job is to teach you that technical skill as well.
Alexis: There are a lot of job titles with the bit ‘Evangelist’ in it – (insert here) Evangelist: Dev Evangelist, Product Evangelist – that kind of thing. But after seeing quite a few of your talks on YouTube – because I haven’t flown out to the various conferences or anything – it seems that you are more of an evangelist than folks who call themselves Developer Evangelist and that kind of thing. Usually it’s, “Yeah, this is why our product is great; this is how you should use it; this is how it can make your life better.” That fits a great purpose for that company, but this is much more of a, “I am preparing the way for the Web! Use these open source technologies” and that kind of thing.
Christian: I guess I’m in a lucky position that I don’t have a company where stakeholders decide what we need to do and where the sales numbers decide what we have to do. In that case, I’m very lucky, so it’s unfair to say that others have this same thing going on.
Christian: I think it’s passion in my case as well. I mean, you cannot be an evangelist about something that you don’t care about. I think the first person to coin that term was Guy Kawasaki back in Apple, and he had a blog post about this where he says, “You have to be fiercely passionate about the thing before you can actually evangelize it.” I hate the righteous connotation of evangelists, especially because my name is Christian as well – a lot of confusion for people – but I gave myself that title.
I wrote the handbook on Developer Evangelism at developer-evangelism.com because I wanted to explain to people that the role to me means mostly being a translator, like bringing very complex, technical solutions and making them understandable for different audiences, and also allowing your company – the technical people in your company – to be a voice for them to the business, and also to the outside world, to be understandable and to reach the right people because they don’t have time to translate or explain things. Our job is to make very complex, technical things, find the right audience, and translate it properly for that audience.
In the same fashion, bringing the outside demands of the world to the right people in the company to be responsive and answer in the right fashion. A lot of times, there are a lot of requests from the outside not being listened to because the people who are writing the main code or creating the product are too busy doing that. So somebody from the outside, showing people what it is, explaining the meaning of the thing to them and getting them excited about it, and then bringing the questions back and pre-filtering and triaging these questions to the most needed ones makes them buy the product. It’s very hard to be an evangelist and not be excited about it, because that’s just abusing the term, I think.
Alexis: You gave a talk not too long ago at a TEDx event in Greece, I believe, with the title “Why the Web is dead.” I don’t think that was quite the meaning of the talk – maybe its death was rumored, but it’s not dead. Tell us a bit more about what you mean by that.
Christian: Well, it was partly that TEDx wanted to have a title that is like that, and TED is becoming – the mother organization – is becoming rather formulaic like that. If you look at the titles lately it’s like, “Oh this, with this? Really?” These kinds of questions get people excited about it.
I basically was a tongue-in-cheek start for explaining people that apps and the mobile revolution that we are being told as the new thing, are not that much of a revolution, really so –
Alexis: Which is a theme that you’ve had in multiple talks, yeah?
Christian: Yeah. I mean, it’s basically what attacks us. As web developers, or as a web guy, everybody’s like, “Oh yeah, but people have smartphones now and they download apps. Nobody’s using the web anymore. Nobody goes to a browser and type something in.” An app is much easier to use, which is totally true. The phone factor of the smartphone is it’s really hard to type something in and it’s really annoying to type in your URLs, that’s why apps are much easier to use.
But if you look at the – now that the honeymoon period of apps is a bit over, we realize it’s actually not that much of a convenience. If I just have a different app for every single thing that I want to have, in the end I have to find – I have a search functionality over my app, so I have to go over screen by screen by screen.
I ended with the talk – in between I made a little joke about making an app about people’s mostly used apps while they’re on the toilet, so we might as well make an app that is for that purpose so that you can check in on the toilet and have competitions with your friend who checks in the most and these kinds of things.
But in essence, apps are just a way to make software consumable again. When we got software on CD-ROMs, and we got software on floppy disks, it was easy to sell a piece of software and then when you wanted to have the new one, you have to buy the new one and you get the new CD in the post. With apps, we have the same thing. You cannot charge people for a V2 version of your website, but you charge people for a V2 version of your app.
The convenience of apps is, to me, they work offline. They do one thing and one thing well, and they actually do the job that I want to do. If you use an app for that, that’s perfect, but the business model of apps right now makes them into very annoying little Tamagotchi that complete with each other for your attention. The number of users is everything that counts in terms of usage of apps, so the more users you have, the more money you have, because of ad displays.
That was the main thing about the talk, that the web is not dead; the app market is just confusing people as a – it’s a siren’s song of being something new, but it really is not. It’s just a phone factor that we had before, just in a nicer fashion because the phones are shinier and that we have them on.
Yesterday, or last week, I gave a talk with a lot of numbers that actually show that people don’t download new apps any longer. Most people in the last month just downloaded one app tops because all the other apps are already so demanding of our time and tell us to update them all the time, put things in there, do things with them – that we don’t have time to actually try out new apps, or we don’t even realize that there is a need for them anymore.
The other thing is that the operating systems on mobile do all the things that we need to do. Most people just want to call their friends, communicate with people, have some maps, know about the weather, and that’s it. And all of these things are part of the operating system already, so why should I download an extra app for that?
That gold rush moment of apps reminded me of the 1990s in eCommerce on the web as well. Everyone was like, “Oh, that’s the future.” But apps – it’s not a business model; an app is part of your business model, and I think that’s what I wanted to get across with that talk, that it’s nothing new. It’s just a phone factor that is consumable, and I think it’s unfair that we, as end-users, make app providers money by putting our content in there.
When I upload a picture to the web, it can be copied by 10 million people, retained by lots of lots of caches – that image is there forever. If I upload my image into one certain application and put lots of comments in there, put my efforts into making this the best picture ever, and that company goes bankrupt or that app is not interesting anymore, my data is gone. We should be thinking about where we put our efforts and how we spend our time, because if our time is being spent to make one app a success and then that app is gone and our data is not even retained anymore – we don’t even have the right to download that data – it makes you wonder why we are doing this. It just seems wasting time, really.
Alexis: From personal experience, I find myself downloading fewer and fewer apps now because, as you said, I have everything I need.
So where do you see Firefox OS fitting into this picture?
Christian: Firefox OS was the direct response to the problem of the new mobile web. We realized and we see the numbers that people are not using desktop computers much anymore. Instead, they use smartphones. When we looked at the smartphone market, we realized that there are two commercial companies that run that market – Google with Android and Apple with iOS. So we wanted to say, “Okay, there’s no open player there; there’s no operating system that is open source and available. There’s no phone available that you could reflash or do something else with it; everything is locked down; everything is like, “Here’s the functionality that you have. You want more functionality? Tough luck. You have to wait for that.”
Christian: Whereas on the web, you could say, “Okay, I just clicked this website, it’s in French. I don’t speak French. Hey, I can translate that in English.” “The font of this website is too small; I just press Command, + and I got a bigger font.” All of these things were not available in that closed, mobile environment, so we wanted to make an operating system that gives you all the freedoms of the open web and open source technologies, but at the same time gives you the phone factor of a smartphone.
From the very beginning, we also didn’t want to compete with these smartphone operators in the Western world, but we wanted to bring this smartphone revolution and the technology to the emerging markets, where the real growth is happening. There’s no point in saying that we give people a great experience if the great experience means a $700 price tag, and having to have a credit card before you can use the first thing.
So Firefox OS was mostly released in South America, now in India and we’re going to Africa as well; there’s lots of countries in Europe. All these phones are unlocked, so you can put any sim card in there that you want to, and the operating system doesn’t mean that you have to give a credit card or you have to give an email to use it. You can buy applications on your telephone bill, you can buy applications on a prepaid sim card, so you don’t need to have this, “Okay, I need to be in one environment or another environment”; you can choose like you can choose on the web with that mobile system.
Our success showed that it actually was something that people needed. In the last two years of Mobile World Congress, we were always the big headline because that’s the new thing on the market, not like, “Ooh, you have bigger phones – great.
Alexis: More megapixels, yeah.
Christian: And we’re the fastest growing mobile operating system.
Alexis: Oh wow.
Christian: It’s not in the world where most of the tech news are written, but in the emerging markets where nobody else is going for, we were basically the most sold phones.
Now, at the end of this month, Google is going to announce the Android One project going up in India as well. I think that’s great because others have realized that as well, that there is an emerging market out there, and there are millions of people out there that have the right to be publishers, to consume on the web as well, without breaking the bank by buying their first phone.
It’s especially frustrating for me when I see how fast hardware updates are in the Western world as well. The phone that I bought for £500 a year ago seems to be outdated already and I need a new one. That’s just not right.
Alexis: My wallet is also protesting.
Christian: Well I guess there’s a lot of collaboration going on, but there’s also the problem that we like to show off to each other. I think that’s with my next TED Talk hat on as well. I think that’s the problem of social media – we get pushed into a world where we compete with each other to be the cool new thing every single time.
Beforehand, we had a few libraries that we built; we had a few solutions that we built for real problems. Nowadays, we’re trying to build the thing that is the problem of the future and predict it. Sadly enough, predicting is humans are not that good at, although we think we are.
A lot of times, the fragmentation of products that developers build for developers is that we want to show off to each other, and that’s nothing new. I mean, every geek environment does that. I love going to DIY shops, for example, because I have no idea about DIYs whatsoever, and I enjoy standing next to two people talking their language where I have no idea what they’re talking about, because they know all the different screw types and screwdriver types, and it’s a bit like that as well. Every in-crowd tries to find their cool rock stars for themselves.
To a degree, the simplicity of publication on the Internet is shooting ourselves in the foot there. We just basically release things before they’re really needed, and then we try to find the solution, like a problem that fits our solution. And we get clapped at, and we impress each other because the technicality or the way the solution is written is super impressive, but we forget that without a real user problem out there, it’s not that much of a solution for anybody.
This is a general problem with investment as well. I see a lot of startup events that talk a lot about VC people, and now everybody’s like, “So what about wearables? Wearables are the cool, new thing. What are you guys doing about that?” and “Look at this smartwatch, and look at that –.” I like it; it’s a phone factor that is interesting, but at the same time, if my smartwatch doesn’t do anything without my phone in my pocket, then it’s just a display. It’s like having a startup screen on my computer. The thing is , it might do voice recognition if I’m online and I speak really clearly and I’m not in a pub where it’s loud.
We try to find these solutions to problems that don’t really exist, whereas – I think technology could be used for a lot of problems in this world, but we are too busy impressing each other. You got unemployment numbers; you work with local government and with government initiatives and you see the kind of environment and computers that they’re using, and software that they’re using, that’s just awful and was built ten years ago and never updated. But as technical thinkers, we don’t care about this because it feels icky and it feels boring. Which is quite interesting, because if you look at apps sales – to bring that back on topic – the app developers that concentrate on the enterprise as clients are the ones that make money; the ones that are concentrating on end-users as clients don’t make any money at all, except for a very, very lucky few.
I think every iteration of technology is always going like, “Oh my god, how people use computers for real things like taxes and keeping machines in hospitals working and stuff – that is really boring. Let’s be creative and push the envelope and do amazing things.” And then a few years later, we realize, “Okay, we spent a lot of money on doing amazing things; maybe we make it useful for people again.” So it’s going to be interesting.
I like the concept that every single person tells me like, “Oh, a thick band or a smartwatch that reads your steps and gives you a competitive advantage over yourself, to set yourself goals, would make people healthy in the long run.” I remember these stationary bicycles that people bought to be much more healthy than they were before; they’re all now in the basement collecting dust.
Alexis: Dust – yeah.
Christian: It’s a nice idea, but in the end, if you don’t kick your own behind, you’re not going to exercise and no technology will force you to do that because it’s much easier to ignore the technology.
Alexis: So what is one – I’m thinking here. What’s one project – and it doesn’t have to be open source, but it’d be nice if it were – one project that is doing things right in your opinion? Particularly, it’s not suffering from this awesome overload, or this fragmentation of effort that you’ve previously mentioned.
Christian: Strictly to say, I mean there are a few technologies that got me really excited. I love, for example, 3D printing. I love 3D printing, especially when it has a real use case. As somebody who worked a lot with people with disabilities, I know how much money it costs to get prosthesis for example. Especially for kids, when they grow and they need, for example, a mechanical arm, it costs a lot of money to get that thing replaced every half an hour – half a year, not half hour. I see 3D-printed things that are modular and basically grow with the kids, and the parents can design with the kids what their hand should look like, and that to me is like science fiction already at our fingertips. That’s a really cool thing that’s going on there.
Other things that I love is when people think about connectivity and make it work, like Brick by Ushahidi. It’s an interesting product that basically brings web connectivity to the African outback with a solar-powered little box, and I think that’s really, really cool. That kind of, find a solution for a real problem and make it like you can jump on the thing without breaking it – that’s pretty awesome.
In terms of software, there’s lots of companies that had great approaches, but then get hyped too fast. Simple, for example, the Simple banking system in America is really cool. I would love if bank systems were easier. We’re working with a few banks on these kinds of things as well, or I do, and it’s just – the day-to-day computing has to count simpler.
I think a lot of security problems in this world are because people are still afraid of computers. You see that in user testing. You do a website testing with somebody, and there’s a massive database error on the page, and the first thing that the user does is look at you and say, “Oh my god, I must have done something wrong.” There’s nothing that a user can do to cause a database error. That is really our problem as developers. People still see computers as this magical box that is scary, and I think any project that stops that from happening and makes people feel comfortable when using things, is a great tool.
In terms of services, I’m a huge fan of Spotify because it makes music piracy unnecessary. The only way to fight piracy is to make it unnecessary. It must be easier to do the legal thing than do the illegal thing, and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand yet, especially Hollywood.
I think those are kinds of things that I love. I love better subscription models for books, for example. I find it hilarious that I can go to Amazon and buy a paperback book for £20, and get it sent to my house in 24 hours and read that book. When I try to get the same book that’s 15 years old – that’s why it costs £20 by now – I tried to buy it on Kindle, it tells me that it takes another five months to be available on kindle and then it will be £17. And you’re like, “No, just because it’s digital doesn’t mean you can sell it for the same price for its whole lifetime as well.” Things get older so you should allow people to make it available for people as well.
Alexis: They have a half-life, yeah.
Christian: Yeah, and I think software does the same thing. I remember in the ‘90s, we had this shareware websites and shareware programs where you basically buy the thing and then you use it a bit, and then you start using it. Some of these business models could be applied to apps as well, because the whole concept of “This app is free but you have to pay for everything in the app” is just super annoying because it’s just bait and switch all over again. Finding these business models would be an interest to anyone.
I think anything that has to do with education gets me excited. Khan Academy is just incredible. Finding the whole concept that a teacher should not be standing with the students the whole time and looking over their shoulder, but a teacher is only needed to introduce the concept, and then give pupils the time to find the solution on their own time and help them out when they get stuck. Khan Academy does that.
People don’t understand that Khan Academy is not just videos; it’s not a YouTube channel, but it has this whole analysis background that shows you as a teacher when your students are using these videos and when they keep repeating things because they don’t understand them. And then you can start messaging them and say like, “Oh, you seem to be stuck. Is there any problem? Can I help you out?” And this is just amazing that anybody worldwide with a good enough connection can teach themselves whatever. I think that’s the future of education. That might be the hippie in me because I’m a son of a coal miner; I never went to a university, and now I’m giving talks to universities. I still can’t believe my luck. It shouldn’t be a matter of money to be educated; it should be a matter of interest
Alexis: Right. So considering the future, consider the bleeding edge of web design. What do you think is the biggest opportunity?
Christian: We have two technologies that are super necessary at the moment.
When I put a video tag in a webpage, the browser gives me a play button, a scrubber bar, a volume control – all these things. This is not magic; this is HTML under the hood as well. With web components, we have the opportunity to write new interface elements and make the browser see them as something that the browser came up with. That’s a great opportunity to make things that perform well and still give functionality that is not in HTML. It made HTML extensible and also that you can inherit from the original functionality of HTML and make it better. That’s a great, great opportunity and I think it’s long overdue that we can’t do that because places like Flash, Java – all these environments – already have use this; the web didn’t have this.
The second thing that is super important, and that is what I’m banging on on every talk right now, is ServiceWorker and offline functionality. The flying car, shiny-beautiful-people-in-latex-outfits-jumping-from-building-to-building-future will never come.
Christian: These are against us. Like cables in the ground, and air and rain and these terrible things that we need for breathing are actually bad for putting information in those, and some sooner or later, every kind of wave-driven transmission is going to be overloaded.
We have to embrace the concept that as much as the things that can make work offline, we should make our work offline. And on the web, we have this navigator online principle which tells us, “Is this thing online, or is it not online?” But being online could mean that you have to go to another website and log yourself in; being online could mean that you’re connected to a cable that is going nowhere, so there is no finesse in it.
With ServiceWorker, we have full control over the network stack of our computer. We can say, “If this thing tries to connect and it’s too slow, then give me this data instead. If this is not available, give me this data instead. If it is available, but people are looking at something else, get a lot of data and store it for later to be offline.” So we have the real functionality to build interfaces that work 100% offline without jumping through hoops and building an extra environment around it, and I think that’s the most important thing.
I keep talking to native developers about this as well. I’m on trains all the time; I’m on planes, I’m in lifts, I’m in places, I’m under bridges – offline is a real fact of life, and we have massively powerful things in our pockets that have a lot of space, and actually have powerful processors. We should make as much of those things available offline for people to use offline, which of course is a thorn in the side of a lot of providers because they want to be online all the time so they can track you and give you new ads to see. But it’s just a matter of fact that we will be offline all the time, so let’s make offline work, and ServiceWorker is the way to do that.
Alexis: Going back to web components for a little bit, I see that as clearly one way to make development easier, but it also offers this cross-pollination capability where you can build your own component and then other people can use it. I have some trouble imagining what kind of components people could use to cross-pollinate – and I assume I’m not the only one out here that also has that kind of –. I want to imagine what the future of web components looks like, but I’m having some difficulty. Can you paint us a picture of what that might be?
Christian: I think a lot of these things is like what we see already in other frameworks – there’s lots of controls that you can use and people analyze them and see which one is the right one to use. I think that’s the same problem there that we have.
A lot of times, what we get from the browser, for example, is not necessarily looking the way that we want to – for example, a drop-down menu – but we want to get the functionality of the drop-down menu and style it. That was not possible before. With web components, that will be possible – to have all the functionality of the original drop-down, the keyboard functionality and the automatic cutting of the text where it’s too long, and all of these things you can build in a thing that looks the way that you want to. That’s a great opportunity for web components.
In terms of reuse, a lot of people are building a lot of stuff. There will be now a very confusing time where everybody packs everything into a web component no matter how useless. I already see that; people put released web components that are ‘My Portfolio’ – like whole websites into one element. And that doesn’t make any sense! In the end, people using them will be the way – this kind will wash out and there will be a few winners that will be reused by a lot of people out there.
There’s also an interactivity thing. I can’t even predict that yet. I mean, we are in a world where we have a mouse, we have a keyboard, we have voice recognition, we have touch, we have pencils – or pens – on a tablet, and all these things need different interfaces. With a web component, I can basically build those interfaces and make them work with the browser, rather than having to simulate them. A web component could be something different or a smartwatch that is actually on a desktop because it has the ability to mutate according to these environments and I think that’s one thing that gets very, very exciting.
Also, it stops us from just subscribing to one library and one environment. Right now, the big danger to me with web components is that people use Polymer by Google, or other people use React, or other people use Xtags. So there’s lots of libraries right now that give you the web component’s functionality already without the browsers being capable of them, and gives it to you backwards compatible to all browsers that don’t support this at all. I think that’s a dangerous thing to do because it will never perform.
Internet Explorer 8 that renders a control in Polymer to something that works in Internet Explorer 8 but performs badly doesn’t help the end-user. We should sooner or later put a stake on in the ground and say, “Okay, Internet Explorer gets that ugly drop-down box, still works, and others get this cool drop-down box that works with touch and all kinds of things.” Because Internet Explorer 8 will never be on a mobile device, so you don’t need to support touch for that thing there.
But again, people love to make libraries and tell people that’s the thing to use because it makes everything easier, so we will have another loop of people getting very excited and very locked into one library environment before they realize, “Oh, I cannot use that everywhere,” so we have to understand the underlying technologies as well. It’s a weird situation because we want people to build things that are web components already before the browser supports it full. Otherwise – developers don’t want to wait, and then by the time we got it finished, it might not be interesting for people anymore. But we don’t want people to get too dependent on polyfills and abstractions before we actually make that work, because we need people to use the real technologies and the browsers and give us feedback when it breaks. If you abstract that problem away, you will never ever get feedback because people don’t use the things that browsers rely on out of the box.
Alexis: You mentioned earlier this tendency for social networks to not foster deeper communication. How do you help encourage that in your position at Mozilla?
Christian: Well, I mean, I –.
Alexis: Encourage longer, more thoughtful conversations, that is – not the less thoughtful ones.
Christian: I think it’s by encouraging people not to go for numbers and basically not to feel bad when they don’t have many numbers. In my case, it also means that I talk about what other people do and promote it for them. They do get a lot of readers, they do get a lot of feedback without having to play the game and release things every five minutes themselves.
Also, I encourage people to build things that last longer and solve real problems by collecting problems for people and then sending it back to people in Mozilla. It’s easy to find a problem to solve that isn’t really a problem, but it’s much harder to actually talk to people and listen to them and find out the real problems that they have.
A lot of people like to complain, but they complain loudly about one thing, and then when you analyze really where their problem came from and that’s where you need the fixing. And then I go back to our engineers and tell them, “Okay, this is the real problem that we need to fix” and that solves the issue that five different complainers have rather than only one complainer.
It’s a bit like these magazines – and also on radio, we used to have these programs where people would call in and come up with their problems, and most of these programs are basically faked. People take ten letters and make one problem out of it and answer that problem, and answer ten letters that way.
Alexis: At one time, yeah.
Christian: We do the same thing on the web with feedback; I think it’s a good thing. I think also the problem will solve itself. I already see people getting tired of that rat race of liking and commenting and upvoting. I see people doing it less and less, because they realize we’re just wasting our time here. I hope that better come soon because we do waste our time on a lot of things, and a lot of the content –the beauty of the web that got me excited about it, like the horribly painted pictures by people that have no skill, but get a bit of feedback and get better and better every time they do it. I’d rather see more of that than just read or see another animated .gif that is just part of a video that is supposed to be funny.
I’m so tired of seeing memes. Memes, to me, are just like the death of creativity. People tell me that people without communication skills, that’s the only way for them to communicate, which might be, and it might be a good outlet for somebody who has social anxiety and these kinds of things. But for people who have a bit of a writing skills, who have a bit of painting skills, have a bit of performing skills, please don’t just fall for that and make that funny picture that everybody else sends around, because we’re better than that as humans. We have a blank canvas on the web that everybody is looking at, so let’s use that canvas to better ourselves and make beautiful things, and not just consumption things to remind people, “Oh, you watched that movie that was funny. Here is a scene from that movie. Ha-ha, now I’m funny as well.” No you’re not. You just showed me a picture from the movie [chuckling].
Alexis: This is kind of related and you might have just answered my question there. Considering we have this blank canvas, what do you think is the biggest opportunity on the web, or something that needs to be done that isn’t getting enough attention?
Christian: Education. Again, let’s go back to that one. I think when you get the chance to help somebody out with a problem, do it. Don’t do it with a condescending email, or going back and forth – stop communicating with that person directly.
We have WebRTC now in the browser, which basically is like the Skype functionality directly in the browser. When you go, for example, to our simple project in Mozilla, or you go to JSFiddle, instead of just asking people when they have a programming problem, I ask them to put their code in there. I see it immediately in the browser – it runs in there. I see the errors, and I can press a button and have a chat like we have right now over audio with that person. Each of us has a cursor where you can see where we edit with each other, so that way you can show people a solution without giving them a copy and paste solution that they don’t understand. You can explain to people what’s going on there.
This is just getting more and more – just really communicating with people over the web is not science fiction anymore. There will be a thing in Firefox built-in that allows you to do phone calls and video calls with your friends directly from the browser, without having to install anything extra. I think that’s super exciting because that means you don’t have to issue.
I do that myself. I mean, even in a fashion – in social media. For example, in Facebook, there are so many things going around and people are like, “Oh my god, this shocking thing.” These things are seen in mailing lists ten years ago. Here’s a wonderful website called snopes.com that helps you about urban myths, and every single one of these things that get millions of hits on Facebook is a fake. You just link people to that, just prove how it is a fake and tell them, “Please, next time before you send something around that is really, really encouraging or shocking or amazing, at least test if it’s true.” That can be really sad because – I mean, I saw for example footage of soldiers shooting people, and people are like, “Ah, that’s just the war situation that’s happening right now wherever it is [crosstalk 53:18].
Alexis: Ten years ago, and –.
Christian: Yeah, and you see a different flag on the soldiers’ uniform and the country that he’s supposed to be in, and you’re like, “Can you just please, please, do a bit of scrutiny first before you just spew hatred and make people very sad by sending things around?” That kind of education, I think, is very, very important as well.
We’ve got the opportunity to better everybody over the web. I’m not saying this is like the “Click here to solve everything” – there’s a great book that’s called that. It’s more like, “Make it human.” Make it a communication and please stop trolling.
I don’t understand people that use the Internet, the beautiful resource that is worldwide, just to make other people feel bad – that’s just the lowest form that you can do. At least be a real-life – I’d say the word – let’s be a real asshole, [crosstalk 54:15] and insult people and get punched for it. You know? At least do that [chuckling]. Be honest about it; don’t hide behind some fake –.
Alexis: A monitor, yeah.
Christian: Anonymity, that doesn’t even exist. Don’t be that guy that says, “Oh, I can’t be found on the Internet, so I can be an evil guy just for the laughs.” You don’t see the impact that you have on other people, and we have a rise in anxiety; we have a rise in people being depressed; we have a rise in suicide, because people just see the online life of other people and compare themselves with it and are unhappy with it. Controlling and being very scathing and very hurtful on the web is just exacerbating that issue.
The problem with online life – the fast way it is right now – is that we are comparing a blooper reel with other people’s highlight reels. We get more excited about the virtual life that we live than the real life that we have, and that’s just not the right way to use the Internet. The right way would be, “I’ve got a problem, can you help me?” “Okay, let’s jump on a call and have a real-life conversation with that.”
Alexis: So for folks that have a problem with – that was a terrible segue attempt for me [chuckles]. My next question is – that’s a terrible segue, but much more straightforward – what advice would you give to folks with open source projects when it comes to working with a community and building that community?
Christian: Support the community. A lot of people think open source means that you throw code over the wall and people do magic with it. That’s not going to happen. As soon as you open source the thing, you also subscribe to being there for people to help them when they get stuck, to give encouraging feedback, to actually deal with it. Instead of just bringing other engineers on your project and code against each other and be amazing with each other, also try to nurture people who are not as good at coding, but are very good at finding problems and explaining problems to other people and testing things for you.
An open source project, to me, is not code. An open source project is a community. Finding people who are good in community-building and also in encouraging people to continue putting things into your project to contribute is a very important part of it. Also, don’t see it as a simple way out to have a project that always gets maintained for you; you have to encourage people like when you encourage people in real life as well.
Be sure to share the wealth of it as well, and be sure that when you have a blog about your project, to do a little blog post where you point out different contributors and say, “Okay, this is Rajesh from India. Here’s a photo of him, here are the things that he contributed to us. I just want to thank you right now.” Just putting a human part into the code makes the really successful open source project. In the end, it’s all about humans helping you for free in their free time, or even in their work time from time to time, and you should pay tribute to that. You should just not see it as a simple way of –.
Far too many companies now have failed projects, that actually are not a success financially, and then they say, “Oh, now we open sourced it so it can live on” and all of these things died. Why would people take a project that failed financially and put extra effort in? Okay, maybe because they loved the project; they would do it for a short while, but it’s not worth their time either. You don’t have to pay people in open source, but you have to pay them in kind and you have to pay them in understanding, and I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand.
Alexis: One question I usually ask folks, and this typically applies more to business decisions, but I guess, in this case, it might be more of a perspective that change. I typically ask folks, what’s one mistake that they’d rather not repeat? But in your case, I guess it might be, what’s one perspective that I guess has changed for you that was a revelation in some ways?
Christian: I think one of the things I read lately, which was a very interesting blog post, which made me realize a lot of things about myself as well, is that as engineers, as people who write code, we have this tendency to make everything generic. We find the problem, and then we solve the problem, and then we come up with 12 different scenarios that could fail as well and put extra code in there to make those scenarios not happen at all. The real error scenarios are different ones than the 12 that we thought about. We overcomplicate our code by making it too generic. I’d rather that we concentrate on – of course, you have to do it from time to time to make a library and things like that – but not everything has to be a library; not everything has to be a reusable thing.
Well-written code – clean code – that is properly documented is much easier to actually live on for people to use. I made a lot of mistakes of releasing things that people still applaud me for that haven’t moved on since I released them, because they were too generic. They solved every problem, and then two years later, those problems didn’t exist any longer.
Instead of writing a solution that, at that time, solved the problem but was extensible, and was easy to understand for people to take and build upon – those are the things that survive longer. I think that’s something that developers – we have to jump our own shadows from time to time to not make everything generic. The classic thing is like, “Write your code like the guy who is going to maintain it is a homicidal, ex-murderer that lives in your city and knows where you live,” which is a good way of working, but also it means that you become much more paranoid about your code doing everything, rather than doing one thing well. I’d rather have code that does one thing well and is easy to understand, because then I can use it as training material for new people to learn about programming as well, than the perfect, very complex, generic code that is hard to understand and just frustrates somebody who’s just learning the technology.
We cannot just stop people from making mistakes and then hoping that they will find new solutions. A lot of times, people have to make mistakes to learn from them, and we should allow people to learn and grow by making their own mistakes, rather than just stopping them from looking at things that are broken. Things will always be broken in software, so people have to learn that instead of just, “Oh, here’s a perfect product; you don’t have to worry about the problems under the hood because it’s solved by that one.”
I don’t think that’s helping people learn about coding; it’s a bit like teaching people to paint by filling out a paint-by-numbers thing. Sooner or later, they will have to paint curves, and faces, and things for themselves, and realize it’s much harder than it is. If we just give people perfect solutions that thought about everything, people will never appreciate them; they will discard them rather quickly and go on to the next one. We have to make people understand that writing code is the same as writing text – it’s the same as making music; it’s the same as painting. It’s just another form of expression that has its own rules. It’s based in mathematics a lot, but there’s never one solution to a problem; there’s always many solutions to the same problem.
Alexis: Speaking of learning and education, how do you make this approachable? Because you can have the greatest education resource in the world, but if it still seems intimidating, people might not pick it up.
Christian: I think events are good. We do these Webmaker events where we go to places and we show people our tools, and we let them play with each other. There’s a great thing that I’m doing as a volunteer as well – well, my partner does and I hang out with her. It’s called Coder Dojo, and that one is programming for kids like 7-10 years old, 12 years old.
Alexis: Oh, nice.
Christian: Parents come with their kids and sit down with them, and the kids are all using Scratch or other tools to actually start programming, and the parents learn a lot that way as well. I always thought this was this amazing cool, new thing and we’re do groundbreaking with that, until I realized that –.
I was the first one in my family to go to high school – everybody else just went to the the normal school and then had a job after that. My mother, for example, would help me with my homework in French and learn a bit of French that way as well.
Alexis: Oh wow, yeah.
Christian: I think with digital literacy and with using computers and programming, and using computers as a creative instrument and not just for something where I see the weather on, or a better TV, that’s the same way. I think we can reach a lot of people in older generations through their kids, and that’s why these events where we show these things are very, very powerful.
That also is a good way for somebody who is not a programmer, for example, to take part in Mozilla, because anybody can run these events. We give you an event package that’s like, “Okay, here are a few stickers. Here’s an introduction on how to explain these tools,” and it’s very rewarding for somebody to do that, especially when somebody’s unhappy in their day-to-day job, for example, and wants to do something in technology but feels intimidated by that. That is a great way –.
Alexis: Right, I have that experience with Python. I can wield it, but I know just enough to be dangerous.
So, you are on the frontlines of community. You must have encountered many trolls and thereby you might have many war stories. Would you mind recounting your favorite?
Alexis: It’s tricky; I actually don’t have that many because I’m actually rather abrasive myself. I’m good with words; it’s hard to hurt me with words, because being born redhead, ginger, you being taunted your whole life as a kid anyway, so you get used to them.
I think the classic was when I was like seven years old or something, or somebody came up to me and the German saying saying was like, “Ooh, another fox and no gun,” it’ like when you see a redhead. I think I was seven years old when I said, “Another ass and no paper.” [Chuckling]
I mean, the main thing is about not feeding the troll. I get silent very quickly and don’t just shoot back and let people take their course, because they shoot three or four more times, and then they get tired of it as well. It’s just a problem.
I’m lucky, I think. I had a few stalkers, which is very creepy, but yeah – and female ones, strangely enough, as well. It was just – it happens, but I think I’m –. I’m good with it because I’ve been so long in it. I realized that there’s just no way to deal with that, and a lot of trolls are accidental trolls; they just want to be heard. A lot of times, opening a non-public channel with them and directly answering them and saying, “What is your real problem? Can I help you with something? You seem to be shooting against me because you are unhappy.” That’s when you find out if somebody is just a troll for the sake of it – the best one just to not give into that – or if they really have a problem and they’re just very bad in communicating it.
A lot of times, you have people that accuse you of trolling, but they don’t really understand that was just a communication problem. Again, taking it offline and talking to people directly helps with that.
That said, there’s one thing that saddens me immensely about the Internet, and that is how I see how many of my female colleagues are being treated online. I mean, I never got rape or death threats, but it’s really so common that it’s just scaring me – that there are so many people out there that are such cowards, such completely messed up people, that they think it’s a normal thing to threaten a human with violence just because you disagree with her on a technical debate. Just feeling in a powerful moment and just exerting power because you think you’re anonymous – that just saddens me to no end. It’s not only seen in the Internet, which is the thing that I’m really adamant about, but it also means that you latently are very, very aggressive and you just find a way to use it against people that are even more disturbing than just being a real, physical person about it. It makes me wonder if there are so many people out there that are angry under their smile the whole time. They just use the Internet to be really scary, and that is something that I think we can only work together as people on the Internet, to stop that from happening. And I think it’s just – be open to your friends and listen to people, and when they get threatened, help them out. It’s just a very, very sad thing that this is so commonplace, and that whole #yesallwomen hashtag thing a few months ago pointed that out. I think it’s just scary and it saddens me that people haven’t evolved past this moment where you think threatening somebody with violence would be meaning you win the argument.
Alexis: Right. I have no idea how that computes in their minds.
Christian: Yeah, it’s just – what is wrong with you? It’s social problems.
The clinical world of online, we think everything is clean and fine, and then you see real-world situations. I talk to people in real world about it’s kind of bizarre how things that we think are normal already are still confusing people out there. I mean, I had a cab driver yesterday that told me that getting to know women in Berlin is so hard, so many guys turned gay. I couldn’t even answer! I was just standing there like, “No, it’s not a choice that you basically as a fallback; that’s not how it works.” But a lot of people in real life still have that issue, and I think our main press doesn’t help these kind of prejudices either.
Alexis: Well, let’s hope Mozilla can build a magic machine that will help us drive forward somehow.
Christian: You know, it’s an evolution thing. We have to be better and be the people that people – people that other people look up to have to be the better ones. That saddens me when, for example in the music industry, there are people who deal with domestic violence and still get music awards and stuff. And you’re like, “No, you’re a terrible human being.” People should buy your music, but you should never be allowed on stage again, or be in public or a spokesperson for a certain brand. That’s what I mean, you know?
Alexis: Yeah. Alright, let’s see. Is there anything I missed that I should have asked you or anything that you would like to get across in particular?
Christian: I’m not sure if we actually stuck to any agenda here.
Alexis: No, no, it’s all over the place.
Christian: I hope I didn’t waffle on for too much.
Alexis: No, no.
Christian: But I think it’s important that if you have a voice, that you just throw a few seeds out there and hope that people pick them up and realize what’s going on. If one person listening to that is not the aggressive person online anymore – even just aggressively telling people, “This is flat-out wrong! What’s wrong with you?” and think about the human behind that email, then I think we’ve done a good thing today.
Alexis: Right. So one last question that I like to ask everybody: what is your preferred text editor?
Christian: Sublime Text, at the moment.
Alexis: Another one for the Sublime Text column, which is quickly filling up [chuckles].
Christian: It’s amazing. It’s simple, and it does all the cool, multi-cursor things. It really does the job for me, and I’m not one that changes lightly. I keep my editors for several years before I move on. Stretching up, I should have used vi for my whole life, and I know how to use it but it never grew on me.
Alexis: Where can people find out more about Mozilla?
Christian: At Mozilla.org. That’s as simple as it is. And everything that happens in Mozilla n IRC, everything that happens on mailing lists – we are all over the place, and we’re all over the world. There are people walking amongst you that they don’t know yet [chuckling]. It’s a wonderful place. It’s basically a company – when I started it was 230 people, and now I think we’re like 1100 or something like that. We have still 14,000 contributors out there as well.
Alexis: Was that much growth in three years?
Christian: Well, we built an operating system for a mobile environment that we never were in before, and that means a lot of new faces. The success of it also meant that we could hire more people, so that was pretty good as well.
I’m very excited that we can get people to volunteer for us and give their free time to us, and then sooner or later we can offer them a job to actually make their passion into their living, and I think that’s a great opportunity we have over other companies. But it seems like other companies realized that as well. For example, our interns in San Francisco, they get gobbled up by companies around us. Every single time, there’s a new round of internships over. People are very excited about how we educate people in the company as well, and then give them a chance to work somewhere else, and I like that. I like my spies in other companies – like, infect them with the open source virus – do that [chuckling].
Alexis: I guess most people are – I don’t know about most people on the web, but many people on the web are already following you on Twitter. For those who aren’t, where can they do so?
Christian: It’s @codepo8, C-O-D-E-P-O-8. It’s kinda weird; it’s like this German guy phonetic thing. But it’s actually – there’s a weird backstory behind it, because there used to be a highway coach.
You know, in the Wild West, there was this bandit that was basically stealing money from coaches and he was calling himself Black Bart the Po8 – and it was P-O-8 – and that’s where I got that.
Christian: Yeah, it was from a Lucky Luke comic book where I learned about this.
Alexis: How long have you been using the handle?
Christian: ’94, ’96 on IRC, I think.
Alexis: That’s a great backstory [chuckling].
And for Binpress, you can find us @Binpress. We got to set up a more creative account maybe, where we tweet out what we’re reading at the office and incorporate a number in there somewhere.
Christian: That’s a problem, because a lot of twitter accounts ending in numbers are spam accounts, so it’s not too good to end an account with that.
Alexis: Not a good idea?
Christian: Now I’m stuck with it. Yeah, well my picture is not a beautiful, half-naked lady so I’m not obviously a spam bot. Although people accuse me of the same amount of traffic all the time [chuckling].
Alexis: And you can follow myself @alexissantos – no number at the end, nor the beginning.
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Author: Alexis Santos