Results tagged “opportunity”

Talking to Steve Case

February 25, 2014

I had the chance to interview Steve Case for Social Media Week the other day, and though it was a brief conversation, I was really pleased with how it went. Steve's earliest work on Quantum Link, a predecessor to what would someday become AOL, was formative in my understanding of what computers could be used for, and it was great to get to talk to him in some depth about that.

At the other end of the spectrum, it was also truly refreshing to talk to a tech billionaire who recognizes the social obligations that the tech industry and its leaders have to their communities. Whether it was talking about how to truly address the high unemployment rate for which the tech industry bears some responsibility, or discussing immigration in a broader context than simply importing more programmers, or more fundamental issues of inclusion and opportunity, Steve didn't shy away from any of it, and I think it makes the conversation well worth watching.

There's a peculiar and unsettling feeling that arises when looking up background information for a piece and finding a blog post I wrote more than fourteen years ago as one of the top results.

One of the dead links from that post led to the text of the message Steve sent to Quantum Link subscribers just before the service shut down in November 1994:

Dear Members,

As you know, QLink was originally launched in November, 1985. In the years that followed you, as our loyal members, have helped us build a unique online community for Commodore computer users. I want to thank each of you for your contribution, your support and your feedback over the years.

The computing industry has changed dramatically since those first days of online communications. Commodore ceased to produce Commodore brand computers in 1993. Sadly, the company has recently closed its doors entirely. The Commodore computer, once a leader in the industry, has been replaced by faster, more powerful systems. Many software vendors no longer support the Commodore operating system.

Now we find, with great regret, that we simply can no longer support the QLink service. It has become impossible for us to maintain the product up to a standard of quality that we can be proud of. Many of you I'm sure have noticed a diminished level of product quality in the last few months due to these technical limitations. Without technical support from the industry, we are not able to add new services, fix existing problems, or prevent new ones. Therefore we have made the sad decision to discontinue QLink as of November 1, 1994.

We would like to thank each of you for your long and continued support and, if at all possible, keep you as part of our online community.

If you now have the ability to use America Online (PC-DOS, Windows or Macintosh), we invite you to convert your membership to one of these other systems. For details on what these versions have to offer and the system requirements needed to run them, see the document in this area entitled "Converting to America Online."

For details on the last month of service for QLink, important dates and billing information, see the document in this area entitled "Your Final Bill."

We have enjoyed serving you. Thanks again.

Steve Case


People Connection

Also courtesy of the Web Archive is this old page that captured many details of the Quantum Link experience.

Quantum Link Music Astoundingly, the full-screen loading images that we watched while waiting for Quantum Link content to download at 300 baud were only 368×240 in resolution. A few highlights of images that I remember especially well include the People Connection (chat) and Music screens.

And of course, the one image I saw most often was the main menu, which is both completely analogous to, and completely different from, the home screen on my phone that I use every day.


Hold The Door Open

April 25, 2013

Though it's currently in vogue to threaten the President with ricin, the fashion when I was a younger man was to intimidate newspapers with anthrax. During those heady days I happened to work at a newspaper, and as always the terrifying eventually evolved into the mundane, so efforts to protect the staff got reduced to the mailman delivering our packages while wearing latex gloves and a sign being taped inside the main door to our office. The sign had no doubt hastily been prepared in Microsoft Word by someone struggling to deal with the very real possibility of a deadly attack on their coworkers, but by just a few months later, it already seemed an odd artifact of an era of duct tape and color-coded alert levels. The sign said this:


Do not hold the door open for anyone. Later, the sign was revised to something more polite, doing a better job of explaining that this simple glass door was supposed to represent a last line of defense against some unforseeable biochemical attack.

But I think about that sign pretty regularly, as a manifestation of how people who are afraid act. I am a person who has a better life because some kind strangers held the door open for me for just that one extra moment. It was especially appreciated because the elevator in 36 Cooper Square took forever to arrive.

Be Kind

These are two posts that both arrived on Sunday. I don't know if they were coordinated, but they connected in a way that I found pretty powerful.

Cap Watkins, design lead at Etsy, asked us to Be Kind:

I was working out of my apartment fulltime, and hadn't met a single person in the bay area outside the people working with me on PMOG. One day, I decided I wanted to meet some designers in San Francisco. So, I did the only thing I could think of: made a list of web sites I thought were well-designed, figured out who designed them and sent a cold email to the designer telling them I was a new designer in the area and asking if they'd like to get coffee or a beer sometime. In all, I probably sent around 20-30 emails to a variety of creative people in San Francisco.

I received a single reply.

Daniel Burka (who at the time was the creative director at Digg) said that, sure, he'd love to grab coffee. We set up a time and I took the train to the city to meet up with him and his friend Mark. We chatted for awhile and, just before we left, they both mentioned that they were going rock climbing the next morning with friends, and asked if I'd like to join.

Absolutely, I did. ... I wonder sometimes about where I would be now if Daniel hadn't responded to that email. Most likely, I would have gone back home to Louisiana after PMOG. I wouldn't have known anyone in San Francisco, wouldn't have known how to even start looking for new work, etc.

And from Daniel Burka, the Google Ventures design partner mentioned in Cap's piece? A rumination about Doug Bowman:

Nine years ago, I sent a tentatively worded email to Doug Bowman asking if he’d meet up for a coffee when I visited San Francisco for work. At the time, Doug had just launched the new Hotwired site, which was the most incredible, amazing, mind-blowing achievement in web standards at the time. No way did I think that Doug would agree to get coffee with a handful of nobodies from Eastern Canada.

And then he responded. And said yes! And even knew some of the work we’d done (or was generous enough to look us up on the way to the cafĂ©). And he didn’t talk down to us. And he treated us like COLLEAGUES, not like disciples. And he was just a human.

I’m not exaggerating when I describe this as a seminal moment in my design career. The fact that Doug Bowman treated me like I belonged in the same league allowed me to believe that maybe I really did play in the same league. What a wonderful boost of confidence!

I don't think it's coincidence that Cap and Daniel and Doug work in design, a discipline that at its best is grounded in empathy, but regardless of which field they happened to work in, they offer examples of exactly the serendipity and opportunity that can arise when we hold the door open, just a little bit, for that person entering behind us. All we have to do is not be afraid of who we're letting in.

You may also want to see How Jason Fried's opinion made it into the New York Times.

The Blue Collar Coder

October 5, 2012

Much of the conversation about the shortage of technology talent in the United States focuses on how we can encourage more young people to go to college to become Computer Science graduates. Those programs are admirable and should be encouraged, but I suggest we need to focus on some other key areas in order to encourage the sustainability of our tech industry:

  • Education which teaches mid-level programming as a skilled trade, suitable for apprenticeship and advancement in a way that parallels traditional trade skills like HVAC or welding
  • Less of a focus on "the next Zuckerberg", in favor of encouraging solid middle-class tech jobs that may be entrepreneurial, but are primarily focused on creating and maintaining technology infrastructure in non-tech companies
  • Changing the conversation about recruiting technologists from the existing narrow priesthood of highly-skilled experts constantly chasing new technologies to productive workers getting the most out of widely-deployed platforms and frameworks

Put another way, our industry can grow in a very meaningful way by giving lots of young people at a high school level the knowledge they need to learn jQuery straight out of high school, or teaching maintenance on a MySQL database at a trade school without having to get a graduate degree in computer science. That's not to say that CS students aren't also important — we'll need the breakthroughs and innovations they discover. But someone has to run that intranet app at an insurance company, and somebody has to maintain the internal iOS app at a law firm, and those are solid, respectable jobs that are as key to our economy as a 22-year-old trying to pivot and iterate their way into an acqu-hire.

High Tech Vo Tech

High schools have long offered vocational education, preparing graduates for practical careers by making them proficient in valuable technical skill sets which they can put to use directly in the job market right after graduation. Vocational-technical schools (vo-tech) provide trained workers in important fields such as healthcare, construction trades, and core business functions like accounting. For a significant number of my high school peers, vo-tech was the best path to a professional job that would pay well over the duration of an entire career.

Now it's time that vo-tech programs broadly add internet and web technologies to the mix. We need web dev vo-tech.

I'm happy about other efforts being made to teach kids to become tech entrepreneurs; As I write this I'm a few blocks from the Academy for Software Engineering. And it's enormously valuable to teach that school's students about coding and building companies.

But in other schools in America, and outside of big cities like my own, and for kids who aren't going to go all-in by attending a tech-focused high school, we need better options. There are many small-town jobs to be built around hands-on technology implementations.

Part of our challenge is that the tech sector has to acknowledge and accept that a broad swath of jobs in the middle of our industry require skills but need not be predicated on a full liberal arts education at a high-end university. The Stanford CS grads are always going to be fine; It's the people who can't go into the same trade as their dad, or who are smart but not interested in the eating-ramen-and-working-100-hours-a-week startup orthodoxy who we need to bring along with us into tech.

Middle Class Jobs

Though I know there are many more implications to choosing the phrase "blue collar" to describe these jobs, it's a deliberate choice. First, there's a broad and noble history of blue collar workers organize to strengthen workers' rights and improve working conditions for their peers; It's a tradition we'll do well to maintain in the tech world.

More importantly, though, we must confront the fact that our current investment infrastructure for tech companies optimizes for a distribution of opportunity and wealth that looks almost feudal. As I mentioned broadly in To Less Efficient Startups, venture capital today generally strives to make a handful of early founders and employees of a company enormously wealthy (alongside the investors, of course), and then to have a subset of employees profit when there's a liquidity event.

But that's a recipe for continued income inequality. I am proud of, and impressed by, Craigslist's ability to serve hundreds of millions of users with a few dozen employees. But I want the next Craigslist to optimize for providing dozens of jobs in each of the towns it serves, and I want educators in those cities to prepare young people to step into those jobs.

Public education serves many roles in society, from the intrinsic social value of having an educated populace to make decisions about elections to the indispensable role it serves in introducing many kids to the arts, music, science and other fundamental aspects of culture.

Today, most Americans also rely on our public schools to prepare their children for their careers, too. And if we in the tech industry want to keep claiming that we'll continue to be the biggest driver of those new jobs, then we have to engage in a significant conversation about how the public high schools of our country can help prepare just as many future employees of our companies as the handful of highly regarded computer science programs in the country do today.