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Part Two: Interview w/ Jason Snell

Published 2/24/2016

In today's episode I have the pleasure of being joined by Jason Snell!

Productivity discussion:

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and in today's episode I continue my interview with Jason Snell. As we talked about on the last episode, Jason is a tech journalist. He covers primarily Mac products and Jason has been doing this for many many years now. On the last episode I started talking about the importance of journalism and tech and that's actually where we're going to pick back up in this episode. Thanks to today's sponsor Digital Ocean, if you are looking for a cloud SSD provider then Digital Ocean is a perfect opportunity for you. We will talk a little bit more about what Digital Ocean does and why you should check them out later in today's episode. But first I want to jump back into this conversation with Jason about tech journalism. I was saying in the previous episode, tech journalism makes a big kind of a bridge between these large companies like Apple and the small individual developer, the weekend developer, the hobbyist developer. And that is a really important factor I think for the growth of this industry is to allow just about anybody to enter the industry and start to work on these products. And that's where we pick up in this next part of the interview with Jason Snell. I hope you enjoy it. I want to know from your perspective, having done this for such a long time, what is the effect of tech journalism on a company like Apple? We know that obviously Apple drives a lot of external businesses like for example Macworld, right? But how does how does the journalism itself change or affect rather the things that Apple produces? Are you saying do we have an impact on what gets made or maybe not what gets made, but how it gets made or even timelines and that kind of thing? It varies. I mean, in my past, some developers, smaller developers will often take feedback to heart and make changes. You always have to be cognizant of the fact, especially this was the case when I was in Macworld in the early days that a bad review of something can destroy a product essentially and that destroys a business and that destroys people's lives. It's not a reason not to give something a bad review, but you need to be aware of what you're doing. And don't dash off a bad review for fun because you have a bigger responsibility than that. Apple's always the big mystery. I know that Apple reads certainly, I think it's still true. It certainly was true in the Steve Jobs era that Apple read everything, everything, like everything. If I wrote something and only happened a few times, but I knew from me and other people that if you wrote something and it struck a nerve somewhere at Apple, you would hear about it like that day. And I had been told by Apple PR people that they read everything about Apple that was written overnight and in the morning before they came to work. They had to know everything that people had said about Apple before they even got to work in the morning. And so Apple was hyper aware and probably still is about what people are saying about them. How much of that is just thrown in the PR hopper of damage control versus how much of that is being seen by people who can make or by it's being seen by developers who don't have decision making authority. They're just working. And then there's the decision makers and how much do they see? And my guess would be that the decision makers see less of it than either of the other two groups and that although they do see it, I mean, I thought it was interesting when at the talk show at WWDC Phil Schiller very specifically mentioned Marco Arman's criticisms of Apple software quality and Marco was sitting next to me basically in the first row. It was pretty funny. But he knew that that was going on. But that was a pretty high profile thing. I would imagine that those people have less knowledge of that criticism, which on one level I understand, you know, at some point you need to focus on your job and not focus on all the people talking about what you should do. You have to make the right decisions. On the other hand, it could also be an insulation from reality. I would hope that the biggest issues that get brought up by writers get sort of like enough people do it. If it carries enough weight, it ends up kind of percolating up to those people. I'm sure things that writers have written have affected product decisions in Apple. My guess is that it probably does not happen as much as those writers would like to think that it does. Yeah, sure. But I do think, you know, I'm sure it's happened that I'm sure at some point it happened that I wrote something about something that was just enough of cause, just enough of friction for somebody to say, why are we getting banged on for this? Why is this the case? Is this true? And to have some decision maker somewhere in the middle of some product go, yeah, it's true. We just haven't prioritized it and had some angry executives say, can you can you prioritize it please? Because I'm tired of hearing about this. And I'm sure that happened at some point, could have been 15 years ago for all I know, but I'm sure that that happened. I'm not, you know, and it varies by person too. Like I wrote some critical things about I movie at one point and Randy U. Billow's email being and said, he said, I totally hear you, what are you trying to do? What would make this situation better? And I gave him some answers and he said, what if we did this or that would those be interesting? And I said, that would be fantastic. You know, do what you think is right, but this is how I used your product. And there was an update, you know, a few weeks later that I'm sure they were already working on that address those. But you know, that's my most extreme example of somebody that I'm like actually contacting means they just tell me, but he was like a made man, Randy was. So he could he could sort of do whatever he wanted. Apple talked to whoever he wanted. But you know, so yeah, I do think we can make a difference. But I don't think that's our primary. I mean, I think we can make a difference and we can advocate for the users. And I think we can make a there can be some impact to that. I think our impact is not it can help, I guess. You know, and I think that's probably the right amount of power for the for the media to have is try to influence the conversation, try to surface some issues that might be uncomfortable. And in the end, that's sort of all we can do. And then we just hope that the decision makers, having gotten that information make decisions that will benefit us. Yeah. You know, as a user group, not as a journalist, but as as users of those products. Sure. Well, it's kind of a surreal thing to submit some level of feedback or some type of feedback to any software or or hardware maker. Perhaps more surreal if it's a hardware maker, but to any company that is creating a product and then say, well, what if we did this? And then you see it actually roll out, right? Like, perhaps one of the most interesting things about podcasting is the opportunity to take listener questions, right? Because it connects this thing that you interact with that seems a little bit, you know, behind a veil with your real experience and with your real communication. Like if you are that customer and this is this has happened for me a few times, I will ask for a future and they'll actually roll it out at a global level, not not Apple, but a couple of a couple of the products that I use in my day day to day work, especially true for open source, if you submit an issue on GitHub, for example. And you know, that specific issue, you know that code went to your issue. Like it wasn't, you know, it wasn't like you submitted issue and then down the road, they fix it without, you know, connecting it to your thing. It's actually, you know, directly connected to it, but this we have to look at companies like Apple and larger companies in that same kind of realm. They have people working for them just like the small companies do, right? Like there are people who are making decisions and granted they're making decisions in different ways like Apple is looking at, you know, long-term stock predictions and, you know, they're talking about stakeholders and that kind of thing, whereas a game developer, an independent game developer may just be talking to their friends or talking to users directly. But everybody at the end of the day is just a person. And I find this really interesting because I've seen a lot of a lot of examples of this, particularly with Apple hardware and software, where whatever the product is, it will implement something that has already been implemented or attempted to be implemented by an independent developer. We talked about it with jail breaking. Another example is flux. This software that basically allows you to change the temperature of the color of your screen. It was side loaded, which I'll include a link in the show notes if you want to go read more about that. But basically you could install this app that changes the color of your screen globally. Well, just a few months later, Apple announces that they're going to have a very similar feature in iOS 9.3. And so I wonder, you know, even as a developer, what that level of influence is on kind of the larger development sphere, we could reasonably say that those are somehow connected. But there's not a way to know exactly how, right? Right. Never know. You never know. And I suppose it's the journalist job to explore those possibilities to some extent. It depends on how you define your job, I guess. But yeah, that's one of the tasks. But in the end, I think it's our job to be independent, to keep the interest of the users in mind, and the interest of the customers, however you want to phrase it. But the other danger is like, you know, if there's a pet feature, I try to really analyze what I'm writing about and try to think of who who it matters to because it's not my job to write about just everybody should do what stuff to cater to me, right? Getting back to our earlier conversation. I need to, I need to try and take some steps back and say, what does the mean to to this kind of user or to all the users? Well, you know, here are the different people who buy this technology and use this technology. And you know, that's part of the deal is taking that step back and trying to think of the big picture of, you know, where they're going and why it would be a good idea for them to do this or that or why something is a problem. You know, that's definitely one of the jobs. Today's episode is sponsored by Digital Ocean, the fastest growing cloud infrastructure provider. They are laser focused on their mission to create simple and elegant solutions for developers and development teams. Now, there are a few services out there that I would say are kind of no brain or services. Digital Ocean is one of those services. It's easy to deploy a droplet that is pre-configured with pretty much any open source platform that you already use. Like no.js, magento, Docker, of course, they have a control panel. They have an API and floating IPs. As you grow, you can actually have team accounts to manage your applications. They are reliable and they're available. This means that they have data center regions around the world. Based on latency, you can choose these different data center regions based on latency to your customer base, or you can deploy across many regions for redundancy. Now, the most important factor to you is that they have straightforward pricing. You only pay for the resources that you actually use by the hour. There's no setup fee. There's no minimum spend. On top of that, though, Digital Ocean is providing a full, free month of a one gigabyte droplet if you use the code Developer Teaat checkout. Go and check it out, digiolotion.com. And of course, that special code will be in the show notes at spec.fm. Thanks once again to Digital Ocean for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So I want to talk to you about productivity because this is such a common topic around people who enjoy Mac products. Specifically about your setup, what devices do you regularly use? I know you probably own quite a few, but which ones would you say are your staple devices? And your setup. How do you network these things together? How you orchestrate all your devices together? How do you access media and that kind of thing? As well as any other applications or day-to-day kind of things that you do to maintain productivity? That's a lot. Let me give you the overview. So I have a 5K iMac that I bought a year ago. That is my day-to-day. I have a I've a adjustable desk in my garage, which is where my office is. And I do most of my work out here. This is where I do my podcast stuff. This is where I do my writing, the bulk of my writing. When I'm on the other side of the door in my house, I'm usually using the iPad Pro at this point. And I will also sometimes as a just a change of venue, a change of scenery. I will go into the house and write in there. And when I do that, I usually am using the iPad Pro in an external keyboard. So those are my two most common modes of getting work done. I have an iPhone and I use it to listen to podcasts and do stuff when I'm out and about. But I'm mostly not out and about. So my most commonly used devices by far are the 5K iMac and the iPad Pro. And on the iMac, I write most of my articles in BBEDIT, which I've been using. I realize for 20 years now. I use that to write most of the pieces, although some stuff I will still write occasionally in the web browser. If it's very, very short and I just keep selecting all and copying so that if the browser does something terrible, I've got it on the clipboard and I can just get it back because you should never write in the browser. And I still do, but it's only occasional. I longer stuff I will write in Scrivener. That's where I've written a few nano-rimo novels. Those are all in Scrivener because it's got a nice sort of an outlining tool that is also a writing tool and the items in your outline are documents inside a larger document. It's a nice model if you're writing something really structured based on an outline. Other productivity stuff that I use on the Mac, Slack, Twitter. My mail client right now is MailPlan, which is basically a Mac wrapper around Gmail to make Gmail a little friendlier. I've got a bunch of scripts and stuff that I use to resize images and upload them to my server and stuff like that. On the iPad right now, I'm using one writer as my writing tool, although it seems like with iPad writing tools every four months, there's another one that comes up with an update that makes it the best and then it's the best for a while until four months later. Someone else replaces it, but I'm using one writer right now, which has some nice, I think it's JavaScript-based macro language that you can do to do some kind of amazing things. I've got some workflows. I've got some workflows. Like, it totally uses Python, I think. I'm terrible at both JavaScript and Python, but I'm better at JavaScript. I'm more inclined to stick with one writer for now because I believe that's the one that's got the JavaScript in it. I've got some workflows in the workflow app that I use that I built for some of that, but mostly I'm using the iPad for more leanback stuff. So it's Twitter and Slack and email. I'm using Outlook as my email client on the iPad right now. That's sort of the big picture of the tools that I use most often on any given day. I'm making use numbers for making charts. When the Apple financials come out, I do that all in numbers because I think numbers is, it's the easiest way to make pretty charts based on spreadsheet data. That's what I'm using right now. Then literally taking screenshots of the charts and posting them on the web, which is not a very web-native approach to charting. There was a lot of talk in Macworld for a while. I was really agitating for us to do something that was dynamic in JavaScript-based where you could have charts that you could click things on and off and all that. I realized when I was thinking about it the other day that I still sort of think about that. Every time I share my charts, I end up having an image into Twitter or Facebook, at which point all of that JavaScript effort, when it comes time to share it, you're taking a screenshot again. One, I just make a really pretty screenshot at the beginning. That's where I am with that. The effort is significantly lower. I would imagine. I've got a JavaScript charting package that I use for my weather station. I have a weather station in my backyard that I've had since 2004. I've got a PHP page that is fed by weather data. Since that's a static page that's got data that changes, I'm using JavaScript-sharing package to chart the highs and the lows and stuff because I'm not making a new chart for my weather station every five minutes and numbers and taking a screenshot of it. I used it for that. It's ugly, but it works. For something like the Apple financials, numbers is, excels charting game is a lot better than it used to be, but numbers is just super easy. I don't love numbers. I don't love pages, but numbers especially, I do love how it makes pretty charts. The weather station is by far the coolest thing in that list so far. It's old. It's as old as my son. I set it up when I was on maternity leave. When my son was born, he's 11. It's still kicking in the backyard. I've replaced the battery at one point. It's got a solar panel, but it's got a backup battery. I have to unclog the spider webs that are spun around at every now and then, but it's still kicking. I've gone through three different apps. I think they talked to it, but it still works. The PHP page that I hacked together like 10 years ago, eight years ago, is still working with only minor modifications over the years. I don't think that you can qualify, qualifiably say that you are not a developer if you did that. No. I think you can still say that. You have to know how unqualified you are. You have to get that the truly incompetent doesn't know they're incompetent. Then you move into a phrase where you know just enough to know that you're dangerous and know that you don't know anything. That's where I am. After years of writing Apple scripts and some Pearl scripts and a little bit of Java script and a little bit of PHP, I know and some shell scripts too. I know enough to, I would say, to pick up things written by other people, repurpose them in ways that they were never intended, that they probably shouldn't work and then move on with my life. I'm one of those people. I just know enough to know that I know nothing. That's 50% of a web developer's job. Actually, in another life, that's probably what I would be doing as being a web developer. Because in the early days of the web, I was building web pages and I taught a class about web design for journalism students for a few years. That would have been another path for me. I think I probably, you know, behaviorally, emotionally would have been suited for that job. But, you know, the story of my career in some ways is there are lots of things that I could have done, but I get to do the things that I like the most about the subjects that I like the most. And as long as I can get away with that, that is what I choose. Keep on going. And I had that moment. I mean, I've also realized in the last couple of years, when I left my long-time job and have been striking out on my own, that that is a conscious choice that I made, that I would really rather, I'm willing to make less money and be less successful in some ways in order to do the things. If I could make a living doing the things that I love, I'm okay with not making the money that I maybe could make doing something that I didn't like. Sure. And so that's sort of where I am. So I am fortunate enough to be able to write for a living and talk for a living about computers and pop culture stuff. And that's what I love. So that's where I am. So yes, and occasionally hack together, really bad PHP. Well, I don't know that there is such a thing as good PHP, but we'll leave that to the crowd. Is that you know what? PHP 7 came out and things are getting better in that world. I just needed a thing that made the temperature green if it was kind of normal temperature and red if it was hot and blue if it was cold. Yeah, you know, PHP, it's a case of a statement or something like that. Fantastic. Yes. Indeed. I set the variable from the weather station and then I've got a couple of CSS definitions that are based entirely on, yeah, that variable. It's really stupid, but it works. Well, I don't do this very often on the show. I don't talk about apps very often, but I feel like if I'm going to talk about them, then now is a perfect time. So I was very sad. You mentioned Outlook. I was very sad to hear that Sunrise is being unscited. I couldn't not say that. But Sunrise is going away. It's my favorite calendaring app. I'd be interested to know do you use Outlook for calendaring? Or do you have a calendaring app? On my iPhone, I'm using fantastic account. On my iPad, I'm largely using the calendar app, the stock calendar app, although Outlook, so my problem with Outlook's calendar is that I find that it doesn't update reliably. Sure. I switch over to the calendar and there are events that aren't there. They're in the calendar app and they're in fantastic calendar app on my Mac, so why aren't they in Outlook? My primary reason for using Outlook is mail, not the calendar, so I just shrug and don't look in the calendar most of the time. Every now and then I go, oh, yeah, there's a calendar in here and sometimes I'll use it that way. I don't love fantastic calendar on the iPad, although it's fine. I love it on the iPhone and actually on the Mac, so I use it more there. I still haven't found, I don't use a calendar heavily. I use it mostly for Developer Tea, actually, but I still haven't found one that I'm like, yeah, this is perfect. I get invitations in the mail and then I click, yes, I'm going and then my phone is connected to my calendar, so I get the reminder, but that's about the extent of it. My hope is that the sunset stuff or the sunrise stuff, which has been sunset, will since, I mean, my understanding is those people are in like super important positions within the mobile group of Microsoft and that stuff's going to come over. I'm, but yeah, it probably will never be the same and I totally get people being sad about it, but I think I have a little hope. Outlook is so, Outlook for iOS is so good that I think it may not be that big of a deal. I may have to give it a little bit of a try there then. Yeah, it's good. It's good. The Microsoft iOS apps in general are very good. Sure. Yeah, I've heard this actually on multiple occasions. I would much rather use Word on an iPad than on a Mac quite frankly. It's, I don't know, it's a newer code base. It looks great. It works well. It's, yeah, it's surprisingly good. So the other app, speaking of word processors that I use regularly that I've just, I've really enjoyed using it recently, especially, is Quip actually. I use Quip now for all of my notes and pretty much all of my collaborative documents. I use Quip because there is a Mac app, there's an iPhone app. I don't use an iPad regularly because I typically have my MacBook Pro with me and so I just default to using that because usually I need to jump into a terminal at some point. So that's just the easiest thing for me. But this Quip is a fantastic app. And by the way, nobody that we've mentioned so far is a sponsor of the show. But somebody in the spec Slack community, they mentioned Quip. I was actually looking for a good text editing application and they mentioned Quip. And actually one of the coolest features of it is it allows you to mention people and it allows you to mention documents. So like you could be writing, I don't know, a report for something and then reference another document. You can actually embed a document inside of another document as well. So if you have like a spreadsheet, you can drop that spreadsheet directly into your, your Quip Word document. It's really interesting. I've enjoyed using it a lot. I have not used it. I think I may be used it briefly because somebody else shared something with me on Quip on my iPad and I used it over there. But I haven't used it beyond looking at their document. It certainly is an ecosystem. You get, you have to go all in and really have everybody around you that you collaborate with go all in for it to be super valuable. But another cool thing about is they actually have a web interface. So it's all built on React. And there's like a nice wrapper for the native applications. And it just, it works well for me. The one complaint that I've heard from designers is that the type isn't super nice. And that can be a deal breaker for people apparently. It can for some people. Well, it is for me if it's really bad. But to me, this isn't really bad. I'm looking at it right now, by the way. It's not really bad. It's, it's definitely reasonable. Well, Jason, this has been great. I have a few questions that I like to ask everyone who comes on my show, journalist or developer or bank teller. And so let's jump straight into those. All right. The first question is, if you had 30 seconds to give every developer some advice, what would you say to them? Every developer? Yes. So beginners, season developers, any any developer. Okay. I'd say know what you want to make. Know who it's for. Make decisions boldly. What we said earlier, focus is important. Making decisions is important. And better that you do, your product does fewer things well than many things poorly. That's my graduation speech for developers. That's good. I appreciate all of those things. So, so the second question then is, what do you wish more people would talk to you about or what question do you wish more people would ask you? Oh, wow. I wish more people would talk to me about how they live their lives, how they're doing. And we get caught up in this world about like the projects we're working on, or the tools we're using, or things like that. And I think that all of us could probably stand to, and myself included the questions that I should be asking more to take a step back and accept and embrace the fact that we're all people that have more to us than just the computer stuff that they were working on. And even a little bit of that, I think, can inject a whole other level of understanding in our interactions with other people. And it's just very easy, I think, especially for computer people to find that uncomfortable. I certainly do. And avoid it. And I think we'd all be better off if we spend a little more time acknowledging each other's humanity. And before we get down to business of talking about all the little beeps and boops that are our lives. That's great. I actually saw a life pro tip for my five minute Reddit of the day. I try to stay off of Reddit as much as I can. But I saw a life pro tip that said, instead of asking someone how they are doing, tell them how good it is to see them when you first encounter that person after not seeing them for a while. And there's a part of this that I agree with. It's a compliment to start out the conversation, it kind of softens the mood. But I also appreciate this idea of being vulnerable with each other. And especially, because we are cultured, Jason, we haven't talked before. I've never had a conversation before today with you. And so my mind thinks of you naturally as kind of like an outsider and intruder. And so it's difficult to switch contexts from that natural thing of, Jason is a stranger to me other than the times that I've heard him on podcasts and the times that I've read the stuff that you've written. You are otherwise a stranger to me. So it's difficult for us to switch our mindsets into saying, hey, wait a second, we do have some common ground already. We're both human, right? And I think that that comes along with the territory definitely for developers, like you said, because we're dealing with things that are remote and we have this interface where we can shut off every emotion and interact with something. And it's fine that the computer doesn't change the way it responds to me based on my feelings, right? But people do. And that is, I really appreciate that concept of taking a step back and saying, wait a second, not everything is about the next JavaScript framework. That shouldn't be the only conversation that I'm having on a day-to-day basis, because I'm losing a bit of my identity if I'm doing that. I'm losing something about the human experience if I only talk about code or if Jason, you only talk about Apple products all they long. That's not the true, that's not the complete human experience. I think it is certainly a part of it and it can be, but it's not the complete human experience. Yep, absolutely. Agreed, agreed 100%. And I include myself in this, that it's so easy to avoid those kind of conversations. And I think that it's, if everybody tried just a little bit, everybody would feel better. I think it was an XKCD comic or something, but it was something like, what are you most afraid of? And the response was, laying alone with silence. And it was this moment of, can I actually think about the experience of life that's happening around me without inundating myself to not think about it without having some kind of noise drown it out. And I think that goes along with this, that these conversations, they aren't necessarily the most comfortable thing to do. And it's something that we must be aware of. Yep. Jason, I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for coming on to Developer Tea. Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I appreciate you invite. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode of Developer Tea. And thank you again to Jason Snell for joining me on the show. I so much enjoyed talking to you here on the show. And I appreciate all of the work that you do for podcasters and on your own podcast. And I'm sure the listeners of Developer Teaenjoyed having you here as well. Of course, today was the second part of the interview, but if you missed out on the first part, you can always find that at spec.fm. And it's in pretty much any podcasting app that you can subscribe in. By the way, if you don't want to miss out on future episodes, make sure you do subscribe in whatever podcasting app you use that allows those episodes to be delivered directly to your device. If you enjoy Developer Tea, consider leaving us a review in iTunes. This is a huge help to the show and it helps other developers just like you find Developer Tea. I'd also like to invite you to join us in the spec Slack community. You can get there by going to spec.fm-slack-slack. At the time of this recording, the spec Slack community is just about to reach 3,500 members. And we'd love for you to be a part of that community. Spec.fm-slack, of course, that is free to you and it always will be. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea and until next time, enjoy your tea.