Facebook Asked Me to Interview

Someone from Technical Recruiting at Facebook contacted me a few weeks ago saying that they have lots of roles at Facebook that line up well with my experience, and that she would like to set up an initial interview to see if we might be a fit.

I considered just accepting and having a phone call, but I thought better of it and decided that I should at least be up front with her.

Hey [REDACTED]!

I appreciate the offer of a conversation. I’d be open to a chat, but I have to put out a big warning that I’m probably not an ideal Facebook candidate for a couple reasons.

First, I’ve lived in the Valley before (I worked for Apple for six years) but I live in Minnesota now, and I intend on staying. So even if I were to get a job with Facebook, I’d want to spend 95% of my time in Minnesota.

Second, I deleted my Facebook account about six weeks ago. I have serious concerns about Facebook’s role in society at large. In the interest of transparency, I’ll give examples:

  • Facebook can negatively change our perception of each other, our culture and our country
  • Facebook can manipulate how I see myself and my own value (or lack thereof) to my friends and family
  • Facebook’s work to increase user engagement has been so incredibly successful now that it feels to many to be unthinkable to live without it, in spite of the fact that they admit having serious fears and misgivings about what Facebook might do with their information
  • Facebook can in some cases even damage relationships that could have otherwise remained healthy, if distant
  • Facebook’s business model seems to be directly at odds with a person’s need for privacy and control of their own information, and for that reason Facebook may be forced to favor commerce over a person’s emotional needs, or risk going out of business

I think even if everything else worked out, having opinions like that would be painting a huge bullseye on my chest, you know? So I want to be up front about all of it as much as I can be.

I would be really excited to help Facebook to overcome these issues, as incredibly challenging as they are. I think it will require changes to the priorities we carry with us into the engineering process that before now have never been heard of or considered. As you know from my LinkedIn profile, I myself helped to get a niche social network off the ground and bring it to a peak of over 125,000 users at one point, so I certainly believe in the good that social media can do in our lives and the world in general.

Thanks for the email.

Josh
651-[REDACTED]

I never heard back. I didn’t really expect to, but it’s an interesting sort of confirmation nonetheless.

Memories of Writing BASIC on the Commodore 64

My family had a Commodore 64 from maybe 1983 – 1992 or so. My friend Nathan and I would type in BASIC code we found in books he’d bring home from the library, just like this guy is doing, because we wanted to see what it would do. It was like having access to magic spells. How does it work? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. It’s magic! Let’s try it!

We’d take turns line by line, typing in one character at a time, reading them to each other.

Half the time, we made a typo somewhere 20 lines up and couldn’t find it, and certainly didn’t have the knowledge necessary to debug it, so we’d just move on. I was surprised when I saw how easy it is to edit code and add new code in this demo. I had no idea that was possible! Whoops. Though I guess I should give myself a break because I was 9 years old at the time, and no one was teaching me how to do any of this.

Brings back fond memories. Technology seems less magical now, and I don’t think that’s only because of my experience. Maybe the ubiquity of it has demystified it somehow.

I’m Leaving Facebook Permanently

I posted this to Facebook too, of course, but for posterity I’m keeping it here as well. I expect I will be posting a lot more here now that my Facebook account will be gone.


I’m leaving Facebook forever on April 1st. No, this isn’t a joke. You should leave too. Read on.

I read more and more stories like this every day. People with inside knowledge and real expertise and deep, powerful connections in the tech industry, encouraging people to get rid of their Facebook accounts.

It’s not limited to the WhatsApp guy. It includes Facebook’s first president Sean Parker and a former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. The article I linked to says they “both expressed serious misgivings about Facebook and how it messes with people’s psychological and social structures.”

And I’m seeing it myself too. I honestly think the rising anger in this country, the building political polarization, the rise in all kinds of dangerous psychological trends… I know the human condition is deeply broken. But Facebook is making it worse.

And the thing is, since I’m here, I’m part of the problem. And so are you.

I think it’s time to go. Not “time to go until they promise with sugar and a cherry on top they’ll never do it again”. Just time to go, and not come back. Ever.

Let another network rise that respects me and my privacy, respects my personal agency and personal opinions, and isn’t from the outset so fundamentally incapable of making the right choices socially. We cannot reward that behavior any longer by remaining present. I refuse to.

Here’s what I’m going to do, and I encourage you to do the same.

I’m going to keep my Facebook account active (so friends have a chance to read this message!) for the next few days. On April 1st, I’m deleting it permanently, not just deactivating it. And I’m not coming back. Let April Fools’ day be a reminder that Facebook has fooled us all, and we won’t play the fool any longer.

For practical purpose, if you leave Facebook, and you should, you should also make sure friends know how to get ahold of you without it. I’m still going to be on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/joshlewis And my blog, as long as I’m alive and probably for a little while after I’m not, is here: https://blog.joshlewis.org/

Share this message if you agree. But more importantly, on April Fools’ day, stop playing the Fool. Click the big blue button: https://www.facebook.com/help/delete_account

Apple & the Sensational Press

In the last day or so you may have started seeing even more sensationalistic news about Apple than usual. This time, it’s about the claim that Apple is slowing down older iPhones in order to sell new iPhones.

This article at TechCrunch by Matthew Panzarino has the real story. I strongly recommend reading this one to be best informed.

I want to talk about another issue too. It’s related.

I’m so deeply disappointed in some members of the press for the way that they sensationalize stories. It’s nothing new, I know. The fact that I often only notice their sensationalistic tendencies when they’re talking about a subject I actually understand hints that they might be doing this all the time, and I just don’t know it.

On this particular story, I’ve seen absolutely terrible articles by CNET and Business Insider already. Business Insider even went so far as to make it sound like Apple had confirmed, hat in hand, that they were throttling old iPhones in order to sell newer iPhones. They’ve done no such thing.

How can we hold the journalists responsible for these kinds of things accountable? I understand that I could just stop reading stories from those publications, but I imagine that sometimes the writer who publishes the story isn’t the only one responsible for this problem. They may have even been compelled to write something they didn’t personally agree with, or even understand properly, by someone higher up who is motivated to bring in more clicks and more ad revenue.

How are we to know who is to blame for gross misrepresentation of the truth? Is there nothing we can do? Do we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater? It’s terribly ironic that these things are coming from the very organizations we patronize for the sole purpose of bringing us the truth in a timely manner. What a terrible abdication of duty!

We Are All In Ministry Now

I recently talked (ranted) a little bit while recording on my iPhone on my commute home. I didn’t expect anyone to hear it except maybe my friend Jason. The rant was all about the Table and one particular thing that I wish more people understood about what the Table does and what it means to the congregation.

Jason liked it, so the recording ended up on the Table Project’s blog. Listen to it here.

Ideas and Hard Work

I was contacted by a stranger recently via this blog’s contact form. The question I’m assuming he or she is really asking (though pretty vague) is one I often hear, and I thought I’d share my answer. I’ve removed this person’s identifying information since I haven’t asked him or her whether it’s OK to post this here.

Hey Josh,

I was looking through the internet to try to find the best way to submit an idea for an iPhone/iPod accessory that has not yet been available and I stumbled upon your blog. A little about me: My name is [redacted] and I am currently attending (an American university) and I am a double major in Accounting and Finance. It’s a long-shot but I was just curious if you had any ideas or recommendations, advice, contacts, etc. that could help me in finding a way to get this idea to the right people in order for me to make some money to be able to pay off college. Thank you for your help and any further help would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

[Redacted]

Here’s my response:

[Redacted],

Since I don’t know you and I’ve only got one paragraph of (kinda vague) information here, I’m going to make some assumptions, and they might be wrong assumptions. Please forgive me if that’s the case.

Turning an idea into money is extremely hard. In this industry, people don’t pay for ideas. Even good ones. They might pay when all the details (and I mean all the tiny, tiny details) are fleshed out, and they’re holding something in their hand. But there are thousands of people who are out there saying “I’ve got this great idea. Let me just find some people to work for free and make it reality and I’ll just take 10% of the profits and leave the rest to them as payment for their work.” Those folks go nowhere.

If you want to go that route, I’m not sure what to tell you. Ask for help on Craigslist or on a local university message board and see if someone will have coffee with you, I suppose. If money is the final goal, you’ll learn a lot less, have little to be proud of and little to build from.

The category you want to be in is the group of people who are passionate (obsessed?) enough about their idea to build a team, get into the details, learn a lot, work extremely hard, and probably even build a prototype. Or a hundred iterations of a prototype. It turns out you have to put your own life into the thing to make it really worth something. And when you work hard, get into the details and learn a lot, even if your whole project ends up failing, you come out the other side wiser and more able to succeed next time. That’s something no one can take away from you. If you can find a team of people who see it the same way, no one will be able to stop you. You don’t need any of my connections, you just need to find those people.

If you want to go the better, harder route, it might look a lot like the shorter, weaker one in the very beginning, but after a lot of hard work it’ll eventually lead to places like Kickstarter. You can check out the Elevation Dock for an example of a well-done idea (where the details really mattered and the hard work was easily evident) that actually led to a real working product and clearly quite a lot of money. (Almost $1.5M in that case.) Another such case is the Recoil Winder. You can tell when you listen to the video that David Alden spent a lot of time working on the idea before he ever went to Kickstarter.

I hope that’s helpful, [Redacted]. Good luck pursuing your idea!

Josh

Elitism in Geek Culture

Earlier today I saw this video, made by a company whose web application I deeply love.

The company is NewRelic, and the tools they make are wonderful in helping me to make my web applications better in many ways. I was bothered by the video, and I said so on Twitter.

Later, the man who made the video contacted me and invited me to email him my thoughts on why the video bothered me so much. This is what I sent to him. In the hope that it might be helpful to others, or least enlightening as to my motivations, I’ll post it here too.

Patrick,

We spoke on Twitter earlier today. The meat of this message might not be fully “baked” and ready for deep analysis, but I think if I try to consider it more deeply and make a better argument, I’ll never actually send this email, so please forgive the holes and incompleteness of some of these ideas in the interest of having a conversation.

First off, I want to say that NewRelic is seriously my favorite web app from a professional perspective, and has brought me so much peace of mind and so much help that it is mind-blowing. So, well done. I recommend it to every serious web app developer without reservation as often as I can.

Your “Developers” video bugged me for a few hard-to-explain reasons. I’ll give it my best shot.

I’m one of those developers who has an immense respect for Steve Jobs and Apple. I moved across the country to work for the Mac OS X team in 2002 and worked there for about six years before moving back to the midwest. I never would have gotten into technology without Steve Jobs or the things he helped to make. I’m completely certain of that. So when someone appears to be teasing something that I know meant so much to him, and so much to me, and they’re doing it only a couple of months after his untimely death, I bristle more than a little.

But more important than my personal emotional ties, I often feel like developers and geeks (among whose number I proudly count myself!) don’t really understand how important visionaries like Steve Jobs are. Technology isn’t just about computer scientists solving geeky problems in clever ways. In fact, I would say it’s largely not about that at all. To be clear, I agree that we absolutely need geeks to solve geeky problems. That’s a crucial ingredient to what we’re trying to do. We don’t get anywhere without that.

We also don’t get anywhere without guys like Steve solving less-geeky problems. Steve doggedly pursued simplicity, down to the very core of his products, and protected the interests of common users who didn’t want to become geeks. He let them get away with not needing to learn much about technology in order to wield its power. In a sense, he delivered great power to the otherwise powerless, and demonstrated that innovation isn’t just the first time something is done, but also the first moment it becomes truly easy to do it.

I remember the first time it became easy to see how my app was performing on my live server. It was with your product.

Sometimes my own people, my geeks, act like lowered barriers to entry are a downside. We’re a pretty elitist, snobby bunch sometimes. I think we tend to forget who we’re making all this stuff for, and we make it obtuse and difficult almost as a point of pride, as though only the “worthy” can use our creations. The attitude is that if you can’t learn our horrible jargon and our convoluted, geeky way of thinking, you don’t deserve to have the power that comes with it. I think that’s a disgusting way to see technology.

So, having said all that, when you turn Steve’s concept into a new video which ends with the line “Because the ones who can create magic with code are the ones who will one day rule the world”, it doesn’t feel genuine to me because it conflicts with and thumbs its nose at the original message so strongly. It’s difficult to believe that it “meant zero disrespect” to the original concepts it is mimicking. “Rule the world” is a very exclusive goal. It shouldn’t be ours. The original line from the poem you’re mimicking says “Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” That’s what we’re about. Changing the world. Not ruling it.

I hope that we as developers can pull together, amidst our developer pride and geek pride, and not widen the trenches between ourselves and the users. I hope we can help each other to fight pride and arrogance instead of making it culturally acceptable to build it up. The only way we can ever do that is by pulling the focus off ourselves and putting it onto the problems we’re working to solve together.

Josh