The Work I'm Looking For
I've been shipping software professionally for nearly 20 years, alternating between early-stage startups and consulting. I've played many of the positions one can play in tech: developer, project manager, sales, product manager, engineering manager, architect, CTO, co-founder, general manager.
I believe that computation represents a fundamental shift in human capacity, similar in scope to the creation of spoken language or writing. And yet we're only 50 years into a 500-year revolution. There are countless opportunities to improve upon the primitive yet amazing machines that we spend hours with every day!
I'm investigating three distinct, but related directions for improvement:
- Real-time collaboration We've gone far down the path of computers as devices to empower individuals. We have only begun to scratch the surface (Figma, Google Docs, Zoom, CRDTs) of computers designed for the explicit purpose of helping humans collaborate with one another in real-time. How could we re-imagine a computer as the facilitator of an enriched conversation between multiple humans?
- Knowledge representation There's a common sentiment in programming: "Bad programmers worry about the code. Good programmers worry about data structures and their relationships." And yet the tools and techniques we have for representing data haven't advanced in decades. How could we represent what a computer knows in a way that is more analogous to the knowledge itself?
- Tools for thought The computer is an incredibly powerful tool. But like any tool, it must be learned. And currently, the tool is far too difficult to learn and far less efficient than it could be in assisting human thought. How could we adapt the computer to be a tool that helps us learn better, think more clearly, and solve complex problems with ease?
Each of these directions is a fertile field of ideas. We have echoes and visions from computing's history that have yet to be explored. We have novel interfaces and ever-advancing hardware. And we have communities of practice oriented around each of them, pushing forward the state-of-the-art while actively hampered by the state-of-the-present.
While "what shall I work on?" is one sort of question, the more pressing question is "how shall I work on" these ideas? Startup companies have a VC-dictated playbook and a drive to monetization that limits freedom of inquiry and truncates timelines. Larger companies have a research agenda dictated largely by potential public market returns and have become ever more risk-adverse. Academia has it's own credentialism and meta-game that must be played, along with an approved list of research topics, none of which correspond well to the directions listed above. The obvious answer is not the palatable one: we need new ways of pursuing new work.
What will I do in the mean-time? Think deeply, write extravagantly, meet like-minded individuals, and above all make things! Create the future that I want to live in, live in it, and tell others about it.
Interested in working with me? Email me at jess dot martin at gmail dot com or reach out on twitter.