Slides here


I want to ask you a question.


Why do you do what you do?

How many would say you’re passionate about software or the web or some aspect of your work?

Passion is a funny word. We use it a lot (at least in English!), but I think most don’t really recognize the original meaning of what they’re saying.

It means to suffer.

How many people would also say you suffer programming?

Why do you do what you do?

You, just like nearly every person who came before you, want to leave your mark on the earth.

You want to know that your life had meaning.

That your time, your energy, your breath wasnt wasted… Almost certainly, you want your life to have meaning now and you want to make a meaningful difference.

So— why make software? Why build stuff for the web?

I think we all recognize technology is one of the most powerful forces. It multiplies our power, influence, reach.

Even to the point where pretty much everyone in this room can do what people have been desperately trying to figure out how to do for centuries: to perform the alchemy of converting something valueless into gold. Most of us pay for our food and where we live by way of alchemy.

A few people here probably do it only for the money. My bet, though, is most don’t.

Why do you do what you do?

I love this line.

When all your desires are distilled, you will cast just two votes: to love more, and be happy.” — Hafiz

To love more. And be happy.

That’s it. Where does software fit in that scheme…?

I discovered a lot about myself and our team by way of something that one of our earliest clients said, which I think he meant as a friendly criticism.

You see,” he said, “You’re artists, I’m a businessman.”

Now, I would consider myself an artist, but a very poor one. I draw cartoons, have written plays and acted in them, I play some music, and I write songs and poetry—but again, none of that’s very good—like, at all. I’m really not just being humble about this.

All of it has feeling though, and even though I’d most definitely consider it poorly done, I have a level of intentionality to that work and a desire to do my best with it.

And I realized that what that client meant was that even though our team was very much delivering the software we were building on time, we were being too perfectionistic about the work we were doing for his taste, and were too eager to improve existing work that was already “good enough” in his eyes.

For a long time, I thought about art as something I loved, but which was quite separate from my work.

But it was at the moment this client said this I started to think differently, and began to understand more clearly some things that were just “gut feelings”.

This helped make sense of world view from which our team at &yet operated, the culture we were trying to create, and the certainty we held that we’d never take outside funding because we believed it would compromise our vision and the spirit of play with which we approached our work.

(Our slogan at &yet is: “What the heck. Why not?”)

Hafiz is one of my favorite programmers of all time.

What he’s able to do in just a few lines of code blows my mind. I want to share some of his work with you today.

All this time
The sun never says to the earth

You owe me.”

Look What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the

Hafiz is actually a 14th Century Persian poet.

But it is with software-like power that he can turn a few lines into something that evokes a feeling and helps cleanse my mind and reset my thinking.

How many people have a playlist you use in order to get in the zone while programming? Isn’t it amazing? We literally run a script of art in order to set our thoughts and feelings in the right place.

Art is really the software of the soul.

Jurassic Park Theme

Even if you don’t know it, it’s impossible to listen to that without feeling something.

My wife and kids are two and a half days of travel away and I miss them so much.

They sent me pictures and messages today and I couldn’t help but tear up thinking of how much I miss them.

Close your eyes, picture someone who you love dearly and miss, and listen to this:

Tchaikovsky — Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48

So much emotion…

But, see, as much as software may be approached artistically, and with the level of intentionality and craft and inspiration that an artist would approach it, software is quite soulless in comparison.

Certainly, we might be moved by the simplicity or elegance of a module or an architecture, but few outside our insular group will be.

So we need artists who speak the language of human emotion to humanize our creations, give them life, and make them more.

Sure, the first place to think about is design.

The story of Firefox (from my personal vantage point) is itself a terrific tale of software incorporating more voices.

Who here used Mozilla Firebird/Phoenix? Remember this logo?

In 2003, Steven Garrity wrote a post criticizing Mozilla branding and design.

He says Bart Decrem from the mozilla foundation reached out to him with the design equivalent of “where’s the patch?” and asked him to get involved in the Mozilla branding process.

Steven DesRoches from Steven Garrity’s company, silverorange, drew some artwork which Jon Hicks then illustrated in Fireworks.

The story of Firefox (from my personal vantage point) is itself a terrific tale of software incorporating more voices and different perspectives to make a better finished product.

One of my dear friends and someone who thinks very differently from me once wrote this:

Unless the bad of your ideas isnt getting regularly replaced by the good of someone elses, you wont know it but it will suck.” — Nate Vander Wilt

He wrote that after a series of conversations he and I had where we came at something from absolutely different perspectives and made something that was dramatically better as a result.

Conversations are powerful. It’s interesting to me that Hafiz compares art to a converation.

Hafiz, once again:

Art is the conversation between lovers Art offers an opening for the heart Tru art makes the divine silence in the soul break into applause

A one on one conversation is a work of art.

It’s really amazing what its capable of doing when two people really listen and share their whole thoughts.

I believe and have found that if you truly understand someone, it is impossible not to love them as a human being.

This goes as far as people who are on opposite ends of the spectrum politically, culturally, socially.

We miss a lot of opportunities for growth as we stubbornly consider our own viewpoint incapable of being improved by someone else’s perspective.

If you want to listen to someone, your chief aim must be to understand them. This means setting aside your own worldview, experiences, biases and doing your best to enter into their mind, empathize with and understand them.

Here’s something Stephanie Maier wrote a few weeks ago which is still ringing in my head:

When we listen, really listen, we reveal respect, support, understanding, empathy. All things that often cannot be expressed with words alone.”

Its not easy - it requires a ton of work and focus.

By way of what I always considered to be a personality flaw, I discovered something that has made a tremendous difference in my life, my work, my thinking.

I absolutely hate small-talk.

I’m actually terrified of it, to be honest.

I love people so I love conferences (in fact, we help put on a few) but I also hate conferences because I really dont do that well in crowds and as much as I might convince people otherwise from time to time, Im a hardcore introvert, like most of you.

At conferences, I feel like I dont get enough of a chance to know people to really listen and understand them, and that makes me feel super awkward.

I will often suck at keeping up in a conversation about the day’s news or politics or even some cool new programming thing. But talk to me about something of substance, your hopes and dreams and fears, and I cant help but be drawn in.

Hafiz wrote:

Why just ask the donkey in me to speak to the donkey in you, when we have so many other beautiful animals and brilliant colored birds inside who are longing to say something wonderful and exciting from our heart?

And it seems like people are most comfortable having conversations of that depth one on one.

When I go to a conference, my hope is to meet a small number of people who I walk away knowing considerably better.

Those conversations tend to permanently mark me. I turn them over and over and over in my head like a song or a lyric.

Sure, I can have a deep conversation with someone online, but when it comes to really listening to someone, there is no exchange for full-duplex synchronous communication complete with body language.

I think back on some of the conversations I had in the last year.

At funconf, Paul and I began talking about how to create an experience that captured our feelings that business that keeps its focus on people is just another form of art—and a very important one, at that.

Also at funconf, Jan and I started a conversation about how to use our privilege as technologists to better the world instead of just enriching our own lives. Which we’ve then continued at Brio, RealtimeConf Europe, and JSConf…

At BackBoneConf and then again at Brio this year, I had lengthy conversations with Boaz about leading and really caring for the people you work with, and getting out of their way while trying to find your own place in a company you started.

Over the course of two days in Seattle at CascadiaJS, I had a conversations with Allen about organizations and how to create a quality company culture.

At JSConf, I had a conversation with Ana Hevesi about fighting the very self-centered nature of technology businesses with the hope of being part of something that made a more substantial impact.

Ive been having a conversation with my dear friend and colleague Adam Baldwin for the past few years about how to give security research a more positive and useful place in development communities.

In the past four weeks, Ive had probably hours and hours of conversations with Shenoa, Erin, Doug, Nate, and some other friends who operate and support the first coworking space in our small community, and who’ve recently made the very hard decision to close down so that a new iteration with less organizational overhead can emerge.

And of course Henrik and I have been talking since I first met him over Thai food about making things that have meaning—from business to products, without needing to take investment that would compromise our values.

I want you to think about the individual conversations that you’ve had in the last few years that shaped you and helped you arrive where you are now.

The ones that have impacted you are like favorite songs or pieces of poetry that get turned over and over in your head.

In his introduction to his translation of Hafiz’s poetry, Daniel Ladinsky wrote:

True art evolves us—opens our arms and weakens our prejudices so that the ever-present seeds of healing and renewal can take root in our soul and sinew, and cause joy.”

Deep, one on one conversations are one of the highest art forms. To truly listen and give someone your full attention is a small but significant way to leave your mark on the world.

I’ve recently been having a conversation with my friend Mike Speegle, who is a terrific novelist and very imaginative writer.

We’ve been discussing the relationship of technology and art in making a positive difference in society.

Through his work which has emerged from our conversations, I’ve been learning a lot about this and it’s really affected me.

We celebrate technologists far too much—the real heroes of our society are underpaid and underappreciated: people like teachers.

We all understand how much it really matters that technology and the web remain open and free-as-in-speech, if not beer.

We spend a lot of time ranting to each other about how important this stuff is.

But the web is not about web developers!

And we need to have one on one conversations—and conversations with people who are not technologists.

Helping people who are outside our world understand why this matters.

What if the conversation about the open web was extended to include… normal people?

That’s only going to happen if each of us do it, one person at a time.

Someone once said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

We put a lot of our treasure into impressing our fellow treasurers. I am including myself as having fallen completely prey to this trap.

For us alchemists who literally turn lines of text into gold, I really believe its important to put our investment into places that can really teach us to care about and focus on the right things.

That means our money, yes, and our time, yes—but also our deep conversations.

One of my personal goals is to convince more people that we can make the most significant difference in the small opportunities we see and take.

We all want so badly to be superheroes that we sometimes pass up the chance to be every day heroes.

We have some ambitious dream in our heads, and we dont feel like well have accomplished anything important until we do the whole thing.

We need to give more credit to the small stuff.

Small things done with great love change the world.” Mother Teresa said that.

We have an obsession with novelty, but usually the best way to get somewhere is to find an older, wiser way and walk in it.

In a world where we’re used to software being a powerful force that demands attention, we need to recognize that the power of single, simple human actions will always be infinitely more powerful.

Five and a half years ago, I was in a truly terrible place.

I had seriously contemplated and wished for suicide for almost two years but had no desire to put my family through that, after having seen firsthand the impact doing that.

Instead of killing myself, I was in the midst of trying to ruin everything about my life and every good relationship I had.

One friend reached out to me in the midst of deep depression.

She forced me to look at the truth.

The truth that is always there: it doesnt matter how lost you are or how hopeless things seem, nothing can stop you from making things better than they are right now.

It was a hard choice, but it was a simple one. And I didnt have to change everything that was wrong in order to change. I just needed to make one small, hard choice, then another.

We all can look at the world as if it’s impossible to change and become hopeless over that fact and do nothing about it.

I want to ask you a question.


Why do you do what you do?

When all your desires are distilled, you will cast just two votes: to love more, and be happy.” — Hafiz

Do more of that, in simple, small, meaningful ways.

And the world will be different because of your art.