#288 Steven Schkolne found his balance between art, tech and business
Steven Schkolne's remarkable journey in the realm of computer engineering and design is a vivid illustration of how the realms of art and technology can converge to create something extraordinary. The latest podcast episode invites us to traverse this pioneering path alongside Steven, starting with his early forays into programming with BASIC and Logo, sparking an enduring passion for development. As the narrative unfolds, we delve into the intricate interplay between visual and linguistic programming, a duality that Steven navigated as he transitioned from merely using computers to mastering their potential through code.
The odyssey through Steven's career highlights how an affinity for mathematics can evolve into a love affair with coding, particularly through the transformative experiences of graduate school. It was there that Steven, initially feeling like an outsider, began to find his niche at the intersection of technology and aesthetics. The epiphany came with his exploration of graphical user interfaces and collaborative art projects, culminating in a pivotal realization that he could indeed fuse his technical prowess with artistic expression.
As we move deeper into the conversation, Steven recounts his artistic coding ventures, where the allure of mathematical functions and the randomness of number generators opened a new world of possibilities. This initial enchantment with creating visually arresting digital art reinforced his programming skills, illustrating the value of building modular, flexible code blocks akin to Lego pieces. The episode beautifully captures the joy and fulfillment derived from discovering one's true calling at the nexus of art, coding, and technology.
Looking to the future, Steven shares his insights on the evolution of coding and interfaces, discussing the burgeoning digital art markets through the lens of NFTs and the importance of user-friendly design. He envisions a tech world that augments the human element in engineering rather than replacing it, emphasizing the significance of maintaining control over code despite the allure of AI and visual tools.
The episode concludes with Steven's musings on his current focus, Mighty Melt—a web project aimed at visualizing and creating sophisticated React codebases. His story is a testament to the potential of blending diverse interests and the continuous pursuit of growth, both personally and professionally.
Steven Schkolne's narrative is a compelling reminder that passion, whether found in the beauty of a well-crafted line of code or the stroke of a digital brush, is the underlying melody that drives innovation and creativity. His journey is not just about the milestones in technology but also about the social experiences that enrich his work and the profound impact of staying engaged with one's interests.
As the episode wraps up, listeners are left with a profound sense of admiration for Steven's multifaceted expertise and the seamless way he has woven his love for math, art, and technology into a fulfilling career. It is a journey that not only illuminates the possibilities inherent in the digital renaissance but also serves as a beacon for aspiring developers and creatives looking to chart their own unique paths in the vast and ever-expanding universe of computer engineering and design.
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Steven Schkolne: 0:00
my heart is in the work and I would say work If you're struggling to find your passion. Work at things. As you work at things, you understand. The more you appreciate, the more you learn more. I don't like gardening, but if I spent a lot of time working at gardening, I would find a way to connect with it and I think a lot of people looking at my career and saying, oh, am I supposed to do this? Like I spent so many years wondering what I was supposed to be because I didn't really fit into the world in a way that made a lot of sense. I had all these different interests and I just kept working at it and kept doing things and I wish I'd spent less time worrying and more time just being engaged, doing things, working with people, getting to know people, having those kinds of social experiences. It's ultimately what drives me social experiences through what you're doing and just keep working and don't worry so much about what it means.
Hello and welcome to Developer's Journey, the podcast bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. I'm your host, tim Bologna. On this episode, I receive Steven Scolny. Steven is a computer scientist, self-taught designer and entrepreneur who's passionate about how human work creatively with machines. Speaking of which, he pioneered VR creative tools long before their commercial debut and I see some VR goggles behind you, don't turn around. His current focus is a web project called Mighty Melt, a visualization and creation platform for sophisticated React code bases. Maybe we're going to talk about this today, but we'll see. Steven, a warm welcome to DevTourney.
Yeah, thank you, Tim. Glad to be here. Oh, it's my pleasure.
But before we come to your story, I want to thank the terrific listeners who support the show. Every month you are keeping the DevTourney lights up. If you would like to join this fine crew and help me spend more time on finding phenomenal guests than editing audio tracks, please go to our website, devjourneyinfo, and click on the Support Me on Patreon button. Even the smallest contributions are giant steps toward a sustainable DevTourney journey. Thank you, and now back to today's guest, steven. As you know, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story looks like and imagine how to shape their own future. So, as is usual on the show, let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your DevTourney?
So the first actual lines of code I wrote were in basic and copied and pasted them out of a book and typed them into an IBM PC in the early to mid 80s. It was quite young, had parents who were early adopters and really into the PC. I don't know if that actually counts as the beginning of my DevTourney because I didn't understand much of what was going on with the basic. I think I was maybe six or seven years old or something like that, so basically copying and pasting. But I would say the first real Dev experience I had was using this thing called Logo. And it was a turtle. There's this little triangle on the screen and your type of series of commands, like you know go 40 and go 40 pixels and write 90. And if you did that four times it would draw a square. And I was using that on the PC maybe eight years old or so and drawing pictures with this little turtle, and I think that's the first time I was giving instructions to a computer in a way that really got me excited and that I just wanted to dive in and explore. So that's where I would make the start.
You would be amazed how many people had a first experience with Logo. Nowadays. It would be probably Scratch for the younger generation, but Logo seems to be really really really widely available. Back then.
Yeah, and for someone I kind of think there are two sort of spheres to math and to programming the visual and the linguistic, and I tend to be more on, or sorry, maybe the spatial and linguistic. Yeah, we could say spatial, visual, and I tend to be very on the spatial side of things. So for me, being able to mess with geometry and do something visual and geometric just I really thinking about my journey from there, that's been a big part of it. You know, just making pictures, so fast forwarding, I did learn, eventually learn Pascal at a summer camp, but then I had this little later when I was like 14 or so, using this thing called Pavre, which is a ray tracer and you basically handwrite these scene files and then it would take, like you know, minutes to make these like basic pictures. These are the kinds of things that really got my enthusiasm in terms of development when I was young.
So Did you picture it as coding, or was it just a means to doing something else with a visual component?
I don't really see it as coding. Keep in mind, in these days, this is the 80s we didn't know anyone called it coding. It was called programming. That's true, that's true, for starters. And my enthusiasm was just using computers. Just to use a computer was a thing. To be a person who could use I could. What were the files, the startup files on MS-DOS. Trying to configure your computer to run certain things or a certain program needed some virtual memory. And that was really how I, what I thought I was doing. I wasn't so much programming as I was a computer user. And just to be a computer user these days of course everyone does it that was kind of my. The hat I was wearing was a computer using kit and that was kind of a big part of my identity growing up.
Computer using, as you put it, was way more technical back then than it is today, less consumerism. It was really you were in the inside Right at the beginning. You just had the prompt and you had to code it yourself, program it yourself, sorry, yeah, otherwise your computer didn't do anything. Just had to teach you first to do something and yeah, you were inside right away. Yeah, you're programming. It felt like using this thing that cannot do anything else.
Yeah. Yeah, this was really difficult relatively to figure out how to do things. You had a manual and I remember I wanted to learn to program and see at some point that I got a book and you had the right compiler and it's really I don't think it's even possible. I kind of feel like when I was growing up people were trying to say imagine time before radio, just trying to explain that time. It's like you want to learn to see programming and it's like you get a book but it's a different compiler than the one you have and they're different libraries and you're like what is this library thing and how come these functions don't work and they don't match up and there's no other way for you to figure it out. So I was actually kind of stuck a lot when I tried to get deeper into the programming because there just weren't resources available, even though I had a lot of resources for, relatively speaking for the times and for my age, it was really difficult to get up and going on the seven-sided and talk to you.
So yeah, it resonates a lot with what I live through. I had a C-book as well quite early and I probably skimmed over the compiler piece and so I went all the way to Algorithmic and could do for loops and everything. I just couldn't compile and it took me years to understand. Oh, I have to compile the thing now, because I started with Bayseek as well and Bayseek was just interpreted and was just running like this and didn't do anything else and let's see, you have to compile it first.
Oh yeah, took some years, yeah yeah, and also there are the it's kind of two halves. Now maybe I take it for granted, but learning how to develop. There is this model where I could be in an environment that was created and write code sort of within like an IDE or something. Maybe it was like a Turbo C++. They had certain libraries and then there was the activity of actually plugging different things together, like installing a new package or having a new library available, linking that up in the OS and eventually this goes into like connecting over the network and doing other things like that. And there really are two halves of the development experience. And I think this is especially even true today for people. Learning how to code, being able to work within an environment, is one thing, and there's this meta scale of being able to sort of configure your systems and bring things together and bring the right things together in order to make your program work. And they're both necessary. And for me, I was very much in the sort of first half of that in my early years and it wasn't until I got sort of older and had more experiences that I felt capable of plugging different things together and sort of bringing everything together in different ways. So I don't do have words for that. Speaking of terminology. Do we have words for that?
I have no idea Like systems versus just straight coding. I've no idea, but it's exactly the same. Nowadays, when you open a GitHub project somewhere, there's first three pages of how you set up your gems and NPM and whatever package manager and builder and minimizer and everything, just to be able to start the damn thing. Yeah, it's exactly the same, just different.
Yeah, maybe it's kind of like the split between DevOps and development, right, because I think every developer has to do something out of just DevOps. Whether it's installing an NPM package, it's still kind of your DevOps, and DevOps is always encoding, even if it's a script or something for infrastructure as a service. So yeah, Fun times.
It was, anyway, definitely, definitely. So at which point maybe not at which point how did you decide what to do for your studies and where to go? And indeed, that programming play a role in there.
Yeah, I was kind of, as I was getting through high school I just didn't really think that I could have a career with computers. I just I wasn't sure what I would do. But I realized that's kind of raising a family where I was very expected that I would go to college and study something. And in high school I just kind of realized, oh hey, I can study this thing called computer science and I love computers, I need to. I do all these things with computers. I haven't actually programmed that much. I was like I'll major in computer science. It's like this is what I love to do, it's the thing that I'm so passionate about. Like there's a major with computer in the name. I'm actually doing computer engineering as an undergrad. For reasons I don't really understand now, I ended up choosing computer engineering, I think because I wanted to learn about the hardware and the software side of things. And so I ended up going to college at Carnegie Mellon and in the program of electrical and computer engineering, and at that time I showed up and there are all these students who programmed a ton and I was one of these people who just hadn't programmed very much. I'd done a little bit, but some of my fellow students were just having writings you know these kind of like hobbyist types of writing all this code. They knew all the infrastructure stuff that I had no idea about how to bring all these different things together and I felt a little bit behind in a way in terms of just not knowing all these things. But I was very strong at math and I think that made it a little easier for me and kind of made sense for me to be doing this computer science thing, because math has always been a love of mine and that's really what I did a lot of in high school was math, and so, yeah, I learned to program but I didn't really enjoy programming. I didn't start enjoying programming until I was in my first year in grad school, when I was like 20, 21 or 22. I actually started to enjoy programming but I sort of made it all this way. You know, had actually gotten my degree and was good at it, but I didn't have a passion for coding the way I had a passion for math, the way I love math, and so it was kind of funny for me, my experience of just not loving it, and I'm sure a lot of people who are trying to get into it are like they see these people who just love it or just like writing this code left, right and center, and they're like, am I in the right place and I'm an imposter, why don't I love it this much? And for me it just took time and something flipped. I think we can get into that a bit later. But something eventually flipped and I got the taste for it. But I didn't actually have the taste for it for quite a while. So I don't know if I have a journey. Maybe my deaf journey started when I was 21,. You know, when I got the taste for it, everything up was just, you know, computers and getting new things.
So it was building up to it. It was just a taste of a taste and at some point it really started. Do you remember that moment when it flipped?
Yeah, yeah. So it was actually when I first started doing art projects on the computer. So I also have like another whole other sort of thread in my story is my my story with art and design. And I did a lot of music when I was younger and I was very interested in again. Something I didn't know was a field I was doing, like the layout for my high school newspaper and a yearbook. I was using PageMaker. I actually started doing it on one of those Macs with like the five inch screen, you know, oh, wow, which was amazing. I mean, my enthusiasm at the time was all about the graphical stuff. Like Windows 3 coming out and like loading up Windows 3 for the first, 3.0 for the first time and seeing that it was in color and there was a GUI and everything was visual, that just blew my mind. And to use a Mac and see that visual screen, that stuff was what I was super passionate about when I was younger and it's again. It's hard to relate to the next generation because computers are no longer getting impressive in that way. Maybe some people have this experience of putting on an Oculus or something like that for the first time, but there was this real experience at the time where, like every couple of years, your computer could just do things that it absolutely couldn't. You could make pictures, play you know, started to like low resolution videos and seeing that and having these graphical experiences of dragging and dropping like a whizzy wig. All these things were really exciting to me, and I think getting into design was just part of that. But I didn't know design was a thing I remember my senior year. One of my friends was like where do you go study? He's like I'm going to be a major in design and I said what's that?
Ha, ha, ha, ha Ha ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha ha. Were you jealous when you finally realized that this existed.
No, I don't say I was Jealousy wouldn't be the word for it I you know. According to them, they had a really big design program. I think I just quickly learned about it. I took classes, I had friends doing art and design and it's a really powerful experience. One summer where I was doing an internship in Microsoft and I got to be friends with someone there who's doing a design internship and we made a. He was studying at the school called Cal Arts in California and he had this wild Cal Arts is just wild aesthetics. He had these crazy styles. This guy is super talented and he wanted to make a short film and he was super passionate about making a short film. So we ended up he brought me on to help with the project and we did it together and we made this short film. We got some actors, some local actors from Seattle. We filled it in elevator on Microsoft campus and we like had the doors open. We got someone like open the elevator, had our whole thing built there. We like filmed this short film, we edited it and I just had this amazing, pivotal experience of my life that summer and I was like I love doing that. I was like I got to find some way. I was like a computer person. Up to that point I've been taking some graphic design courses in college and I was like I got to bring this into my life. But it was again it's kind of slow building thing the whole design and art parts of my story and that's kind of how that got to be more part of my life, which then leads to my development of Piphany, which was actually making my first art projects with code and making abstract art and basically abstract paintings with code, which at the time was like a very novel and ground breaking kind of thing to be doing.
So how did you stumble upon that, or how did you get that idea?
I was. I've been taking some art classes and I don't know what led me to start doing that. I think I was just exploring so many things with art. At the time I was also making these mechanical sculptures with engines in them and things like taking these little engines, like going to the surplus store and building sculptures, and I had this tendency to try to take some of my engineering proclivities and channel them to art, Because there's so many things that hadn't been done yet and there's a way to get to the things that hadn't been done. And I started. I think the first one I wrote was actually it was like a mesh, and then the there's a Delaney triangulation, A set of points of the Delaney triangulation, and then the dual of it is the Voronoi diagram. I don't know if this I have to get this math out. Yeah, basically, if you take a set of points, there's a Delaney triangulation which sort of gives a fair, like it puts lines between the points in a way that kind of makes sense. I think it's the best way to explain the Delaney triangulation and then the duals of Voronoi diagram, and if you take the center of each of those shapes and connect those with it and every edge becomes flipped, you get another one. Anyway, we don't need attention to that, but I animated that and just wrote some random number generators and a little bit of sign functions and random, and it was extremely beautiful and I was just like here's this extremely, extremely beautiful thing. That's a simple mathematical object and I started exploring and I started to get away from these more standard data structures into custom things that weren't in any math book anywhere. And it actually led me to do something where I was like I needed to make my pieces of code, my building blocks, and I needed to be able to move really quickly and artistically explore things, and so I really had to encapsulate the things I was working with in ways that made them fast and fluid to play with. And that's when everything really synced for me and extreme experience which was like wow, it's so beautiful to get these small building blocks and to make them truly flexible and to seal it. And not only did it accelerate my passion for development, I think it also really upped my game in terms of development, because if you can get a system to work that way, then you're really set in terms of having a beautiful system that's super capable. All the right abstractions, you know. You know the routine.
So and when you were totally telling this, because the listeners cannot see yet sparkles in your eyes and a big smile on your face. It really seems like a happy place for you thinking about this.
Yeah, yeah, it was, it still is, yeah, to go back, and I think that's still what motivates me to this day. So, to sort of your second answer for the question, I think you could say, yeah, maybe it began with using logo, but it was really this moment where I felt like I got hooked by it and fell in love with the actual act of programming itself. And since then, whenever I have the chance to do some coding I love and I dive in, I get in exactly that same modality Modality really hasn't changed much since then which is like how can I make my little Lego pieces super modular and adaptable and solve the problem and then have that amazing experience of getting them just right and then bringing them together and making them do something, and then you know, two days later I have to do something else. But you're ready for that because all those red abstractions in place. So that's really where it's at, if I think for development. It seems like you're kind of nodding. It seems like you.
I totally understand where that comes from. So obviously you became an artist coded art pieces since then and it's been the rest of your journey, right that's it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I yeah I don't know if we have enough time on the podcast to go through all the wrinkles of my journey, but yeah, that's certainly. I just really inspired me. I ended up doing my whole PhD, I ended up making art, making tools for my PhD. So I just very inspired by I think that's, maybe that's when my journey with creative tools began and my my having that experience of creation and wanting to give that experience to other people. So, yeah, I think that's. Yeah, that's when some other stories began.
But at some point I'm sure you had bills to pay. Yeah, how did you manage to transform generating art with code into paying bills. How did you navigate that?
I never. Well, I I did manage to pay some bills many years later by making prints and selling prints of. Yeah, this is another we have to fast forward. There's another creative tool I built around gradient is. Yeah, I don't know if we want to go into the story or not, but eventually so I was in grad school at the time. So the simple answer is I was on a stipend, you know, for my research. I didn't have to worry about paying bills and I was making art, but it was also in a PhD program that went on for like five or six years, and so I was making art and I got kind of discovered by these internet artists. We're talking like 1999, 2000,. Internet was still very new. The idea of making art on the internet was very new. And there's this thing called net art, which is this movement about hey, let's actually put paintings on the internet. And I got connected with this group of artists that was treating the browser like a frame for a painting and making all of these artworks. And I was basically doing this and I'm like, hey, man, you're, that's exactly what we're doing. And they were all coming more from the art tradition and getting into flash. Flash was a huge piece of this and I was like the coder the coder guy, you know, who's like coming from the other direction and we met and I ended up having a lot of fun and showing, like having lots of shows and and making a lot of art with that. I never made any money from that at all, like none. I got flown around places and got a lot of nice experiences but I never, never made anything other than although I think I could say I got very rich from that. But money doesn't make you rich. Other things make you rich.
Nice way to put it, but at some point you just got a VR. Yeah, do you remember when that, when that came in?
Yeah, so the VR story was really similar time. When I showed up at my graduate program, there was this table projection table in the basement and basically it was like a VR surface that came out of a tabletop and the idea was that you could actually have things on. They had this application of like a like a patient is about the size of a human body, and so you'd like a, you could investigate a skeleton or some kind of scan of a body or something like that, and so I was kind of interested in this and I that also had an interesting origin story. I was learning figure drawing and I took this class by this instructor named named Dallas good, and I taken one figure figure drawing class and then he had that there's a follow on class, which is figure drawing with the, with the pencils, but also with with Maya, and so we were actually the 3D software. Yeah so we learned Maya and we were learning figure drawing and then we actually had we went back and forth and at the end of the class we actually were doing figure drawing in Maya. So it have the model, come in in the traditional studio style and draw the model with the 3D software. And it really is really interesting course, and it really showed me. I was like there's something missing in digital creation which is the sort of physicality of traditional media, and so I was like I'm going to try to build that and that was basically my thesis topic and the kind of the world's first actual creative tools for VR as well. I didn't realize it at the time, but no one had really explored building things and creating things in VR, and so I built this system where you could touch imaginary shapes and then they would become real. I got this like instrumented glove you put on your hand and you would actually just basically trace an imaginary shape and it would be triangulated with a mesh and you would actually have that shape there in front of you in 3D and so you could do these 3D actually basically completed the vision of the course. You could do these 3D figure drawings gesturally and you know, these days people are familiar with things like tilt brush and VR and kind of think a lot of people have had that experience. But I was kind of building that kind of stuff for the first time and somehow managed to get a PhD in computer science for doing an art project, so worked out well for me Golf clap for you.
I mean when you're describing classes in finger drawing. That's not the classical classes I picture in a computer science degree. Yeah, that's really cool. It was part of it.
Yeah, I actually it was pretty cool my program at Caltech. They I didn't actually have to take any, I just took math classes. I just did pure math. And I took a few CS classes. I did like research but I'd learned so much in my undergrad in CS I ended up minoring in CS. It was just there, was just my advisor amazing was just like you know, you don't need to learn any more CS If you want to do math that we love math, like do that instead. And then I went to the school art center nearby and did the drawing stuff. So they're in like the whole art, all the metal artists there as well.
So, and and what happened when you finished your PhD? So you had written, this PhD took you six years, you said five or six years, immersed, pun intended, into virtual reality. And and what happened afterwards? Do you enter the gaming industry to to create VR for you?
No, I am. I did not go into the gaming industry. I ended up, basically, I ended up doing projects. I kind of opted to Freelance I guess is probably what you would call it. Okay, yeah, yeah. So I ended up getting clients and doing various projects in flash. I did some consulting for Disney and I made was making art at the time and I got a half time teaching position at Cal Arts school. I still you know, very close to my heart and basically spent a few years teaching and making art and working with clients, doing client work for a while, and then I ended up starting my own agency business. So I kind of went through this whole trajectory of art. Where I was, I had like a mission with art and I kind of finished my mission. I kind of hit a point where I was like I've done the art that I need to make and I was, yeah, ready to move on to other things. I started this agency business and did that for a while and like started to learn what it was like to build a team and to build a company. And there's this other thread in my life which is the kind of business entrepreneurial thread. And I think those are really my three sort of threads the technical sort of design, artistic and the business. And you know, for as I understand, it's really about like how do you find your career, how do you make it all make sense. But I really had this kind of what's it in skiing, the triple black diamond, no problem when I was like I have this deep need for creative, some kind of creative fulfillment. I have a deep need for technical work and also this deep kind of business entrepreneurial drive. And so my challenge has always been how do I kind of scratch all three of these itches? And, you know, super restless unless there's an all sort of firing. For me the easiest way to scratch the three itches is to have three careers, but it can be tiring.
So did you manage to nowadays scratch the three itches with one career?
Yeah, so nowadays I very, very much have that going on. With this new project that I've been well, maybe actually not that new, but it's relatively do. This project I've been working on for the past couple of years and, yeah, and that's mighty mild, and so it's basically a creative tool and for web developers, this is a very technical tool that is actually about bridging the gap between code and then the sort of visual experience of a product, and it's a startup and so as a startup, there are a lot of businesses challenges involved in it. And so right now I'm very, very stoked to be doing what I'm doing. I think actually think I'm the most engaged and excited and having like the most creative time of my career right now doing what I'm doing. Wow, I have definitely managed to bring it all together and so fulfilled by what I'm doing, but it took so many different experiences you know, I'm really happy where I'm at but a lot of things went into it A lot of different experiences, getting sort of working on different parts of creativity, technology and business to kind of bring this all together.
So, yeah, Just right there, you called it creativity and, if I'm not mistaken, you mentioned art before in this triangle. Is this analogous for you or is there a difference?
I. You know, if we could rewind the tape I might not have used the word creativity. I kind of object to using the word creativity to talk about art because engineering is so creative and business is so creative, so maybe I use that because that's what our culture uses to describe it. Okay, I would say for me that the sort of art piece is really about the human experience and interaction and sort of modeling the psyche of people who are coming to an experience and doing something visual and having that. Maybe it's more about interactivity Design is another word we could use for that part of it but I think it's really about the human side of problems. And for me, when it comes to engineering, like every basically all the engineering and coding I've done, there's almost always a user interface of some kind and I'm very involved in the user interface and I can even think that, like, my interest in design and art sort of got funneled into user interface and interaction. So I don't really know what the third piece is exactly, but that's.
That's as good as it takes. I mean, you said modeling the psyche of people. Is this what you implicitly try to do with art as well?
I think art when it succeeds. Art does so many things and there's so many different kinds of art. I think part of art is understanding how a viewer is going to see what you've made Part of art. And these are sort of the deeper levels of art, which aren't so much part of my itch to scratch, but I know a lot about it from working with a lot of artists and being in that world. You're actually channeling the culture through your artifacts. So you're making artifacts that channel culture in a way that resonates with the culture that's receiving the artifacts. And if you're successful, they'll also resonate with the cultures that follow and be a symbol of your culture for the cultures that follow. And I have a good friend of mine from from those days who is having a tremendously successful career in with net art and now the whole crypto thing has gotten him paid very well for doing this kind of thing and there's really a market for digital art. It was really hard to sell that stuff before the NFT thing happened. And Rafael Rizendoll, by the way, you should check out his work If you get a chance. You just released a new piece. It's really beautiful. I was checking out just yesterday but he's like I have no idea. I'm really successful now, but I have no idea if I'm going to succeed or not until after I die. I have no way of knowing. So that's what art is about. It's a very, very different thing, and I feel like I really didn't connect with that as much. I think I'm far more about, in a way, research is about that as well, and I didn't connect with research as much. I'm more about immediacy and connecting with people, and I did all this research in VR and I look at things like the Nintendo Wii coming out or some of these actual devices that hit the market as a product, and that's what motivates me is to get things in people's hands right now and have that experience, and I sort of shied away from some of those deeper waters that I was swimming in earlier in my career, so now I'm a shallow, shallow business man.
I still don't get why you're not in the gaming industry. That's just yeah.
I don't understand that either. I think it makes perfect sense for me to be in gaming. It just didn't quite happen that way, yeah.
There was another itch to scratch. So that place where you are now with Mighty Mail and scratching the tech, the business and the creativity on the side or the art, or however we call it the third one Is this something you see yourself doing for years and years and years? This the place where you're at right now.
Yeah, I mean it seems to be going very well with our products, so these things take years to reach their potential. So it could be the case it's building startup. Land is very volatile, so you also never really know. But I'm trying to enjoy it and enjoy the moments.
That's the big smile on your face coming back. So it seems to be true. You talked a little bit at the beginning about this change of paradigm when you had no user interface, probably just a common prompt on the computer, and suddenly you had Windows 3.0 and the first visual interface, or the first Macs with the visual interface. What you're doing right now with Mighty Mail is really bringing React, I think, or developing React, to a whole new level that's way more visual and way more tailored for the needs of visual approach. Do you have an idea what the next jump in paradigm is going to be?
In terms of with React or.
In terms of how we code. I mean, we've been typing words for years and there's AI coming. There's a lot of visual tools that are trying to abstract away the code and going at it from the visual piece, but the AI is coming on the side and saying, well, maybe we don't do either, or it's something else entirely, and what's?
your take on that. Yeah, I have strong opinions on this. I definitely understand your question. Now I think what I see happening and what we're working towards with Mighty Mail is An experience that uses technology to get engineers deeper into their code and deeper into the abstractions that are used to drive their products and have them understand things more deeply and fly more quickly through these abstractions and these systems, but not to diminish control. My kind of axe to grind with a lot of these things from the engineering perspective is lack of control, and I think we've all used the kind of uses like a templated thing or prebuilt solution and it doesn't quite do what we need. Maybe it takes us 95% of the way. Less 5% is like another 3x of the work and we're like yeah. And we've all been there and there are all these. There are many, many people who don't develop and they're wonderful net code products that will go from design and give you some code or like something simple, and that's actually been going on for like 20 years. Going back to what was it? Hypercard on the Mac was, I think, the first time that I saw this way, back in the 90s, and so that stuff is well and good, but I think there's going to be a continuing need for these custom solutions where people are really driving technology to do very precise things in very controlled ways, and that's what we're building towards with Mighty Meld. What Mighty Meld is about is taking your. Basically, the way it works is you take your existing React app. You add a couple of dependencies to it, you run Mighty Meld. Mighty Meld runs your React app and in the browser, but as you click on your app, you can run it the regular way and you can go into an edit mode, and when you click on parts of your app, it loads up the JSX tree on the left for the component you clicked on. You can see that element in that component and it looks like a figma layer tree, but it's actually your JSX, and as you click on things on that layer tree, it'll show you the styles and properties and the attributes of that element on the right. And it's predicated on this observation that the figma flow also the illustrator flow and the Photoshop flow we're familiar with, like a layer tree and elements is what JSX is, and that JSX is this beautiful visual layer and kind of separates your code base into two places into the visual and stylistic stuff with the JSX and your CSS or whatever you use for styling, and then everything else, which is your logic. And so what we're doing with Mighty Meld is giving developers a visual and intuitive way to navigate their code, but we aren't obscuring that code. We're making that code more evident, not less evident. So when you drag something above something else like the JSX tree moves and guess what you look at your code and the JSX has moved there as well, and so that is a superpower for developers. It's something that game developers have had for a lot. Like the inspiration for this actually came from Unity. In Unity, you can pause your game and go in and see all the structures in your scene that are driving what you're looking at, and it's trying to give that experience to developers. So I think it's time is right for this on the web right now. So that's kind of where we are now with Mighty Meld and there was a where we're headed and things like AI. We do have some integration with AI in Mighty Meld and again, we've seen a lot of these things with AI. It's like you give a prompt and it gives you a whole basic app as a result and that's wonderful. But is it going to be able to make something new or something that really fits a lot of precise constraints? The AI itself it could get there. I'm not here to you know. I certainly don't want to go down on the record for saying I will never do something. I know it's going to do a lot more in the future, but one of the challenges of AI is like how to feed all the constraints, and I've also other side projects. I wrote a book about machine consciousness. Maybe we don't need to get into that, but I've really studied consciousness a lot and there's a real limitation of free will with AI. And just to sort of summarize my findings on that AI is aware of a lot and really capable, but in terms of actually having agency and directive and like agendas, that part of the technology is way underdeveloped compared to the rest of it, and so, at least for the foreseeable future, I think humans are going to be providing that aspect of things, and so I see a sort of human in loop kind of modality where developers have more and more of these superpowers and ways to get things done, make faster moves, but nothing ever hides a chessboard from them. You know we want to allow those to move faster on the board, but you have to see the board, like at some point, like you have to drill down and like pick something or like see what's going on and keep it clean, keep it tidy, and so you can have, basically that, my peak experience by second start of my dev journey of like having the building blocks and moving them around. I think that's really important to our whole world of software. So I don't know if that's roughly my take on things.
Yeah, absolutely yeah. That's a very interesting take and we'll have to link to this book you wrote. We didn't go too much into it, but we'll definitely have to link about it. I'd like to come back to one thing. That's the piece where I usually ask for advice, and one thing really, really struck me at the beginning. You were talking about enjoying programming and loving math, and you powered through this computer science studies until you found what really was your passion and basically connected these two pieces together. So it would be the advice you would give students or people who are searching for their passion. They like something, they feel that there's something, but it's not quite there yet.
Yeah, I think the advice I give is you know, I think it's the motto of Carnegie Mellon my heart is in the work. And I think Andrew Carnegie said it my heart is in the work. And I would say work if you're struggling to find your passion, work at things. As you work at things, you understand them more, you appreciate them more, you learn more. I don't like gardening, but if I spent a lot of time working at gardening, I would find a way to connect with it, and I think a lot of people looking at my career and saying, oh, am I supposed to do this? Like, I spent so many years wondering what I was supposed to be because I didn't really fit into the world in a way that made a lot of sense. I had all these different interests and I just kept working at it and kept doing things and I wish I'd spent less time worrying, more time just being engaged, doing things, working with people, getting to know people, having those kinds of social experiences. It's ultimately what drives me social experiences through what you're doing, and just keep working and don't worry so much about what it means. Amen to that.
Really cool, stephen. It's been a blast following that story, made of art, made of tech and a little bit of business. At some point crept in and stuck to the end. Yeah, definitely. Where would be the best place to continue the discussion with you?
Yeah, I think anyone who wants to reach out you can follow me. So my last name, Skolny, is very rare, so you just search for Skolny on the internet. You'll find me on Twitter, If you can spell it correctly. Check the show notes. But if you can spell my last name correctly, you'll find me at Skolny on Twitter and LinkedIncom or the slash in slash Skolny. And I also encourage people to check out MightyMeld. We're up on MightyMeldcom and give it a spin, especially if you're a React developer. I'd love to hear from you how it goes and stay in touch that way. So I do actually answer emails. I have had random people email me just like I'm at this point in my career and I actually do answer emails like that. Maybe I'll get a flood of them from this show, but I'm certainly. I love working with people. I love helping people who are trying to find their path and trying to share what I've learned because I've had so many challenges along the way. So I'm basically here for the community. I love doing it, so I'd love to get back.
You heard him.
I've had so many mentors who helped me.
You heard him Reach out. All the links will be in the show notes. If you didn't get that, just scroll down and it will be there. Stephen, thank you so much. Yeah thanks, tim, and this is it, another episode of DevLose Journey. I'll see each other next week. Bye, bye. Thanks a lot for tuning in. I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode. If you like the show, please share, rate and review. It helps more listeners discover those stories. You can find the links to all the platforms the show appears on on our website devjourneyinfocom. Subscribe.