Sometimes we veer into interviews that aren’t just about cloud infrastructure. For this episode we’re joined by Anil Dash, CEO of Glitch, to talk about learning to code and creating a community around. Which, for Anil, is where to start—then “the tools will follow.”
Anil and Corey discuss Glitch and how it is bringing the esoteric nature of coding into a larger audience. Anil talks about starting at the community level, then letting the room for innovation and approachability growing outward from there. Anil shines the light onto the unique ways that Glitch, through apps, is changing the way people execute their technical ideas!
Anil Dash is the CEO of Glitch, the friendly developer community where coders collaborate to create and share millions of web apps. He is a recognized advocate for more ethical tech through his work as an entrepreneur and writer. He serves as a board member for organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the leading nonprofit defending digital privacy and expression, Data & Society Research Institute, which researches the cutting edge of tech's impact on society, and The Markup, the nonprofit investigative newsroom that pushes for tech accountability. Dash was an advisor to the Obama White House’s Office of Digital Strategy, served for a decade on the board of Stack Overflow, the world’s largest community for coders, and today advises key startups and non-profits including the Lower East Side Girls Club, Medium, The Human Utility, DonorsChoose and Project Include.
As a writer and artist, Dash has been a contributing editor and monthly columnist for Wired, written for publications like The Atlantic and Businessweek, co-created one of the first implementations of the blockchain technology now known as NFTs, had his works exhibited in the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and collaborated with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda on one of the most popular Spotify playlists of 2018. Dash has also been a keynote speaker and guest in a broad range of media ranging from the Obama Foundation Summit to SXSW to Desus and Mero's late-night show.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
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.Corey: It seems like there is a new security breach every day. Are you confident that an old SSH key, or a shared admin account, isn’t going to come back and bite you? If not, check out Teleport. Teleport is the easiest, most secure way to access all of your infrastructure. The open source Teleport Access Plane consolidates everything you need for secure access to your Linux and Windows servers—and I assure you there is no third option there. Kubernetes clusters, databases, and internal applications like AWS Management Console, Yankins, GitLab, Grafana, Jupyter Notebooks, and more. Teleport’s unique approach is not only more secure, it also improves developer productivity. To learn more visit: goteleport.com
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
. I’m Corey Quinn. Today’s guest is a little bit off the beaten path from the cloud infrastructure types I generally drag, kicking and screaming, onto the show. If we take a look at the ecosystem and where it’s going, it’s clear that in the future, not everyone who wants to build a business, or a tool, or even an application is going to necessarily spring fully-formed into the world from the forehead of some God, knowing how to code. And oh, “I’m going to go to a boot camp for four months to learn how to do it first,” is increasingly untenable. I don’t know if you would call it low-code or not. But that’s how it feels. My guest today is Anil Dash, CEO of Glitch
. Anil, thank you for joining me.
Anil: Thanks so much for having me.
Corey: So, let’s get the important stuff out of the way first, since I have a long-standing history of mispronouncing the company Twitch as ‘Twetch,’ I should probably do the same thing here. So, what is Gletch? And what does it do?
Anil: Glitch is, at its simplest, a tool that lets you build a full-stack app in your web browser in about 30 seconds. And, you know, for your community, your audience, it’s also this ability to create and deploy code instantly on a full-stack server with no concern for deploy, or DevOps, or provisioning a container, or any of those sort of concerns. And what it is for the users is, honestly, a community. They’re like, “I looked at this app that was on Glitch; I thought it was cool; I could do what we call [remixing 00:02:03].” Which is to kind of fork that app, a running app, make a couple edits, and all of a sudden live at a real URL on the web, my app is running with exactly what I built. And that’s something that has been—I think, just captured a lot of people’s imagination to now where they’ve built over 12 or 15 million apps on the platform.
Corey: You describe it somewhat differently than I would, and given that I tend to assume that people who create and run successful businesses don’t generally tend to do it without thought, I’m not quite, I guess, insufferable enough to figure out, “Oh, well, I thought about this for ten seconds, therefore I’ve solved a business problem that you have been needling at for years.” But when I look at Glitch, I would describe it as something different than the way that you describe it. I would call it a web-based IDE for low-code applications and whatnot, and you never talk about it that way. Everything I can see there describes it talks about friendly creators, and community tied to it. Why is that?
Anil: You’re not wrong from the conventional technologist’s point of view. I—sufficient vintage; I was coding in Visual Basic back in the ’90s and if you squint, you can see that influence on Glitch today. And so I don’t reject that description, but part of it is about the audience we’re speaking to, which is sort of a next generation of creators. And I think importantly, that’s not just age, right, but that could be demographic, that can be just sort of culturally, wherever you’re at. And what we look at is who’s making the most interesting stuff on the internet and in the industry, and they tend to be grounded in broader culture, whether they’re on, you know, Instagram, or TikTok, or, you know, whatever kind of influencer, you want to point at—YouTube.
And those folks, they think of themselves as creators first and they think of themselves as participating in the community first and then the tool sort of follow. And I think one of the things that’s really striking is, if you look at—we’ll take YouTube as an example because everyone’s pretty familiar with it—they have a YouTube Creator Studio. And it is a very rich and deep tool. It does more than, you know, you would have had iMovie, or Final Cut Pro doing, you know, 10 or 15 years ago, incredibly advanced stuff. And those [unintelligible 00:04:07] use it every day, but nobody goes to YouTube and says, “This is a cloud-based nonlinear editor for video production, and we target cinematographers.” And if they did, they would actually narrow their audience and they would limit what their impact is on the world.
And so similarly, I think we look at that for Glitch where the social object, the central thing that people organize around a Glitch is an app, not code. And that’s this really kind of deep and profound idea, which is that everybody can understand an app. Everybody has an idea for an app. You know, even the person who’s, “Ah, I’m not technical,” or, “I’m not really into technology,” they’re like, “But you know what? If I could make an app, I would make this.”
And so we think a lot about that creative impulse. And the funny thing is, that is a common thread between somebody that literally just got on the internet for the first time and somebody who has been doing cloud deploys for as long as there’s been a cloud to deploy to, or somebody has been coding for decades. No matter who you are, you have that place that is starting from what’s the experience I want to build, the app I want to build? And so I think that’s where there’s that framing. But it’s also been really useful, in that if you’re trying to make a better IDE in the cloud and a better text editor, and there are multiple trillion-dollar companies that [laugh] are creating products in that category, I don’t think you’re going to win. On the other hand, if you say, “This is more fun, and cooler, and has a better design, and feels better,” I think we could absolutely win in a walk away compared to trillion-dollar companies trying to be cool.
Corey: I think that this is an area that has a few players in it could definitely stand to benefit by having more there. My big fear is not that AWS is going to launch stuff in your space and drive you out of business; I think that is a somewhat naive approach. I’m more concerned that they’re going to try to launch something in your space, give it a dumb name, fail that market and appropriately, not understand who it’s for and set the entire idea back five years. That is, in some cases, it seems like their modus operandi for an awful lot of new markets.
Anil: Yeah, I mean, that’s not an uncommon problem in any category that’s sort of community driven. So, you know, back in the day, I worked on building blogging tools at the beginning of this, sort of, social media era, and we worried about that a lot. We had built some of the first early tools, Movable Type, and TypePad, and these were what were used to launch, like, Gawker and Huffington Post and all the, sort of, big early sites. And we had been doing it a couple years—and then at that time, major player—AOL came in, and they launched their own AOL blog service, and we were, you know, quaking in our boots. I remember just being kind of like, pit in your stomach, “Oh, my gosh. This is going to devastate the category.”
And as it turns out, people were smart, and they have taste, and they can tell. And the domain that we’re in is not one that is about raw computing power or raw resources that you can bring to bear so much as it is about can you get people to connect together, collaborate together, and feel like they’re in a place where they want to make something and they want to share it with other people? And I mean, we’ve never done a single bit of advertising for Glitch. There’s never been any paid acquisition. There’s never done any of those things. And we go up against, broadly in the space, people that have billboards and they buy out all the ads of the airport and, you know, all the other kind of things we see—
Corey: And they do the typical enterprise thing where they spend untold millions in acquiring the real estate to advertise on, and then about 50 cents on the message, from the looks of it. It’s, wow, you go to all this trouble and expense to get something in front of me, and after all of that to get my attention, you don’t have anything interesting to say?
Corey: [crosstalk 00:07:40] inverse of that.
Anil: [crosstalk 00:07:41] it doesn’t work.
Corey: Yeah. Oh, yeah. It’s brand awareness. I love that game. Ugh.
Anil: I was a CIO, and not once in my life did I ever make a purchasing decision based on who was sponsoring a golf tournament. It never happened, right? Like, I never made a call on a database platform because of a poster that was up at, you know, San Jose Airport. And so I think that’s this thing that developers in particular, have really good BS filters, and you can sort of see through.
Corey: What I have heard about the airport advertising space—and I but a humble cloud economist; I don’t know if this is necessarily accurate or not—but if you have a company like Accenture, for example, that advertises on airport billboards, they don’t even bother to list their website. If you go to their website, it turns out that there’s no shopping cart function. I cannot add ‘one consulting’ to my cart and make a purchase.
Anil: “Ten pounds of consult, please.”
Corey: Right? I feel like the primary purpose there might very well be that when someone presents to your board and says, “All right, we’ve had this conversation with Accenture.” The response is not, “Who?” It’s a brand awareness play, on some level. That said, you say you don’t do a bunch traditional advertising, but honestly, I feel like you advertise—more successfully—than I do at The Duckbill Group, just by virtue of having a personality running the company, in your case.
Now, your platform is for the moment, slightly larger than mine, but that’s okay,k I have ambition and a tenuous grasp of reality and I’m absolutely going to get there one of these days. But there is something to be said for someone who has a track record of doing interesting things and saying interesting things, pulling a, “This is what I do and this is how I do it.” It almost becomes a personality-led marketing effort to some degree, doesn’t it?
Anil: I’m a little mindful of that, right, where I think—so a little bit of context and history: Glitch as a company is actually 20 years old. The product is only a few years old, but we were formerly called Fog Creek Software, co-founded by Joel Spolsky who a lot of folks will know from back in the day as Joel on Software blog, was extremely influential. And that company, under leadership of Joel and his co-founder Michael Pryor spun out Stack Overflow, they spun out Trello. He had created, you know, countless products over the years so, like, their technical and business acumen is off the charts.
And you know, I was on the board of Stack Overflow from, really, those first days and until just recently when they sold, and you know, you get this insight into not just how do you build a developer community that is incredibly valuable, but also has a place in the ecosystem that is unique and persists over time. And I think that’s something that was very, very instructive. And so when it came in to lead Glitch I, we had already been a company with a, sort of, visible founder. Joel was as well known as a programmer as it got in the world?
Corey: Oh, yes.
Anil: And my public visibility is different, right? I, you know, I was a working coder for many years, but I don’t think that’s what people see me on social media has. And so I think, I’ve been very mindful where, like, I’m thrilled to use the platform I have to amplify what was created on a Glitch. But what I note is it’s always, “This person made this thing. This person made this app and it had this impact, and it got these results, or made this difference for them.”
And that’s such a different thing than—I don’t ever talk about, “We added syntax highlighting in the IDE and the editor in the browser.” It’s just never it right. And I think there are people that—I love that work. I mean, I love having that conversation with our team, but I think that’s sort of the difference is my enthusiasm is, like, people are making stuff and it’s cool. And that sort of is my lens on the whole world.
You know, somebody makes whatever a great song, a great film, like, these are all things that are exciting. And the Glitch community’s creations sort of feel that way. And also, we have other visible people on the team. I think of our sort of Head of Community, Jenn Schiffer, who’s a very well known developer and her right. And you know, tons of people have read her writing and seen her talks over the years.
And she and I talk about this stuff; I think she sort of feels the same way, which is, she’s like, “If I were, you know, being hired by some cloud platform to show the latest primitives that they’ve deployed behind an API,” she’s like, “I’d be miserable. Like, I don’t want to do that in the world.” And I sort of feel the same way. But if you say, “This person who never imagined they would make an app that would have this kind of impact.” And they’re going to, I think of just, like, the last couple of weeks, some of the apps we’ve seen where people are—it could be [unintelligible 00:11:53]. It could be like, “We made a Slack bot that finally gets this reporting into the right channel [laugh] inside our company, but it was easy enough that I could do it myself without asking somebody to create it even though I’m not technically an engineer.” Like, that’s
The other extreme, we have people that are PhDs working on machine learning that are like, “At the end of the day, I don’t want to be responsible for managing and deploying. [laugh]. I go home, and so the fact that I can do this in create is really great.” I think that energy, I mean, I feel the same way. I still build stuff all the time, and I think that’s something where, like, you can’t fake that and also, it’s bigger than any one person or one public persona or social media profile, or whatever. I think there’s this bigger idea. And I mean, to that point, there are millions of developers on Glitch and they’ve created well over ten million apps. I am not a humble person, but very clearly, that’s not me, you know? [laugh].
Corey: I have the same challenge to it’s, effectively, I have now a 12 employee company and about that again contractors for various specialized functions, and the common perception, I think, is that mostly I do all the stuff that we talk about in public, and the other 11 folks sort of sit around and clap as I do it. Yeah, that is only four of those people’s jobs as it turns out. There are more people doing work here. It’s challenging, on some level, to get away from the myth of the founder who is the person who has the grand vision and does all the work and sees all these things.
Anil: This industry loves the myth of the great man, or the solo legend, or the person in their bedroom is a genius, the lone genius, and it’s a lie. It’s a lie every time. And I think one of the things that we can do, especially in the work at Glitch, but I think just in my work overall with my whole career is to dismantle that myth. I think that would be incredibly valuable. It just would do a service for everybody.
But I mean, that’s why Glitch is the way it is. It’s a collaboration platform. Our reference points are, you know, we look at Visual Studio and what have you, but we also look at Google Docs. Why is it that people love to just send a link to somebody and say, “Let’s edit this thing together and knock out a, you know, a memo together or whatever.” I think that idea we’re going to collaborate together, you know, we saw that—like, I think of Figma, which is a tool that I love. You know, I knew Dylan when he was a teenager and watching him build that company has been so inspiring, not least because design was always supposed to be collaborative.
And then you think about we’re all collaborating together in design every day. We’re all collaborating together and writing in Google Docs—or whatever we use—every day. And then coding is still this kind of single-player game. Maybe at best, you throw something over the wall with a pull request, but for the most part, it doesn’t feel like you’re in there with somebody. Certainly doesn’t feel like you’re creating together in the same way that when you’re jamming on these other creative tools does. And so I think that’s what’s been liberating for a lot of people is to feel like it’s nice to have company when you’re making something.
Corey: Periodically, I’ll talk to people in the AWS ecosystem who for some reason appear to believe that Jeff Barr builds a lot of these services himself then writes blog posts about them. And it’s, Amazon does not break out how many of its 1.2 million or so employees work at AWS, but I’m guessing it’s more than five people. So yeah, Jeff probably only wrote a dozen of those services himself; the rest are—
Anil: That’s right. Yeah.
Corey: —done by service teams and the rest. It’s easy to condense this stuff and I’m as guilty of it as anyone. To my mind, a big company is one that has 200 people in it. That is not apparently something the world agrees with.
Anil: Yeah, it’s impossible to fathom an organization of hundreds of thousands or a million-plus people, right? Like, our brains just aren’t wired to do it. And I think so we reduce things to any given Jeff, whether that’s Barr or Bezos, whoever you want to point to.
Corey: At one point, I think they had something like more men named Jeff on their board than they did women, which—
Anil: Yeah. Mm-hm.
Corey: —all right, cool. They’ve fixed that and now they have a Dave problem.
Anil: Yeah [unintelligible 00:15:37] say that my entire career has been trying to weave out of that dynamic, whether it was a Dave, a Mike, or a Jeff. But I think that broader sort of challenge is this—that is related to the idea of there being this lone genius. And I think if we can sort of say, well, creation always happens in community. It always happens influenced by other things. It is always—I mean, this is why we talk about it in Glitch.
When you make an app, you don’t start from a blank slate, you start from a working app that’s already on the platform and you’re remix it. And there was a little bit of a ego resistance by some devs years ago when they first encountered that because [unintelligible 00:16:14] like, “No, no, no, I need a blank page, you know, because I have this brilliant idea that nobody’s ever thought of before.” And I’m like, “You know, the odds are you'll probably start from something pretty close to something that’s built before.” And that enabler of, “There’s nothing new under the sun, and you’re probably remixing somebody else’s thoughts,” I think that sort of changed the tenor of the community. And I think that’s something where like, I just see that across the industry.
When people are open, collaborative, like even today, a great example is web browsers. The folks making web browsers at Google, Apple, Mozilla are pretty collaborative. They actually do share ideas together. I mean, I get a window into that because they actually all use Glitch to do test cases on different bugs and stuff for them, but you see, one Glitch project will add in folks from Mozilla and folks from Apple and folks from the Chrome team and Google, and they’re like working together and you’re, like—you kind of let down the pretense of there being this secret genius that’s only in this one organization, this one group of people, and you’re able to make something great, and the web is greater than all of them. And the proof, you know, for us is that Glitch is not a new idea. Heroku wanted to do what we’re doing, you know, a dozen years ago.
Corey: Yeah, everyone wants to build Heroku except the company that acquired Heroku, and here we are. And now it’s—I was waiting for the next step and it just seemed like it never happened.
Anil: But you know when I talked to those folks, they were like, “Well, we didn’t have Docker, and we didn’t have containerization, and on the client side, we didn’t have modern browsers that could do this kind of editing experience, all this kind of thing.” So, they let their editor go by the wayside and became mostly deploy platform. And—but people forget, for the first year or two Heroku had an in-browser editor, and an IDE and, you know, was constrained by the tech at the time. And I think that’s something where I’m like, we look at that history, we look at, also, like I said, these browser manufacturers working together were able to get us to a point where we can make something better.
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Corey: I do have a question for you about the nuts and bolts behind the scenes of Glitch and how it works. If I want to remix something on Glitch, I click the button, a couple seconds later it’s there and ready for me to start kicking the tires on, which tells me a few things. One, it is certainly not using CloudFormation to provision it because I didn’t have time to go and grab a quick snack and take a six hour nap. So, it apparently is running on computers somewhere. I have it on good authority that this is not just run by people who are very fast at assembling packets by hand. What does the infrastructure look like?
Anil: It’s on AWS. Our first year-plus of prototyping while we were sort of in beta and early stages of Glitch was getting that time to remix to be acceptable. We still wish it were faster; I mean, that’s always the way but, you know, when we started, it was like, yeah, you did sit there for a minute and watch your cursor spin. I mean, what’s happening behind the scenes, we’re provisioning a new container, standing up a full stack, bringing over the code from the Git repo on the previous project, like, we’re doing a lot of work, lift behind the scenes, and we went through every possible permutation of what could make that experience be good enough. So, when we start talking about prototyping, we’re at five-plus, almost six years ago when we started building the early versions of what became Glitch, and at that time, we were fairly far along in maturity with Docker, but there was not a clear answer about the use case that we’re building for.
So, we experimented with Docker Swarm. We went pretty far down that road; we spent a good bit of time there, it failed in ways that were both painful and slow to fix. So, that was great. I don’t recommend that. In fairness, we have a very unusual use case, right? So, Glitch now, if you talk about ten million containers on Glitch, no two of those apps are the same and nobody builds an orchestration infrastructure assuming that every single machine is a unique snowflake.
Corey: Yeah, massively multi-tenant is not really a thing that people know.
Anil: No. And also from a security posture Glitch—if you look at it as a security expert—it is a platform allowing anonymous users to execute
arbitrary code at scale. That’s what we do. That’s our job. And so [laugh], you know, so your threat model is very different. It’s very different.
I mean, literally, like, you can go to Glitch and build an app, running a full-stack app, without even logging in. And the reason we enable that is because we see kids in classrooms, they’re learning to code for the first time, they want to be able to remix a project and they don’t even have an email address. And so that was about enabling something different, right? And then, similarly, you know, we explored Kubernetes—because of course you do; it’s the default choice here—and some of the optimizations, again, if you go back several years ago, being able to suspend a project and then quickly sort of rehydrate it off disk into a running app was not a common use case, and so it was not optimized. And so we couldn’t offer that experience because what we do with Glitch is, if you haven’t used an app in five minutes, and you’re not a paid member, who put that app to sleep. And that’s just a reasonable—
Corey: Uh, “Put the app to sleep,” as in toddler, or, “Put the app to sleep,” as an ill puppy.
Anil: [laugh]. Hopefully, the former, but when we were at our worst and scaling the ladder. But that is that thing; it’s like we had that moment that everybody does, which is that, “Oh, no. This worked.” That was a really scary moment where we started seeing app creation ramping up, and number of edits that people were making in those apps, you know, ramping up, which meant deploys for us ramping up because we automatically deploy as you edit on Glitch. And so, you know, we had that moment where just—well, as a startup, you always hope things go up into the right, and then they do and then you’re not sleeping for a long time. And we’ve been able to get it back under control.
Corey: Like, “Oh, no, I’m not succeeding.” Followed immediately by, “Oh, no, I’m succeeding.” And it’s a good problem to have.
Anil: Exactly. Right, right, right. The only thing worse than failing is succeeding sometimes, in terms of stress levels. And organizationally, you go through so much; technically, you go through so much. You know, we were very fortunate to have such thoughtful technical staff to navigate these things.
But it was not obvious, and it was not a sort of this is what you do off the shelf. And our architecture was very different because people had looked at—like, I look at one of our inspirations was CodePen, which is a great platform and the community love them. And their front end developers are, you know, always showing off, “Here’s this cool CSS thing I figured out, and it’s there.” But for the most part, they’re publishing static content, so architecturally, they look almost more like a content management system than an app-running platform. And so we couldn’t learn anything from them about our scaling our architecture.
We could learn from them on community, and they’ve been an inspiration there, but I think that’s been very, very different. And then, conversely, if we looked at the Herokus of the world, or all those sort of easy deploy, I think Amazon has half a dozen different, like, “This will be easier,” kind of deploy tools. And we looked at those, and they were code-centric not app-centric. And that led to fundamentally different assumptions in user experience and optimization.
And so, you know, we had to chart our own path and I think it was really only the last year or so that we were able to sort of turn the corner and have high degree of confidence about, we know what people build on Glitch and we know how to support and scale it. And that unlocked this, sort of, wave of creativity where there are things that people want to create on the internet but it had become too hard to do so. And the canonical example I think I was—those of us are old enough to remember FTPing up a website—
Corey: Oh, yes.
Anil: —right—to Geocities, or whatever your shared web host was, we remember how easy that was and how much creativity was enabled by
Corey: Yes, “How easy it was,” quote-unquote, for those of us who spent years trying to figure out passive versus active versus ‘what is going on?’ As far as FTP transfers. And it turns out that we found ways to solve for that, mostly, but it became something a bit different and a bit weird. But here we are.
Anil: Yeah, there was definitely an adjustment period, but at some point, if you’d made an HTML page in notepad on your computer, and you could, you know, hurl it at a server somewhere, it would kind of run. And when you realize, you look at the coding boot camps, or even just to, like, teach kids to code efforts, and they’re like, “Day three. Now, you’ve gotten VS Code and GitHub configured. We can start to make something.” And you’re like, “The whole magic of this thing getting it to light up. You put it in your web browser, you’re like, ‘That’s me. I made this.’” you know, north star for us was almost, like, you go from zero to hello world in a minute. That’s huge.
Corey: I started participating one of those boot camps a while back to help. Like, the first thing I changed about the curriculum was, “Yeah, we’re not spending time teaching people how to use VI in, at that point, the 2010s.” It was, that was a fun bit of hazing for those of us who were becoming Unix admins and knew that wherever we’d go, we’d find VI on a server, but here in the real world, there are better options for that.
Anil: This is rank cruelty.
Corey: Yeah, I mean, I still use it because 20 years of muscle memory doesn’t go away overnight, but I don’t inflict that on others.
Anil: Yeah. Well, we saw the contrast. Like, we worked with, there’s a group called Mouse here in New York City that creates the computer science curriculum for the public schools in the City of New York. And there’s a million kids in public school in New York City, right, and they all go through at least some of this CS education. [unintelligible 00:24:49] saw a lot of work, a lot of folks in the tech community here did. It was fantastic.
And yet they were still doing this sort of very conceptual, theoretical. Here’s how a professional developer would set up their environment. Quote-unquote, “Professional.” And I’m like, you know what really sparks kids’ interests? If you tell them, “You can make a page and it’ll be live and you can send it to your friend. And you can do it right now.”
And once you’ve sparked that creative impulse, you can’t stop them from doing the rest. And I think what was wild was kids followed down that path. Some of the more advanced kids got to high school and realized they want to experiment with, like, AI and ML, right? And they started playing with TensorFlow. And, you know, there’s collaboration features in Glitch where you can do real-time editing and a code with this. And they went in the forum and they were asking questions, that kind of stuff. And the people answering their questions were the TensorFlow team at Google. [laugh]. Right?
Corey: I remember those days back when everything seemed smaller and more compact, [unintelligible 00:25:42] but almost felt like a balkanization of community—
Corey: —where now it’s oh, have you joined that Slack team, and I’m looking at this and my machine is screaming for more RAM. It’s, like, well, it has 128 gigs in it. Shouldn’t that be enough? Not for Slack.
Anil: Not for chat. No, no, no. Chat is demanding.
Corey: Oh, yeah, that and Chrome are basically trying to out-ram each other. But if you remember the days of volunteering as network staff on Freenode when you could basically gather everyone for a given project in the entire stack on the same IRC network. And that doesn’t happen anymore.
Anil: And there’s something magic about that, right? It’s like now the conversations are closed off in a Slack or Discord or what have you, but to have a sort of open forum where people can talk about this stuff, what’s wild about that is, for a beginner, a teenage creator who’s learning this stuff, the idea that the people who made the AI, I can talk to, they’re alive still, you know what I mean? Like, yeah, they’re not even that old. But [laugh]. They think of this is something that’s been carved in stone for 100 years.
And that part about connecting the creative impulse from both, like, the most experienced, advanced coders at the most august tech companies that exist, as well as the most rank beginners in public schools, who might not even have a computer at home, saying that’s there—if you put those two things together, and both of those are saying, “I’m a coder; I’m able to create; I can make something on the internet, and I can share it with somebody and be inspired by it,” like, that is… that’s as good as it gets.
Corey: There’s something magic in being able to reach out to people who built this stuff. And honestly—you shouldn’t feel this way, but you do—when I was talking to the folks who wrote the things I was working on, it really inspires you to ask better questions. Like when I’m talking to Dr. Venema, the author of Postfix and I’m trying to figure out how this thing works, well, I know for a fact that I will not be smarter than he is at
basically anything in that entire universe, and maybe most beyond that, as well, however, I still want to ask a question in such a way that doesn’t make me sound like a colossal dumbass. So, it really inspires you—
Anil: It motivates you.
Corey: Oh, yeah. It inspires you to raise your question bar up a bit, of, “I am trying to do x. I expect y to happen. Instead, z is happening as opposed to what I find the documentation that”—oh, as I read the documentation, discover exactly what I messed up, and then I delete the whole email. It’s amazing how many of those things you never send because when constructing a question the right way, you can help yourself.
Anil: Rubber ducking against your heroes.
Anil: I mean, early in my career, I’d gone through sort of licensing mishap on a project that later became open-source, and sort of stepped it in and as you do, and unprompted, I got an advice email from Dan Bricklin, who invented the spreadsheet, he invented VisiCalc, and he had advice and he was right. And it was… it was unreal. I was like, this guy’s one of my heroes. I grew up reading about his work, and not only is he, like, a living, breathing person, he’s somebody that can have the kindness to reach out and say, “Yeah, you know, have you tried this? This might work.”
And it’s, this isn’t, like, a guy who made an app. This is the guy who made the app for which the phrase killer app was invented, right? And, you know, we’ve since become friends and I think a lot of his inspiration and his work. And I think it’s one of the things it’s like, again, if you tell somebody starting out, the people who invented the fundamental tools of the digital era, are still active, still building stuff, still have advice to share, and you can connect with them, it feels like a cheat code. It feels like a superpower, right? It feels like this impossible thing.
And I think about like, even for me, the early days of the web, view source, which is still buried in our browser somewhere. And you can see the code that makes the page, it felt like getting away with something. “You mean, I can just look under the hood and see how they made this page and then I can do it too?” I think we forget how radical that is—[unintelligible 00:29:48] radical open-source in general is—and you see it when, like, you talk to young creators. I think—you know, I mean, Glitch obviously is used every day by, like, people at Microsoft and Google and the New York Timesor whatever, like, you know, the most down-the-road, enterprise developers, but I think a lot about the new creators and the people who are learning, and what they tell me a lot is the, like, “Oh, so I made this app, but what do I have to do to put it on the internet?”
I’m like, “It already is.” Like, as soon as you create it, that URL was live, it all works. And their, like, “But isn’t there, like, an app store I have to ask? Isn’t there somebody I have to get permission to publish this from? Doesn’t somebody have to approve it?”
And you realize they’ve grown up with whether it was the app stores on their phones, or the cartridges in their Nintendo or, you know, whatever it was, they had always had this constraint on technology. It wasn’t something you make; it’s something that is given to you, you know, handed down from on high. And I think that’s the part that animates me and the whole team, the community, is this idea of, like, I geek out about our infrastructure. I love that we’re doing deploys constantly, so fast, all the time, and I love that we’ve taken the complexity away, but the end of the day, the reason why we do it, is you can have somebody just sort of saying, I didn’t realize there was a place I could just make something put it in front of, maybe, millions of people all over the world and I don’t have to ask anybody permission and my idea can matter as much as the thing that’s made by the trillion-dollar company.
Corey: It’s really neat to see, I guess, the sense of spirit and soul that arises from a smaller, more, shall we say, soulful company. No disparagement meant toward my friends at AWS and other places. It’s just, there’s something that you lose when you get to a certain point of scale. Like, I don’t ever have to have a meeting internally and discuss things, like, “Well, does this thing that we’re toying with doing violate antitrust law?” That is never been on my roadmap of things I have to even give the slightest crap about.
Anil: Right, right? You know, “What does the investor relations person at a retirement fund think about the feature that we shipped?” Is not a question that we have to answer. There’s this joy in also having community that sort of has come along with us, right? So, we talk a lot internally about, like, how do we make sure Glitch stays weird? And, you know, the community sort of supports that.
Like, there’s no reason logically that our logo should be the emoji of two fish. But that kind of stuff of just, like, it just is. We don’t question it anymore. I think that we’re very lucky. But also that we are part of an ecosystem. I also am very grateful where, like… yeah, that folks at Google use Glitch as part of their daily work when they’re explaining a new feature in Chrome.
Like, if you go to web.dev
and their dev portal teaches devs how to code, all the embedded examples go to these Glitch apps that are running, showing running code is incredible. When we see the Stripe team building examples of, like, “Do you want to use this new payment API that we made? Well, we have a Glitch for you.” And literally every day, they ship one that sort of goes and says, “Well, if you just want to use this new Stripe feature, you just remix this thing and it’s instantly running on Glitch.”
I mean, those things are incredible. So like, I’m very grateful that the biggest companies and most influential companies in the industry have embraced it. So, I don’t—yeah, I don’t disparage them at all, but I think that ability to connect to the person who’d be like, “I just want to do payments. I’ve never heard of Stripe.”
Corey: Oh yeah.
Anil: And we have this every day. They come into Glitch, and they’re just like, I just wanted to take credit cards. I didn’t know there’s a tool to do that.
Corey: “I was going to build it myself,” and everyone shrieks, “No, no. Don’t do that. My God.” Yeah. Use one of their competitors, fine,k but building it yourself is something a lunatic would do.
Anil: Exactly. Right, right. And I think we forget that there’s only so much attention people can pay, there’s only so much knowledge they have.
Corey: Everything we say is new to someone. That’s why I always go back to assuming no one’s ever heard of me, and explain the basics of what I do and how I do it, periodically. It’s, no one has done all the mandatory reading. Who knew?
Anil: And it’s such a healthy exercise to, right, because I think we always have that kind of beginner’s mindset about what Glitch is. And in fairness, I understand why. Like, there have been very experienced developers that have said, “Well, Glitch looks too colorful. It looks like a toy.” And that we made a very intentional choice at masking—like, we’re doing the work under the hood.
And you can drop down into a terminal and you can do—you can run whatever build script you want. You can do all that stuff on Glitch, but that’s not what we put up front and I think that’s this philosophy about the role of the technology versus the people in the ecosystem.
Corey: I want to thank you for taking so much time out of your day to, I guess, explain what Glitch is and how you view it. If people want to learn more about it, about your opinions, et cetera. Where can they find you?
Anil: Sure. glitch.com
is easiest place, and hopefully that’s a something you can go and a minute later, you’ll have a new app that you built that you want to share. And, you know, we’re pretty active on all social media, you know, Twitter especially with Glitch: @glitch
. I’m on as @anildash
And one of the things I love is I get to talk to folks like you and learn from the community, and as often as not, that’s where most of the inspiration comes from is just sort of being out in all the various channels, talking to people. It’s wild to be 20-plus years into this and still never get tired of that.
Corey: It’s why I love this podcast. Every time I talk to someone, I learn something new. It’s hard to remain too ignorant after you have enough people who’ve shared wisdom with you as long as you can retain it.
Anil: That’s right.
Corey: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me.
Anil: So, glad to be here.
Corey: Anil Dash, CEO of Gletch—or Glitch as he insists on calling it. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice along with an angry comment telling me how your small team at AWS is going to crush Glitch into the dirt just as soon as they find a name that’s dumb enough for the service.
Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit duckbillgroup.com
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