Importance of Natural Resources

Progression, Curiosity, and Burnout with Dan Abramov

[music playing] Welcome to episode #2 of the
Tyler McGinnis podcast where I decode the implementation details of successful Software
Engineers. When I first had the idea for this podcast,
someone who kept popping into my head over and over to try to interview was Dan Abramov. The problem with that, is that I’m trying
to have all of my interview for this podcast just because it feels just a little more geniune
that way. Unfortunately, I live in Utah and Dan lives
in London so we are no where close to each other. But, luckily for me, Dan attended React Rally
last week here in Utah and was kind enough to sit down with me as a last minute request. If by some small chance you don’t already
know who Dan is, he’s the co-author of Redux and now works at Facebook on the React team. I’ve always been curious how someone from
such a humble background as Dan could have such a positive impact in our industry so
quickly. What I found in our interview, and I think
this attribute can be credited to a lot of his success, is Dan is probably the most curious
person I’ve ever met. He never comes out and explicitly states this,
but every story he tells, whether he’s a 14 year old in Russia reading bootleg VBA books
or a twenty something year old writing Redux to prepare for a conference talk, every story
is just engulfed with curiosity. With that said, I am so happy to bring you
this interview with one the developers that I look up to the most – Dan Abramov. I think what interests me most about you,
and this is kind of universally what I’ve heard is, you have an incredibly interesting
backstory. And I don’t know if I have ever heard it personally. Everyone kind of knows you are from Russia
and they know you are at Facebook. But there’s a lot in between there that I
don’t know that if you’ve ever talked about or I don’t know if it’s really been, like,
discussed. That’s the first question I have for you is,
how does someone go from Russia, to now, like, working at Facebook? Tell me, probably in more detail than you
want to, the steps or kind of like the history of how you did that. I think I was about 12 maybe. I did not really intentionally start to program. So I remember I had a book on Pascal actually,
which I had no idea what it meant. Like, I didn’t understand that it’s something
you need to input into a computer so it was like a book with code printed in it. And I don’t remember, like, it was some kind
of database thing. So I remember seeing it, but I didn’t make
anything of it. I didn’t have any like… We had computer classes in school but they
did not include programming at all. It was, like, Word, and PowerPoint then, like,
Office programs, Microsoft Paint. And so I was just doing, yeah. And I loved PowerPoint. PowerPoint was my favorite program ever because
like I tried to inspect every feature. So like, I opened every menu in PowerPoint
and tried to, like, test it and it had this crazy features, like, I don’t know if you
remember, but like, you can insert all the objects which is like you can insert , so
Microsoft had this… its own component model back in the day where you could have applications
export different types of content that would be embeddable in other applications. So Iike, if you installed both Excel and PowerPoint,
you can embed Excel spreadsheets into PowerPoint slides. And then if you press on it it’s going to
activate, like the tool bars are going to be replaced by Excel. And I was just fascinated by is kind of like
things that you can put into other things and they like do something. And so it also, so apart from this it also
had these animations. So you could schedule animations on like some
kind of board you could say, “This thing flies off from like from the right, then it fades
in. Then like this thing happens…” So it was a visual way to design, I guess,
not an interaction but like just animations. But then I noticed a really cool menu years
so it was called service-micros and what you could do is it would show a tool bar which
looked like a tape recorder so it had the, “Record,” “Play,” and, “Stop,” buttons. And I remember that I pressed record and then
I just, like, moved somethings on the side. And then I pressed stop. And then if I pressed, “Play,” it would, like,
do the same thing again automatically. Like, repeat what I did. And I found it really cool and I noticed that
if I double click it, it opens up some completely different program with, like, some weird menus
and a white screen of text and in the text it says, ‘With Picture box One. Dot Left equals something, Dot Top equals
something. End With” And I changed those numbers and
I pressed play again and it would move it to a different spot and I am like, “Wow. Like, these are coordinates.” And if I press, “Up,” so like it let me assigned
properties. And if I pressed that again, it would show
a list of all the properties that are available. And I would just try every property in there
to see what I could do with these pictures and like objects. And so this was really fascinating and the
thing was called Visual Basic for applications, it’s like a small version of Visual Basic
. I bought a book on it. And like, in Russia they would sell technical
books like in our underground like when you go to an underground station, before the entrance
to the station there will be, like, a small shop. I am not even sure if it was like official
licensed or whatever, but they would sell, like, CD’s and DVD’s, like, everything. It was pirated, of course. And there were some books and some technical
books as well, and so I bought a book, like a book by some, it was not even a translation,
just some Russian author who wrote about automating stuff with VBA and so I read that, I read
another book on VBA and I started just, so my grandmother sure so like to like buy me
treats and I stuff and I just asked for books about Visual Basic. So our favorite… Which is normal for a 14-year old. Yeah. Totally. And like my favorite way to spend a weekend
was to go with my grandma to eat some pizza, something like this, and then go to a bookstore
and pick the thickest book about Visual Basics. I had like maybe five or six such books. And I mean as books they were probably not
very great because they didn’t teach programming, they just described the APIs, and stuff. But I quickly started, so I picked Visual
Basic 6, that was the version that was popular at the time. And I don’t know, I was just, you could drag
and drop things onto like a window, and it would have this Visual Designer and then you
could write some code for event handlers. And this really how I got into programming
because I could just like put a button. Like, it felt very powerful to like see a
window, and like track a button on it. And press, “Play,” and I see this as a real
thing, like as a real application. Was feedback. Yeah. It was. So there was this talk at, so we are at React
Rally, for the context of the conference. And there was this talk today by Preeti. And she talked about how feedback loop was
important to how she got into JavaScript. And I now realize that I did not, like JavaScript
was not popular at the time when I learned. But for me it was also this visual feedback
loop that got me into programming, like I would never have gotten into it if, with this
book about Pascal, like, this didn’t make any sense for me. But just dropping things and running them
and seeing them live, I think that made the biggest impression on me. When you were learning Fiber, you tweeted
how like you were building a to-do list or something in order to learn it. Has that always been kind of your path to
learning new things is basically just getting as hands-on with that is possible or what’s
a path? Like, say because back then it was purely,
like, your drive, your reading books, like all you had were books essentially. Your gran bought books and pizza, right? Is the process still similar today with newer
technology? I don’t learn new technology much. Unfortunately. So say when you’re learning Fiber, which was
I think, like, a year ago or something? What was the path you took to learn that? For the context, it’s a project that, it is
like a rewrite of React that Sebastian Marbage has started which is like a bit complicated
because it’s not like the JavasScript code that I have seen before. Yeah. It took me some time to understand the reasoning
behind how it’s written. I think for me the way I understood it was
just by trying to implement a feature in it. So like, we needed to get to feature parity. Yeah. And actually I started work, the first feature
that I worked on in Fiber was Error Boundaries, which was actually a new feature. So I would just write some tests, like initial
tests for what I was trying to do here, and wrote the hackiest version like, I could write
that did what I was trying to do here. And obviously, like, it was violating some
principles of how Sebastian wanted it to be done. So Sebastian actually wrote up an issue called,
“Contributing to Fiber,” where he lists that his constraints, like the things that he,
the way that he wants the code to be written like, things to be aware of. And after reading that and talking with him
through it, “I think I got a clearer picture of like what he was trying to do.” And the like, the invariants, the constraints
that I need to follow. And yeah. It kind of went from there. But I mean it wasn’t also, like, it wasn’t
like I’m learning a new thing. It was more like Sebastian started like shaping
it. And you know, it’s kind of like a sculpture,
right? So you have this raw material at first and
then you like, work on them and they become something, and he had shared it with us at
a very rough stage, like the first stage. And then we just try to learn how to work
on this thing together. It changed many times as we were working on
it but… It worked out. Yeah, it… It shipped. It’s working out. Yeah. I mean it shipped to Facebook. It’s just we haven’t released 16 yet, but
hopefully in a few weeks, it’ll be out. So let’s go back to when you’re in Russia
with your grandma. She gets you pizza, treats, you’d be reading
like these super fat VBA. So what was the path from there to learning
JavaScript? Where was that transition? So it took a long time really. So again I started at about 12. But I stalled a lot, like, I’d been trying
to write a single program like for my step-dad. So basically he needed, he worked as a photographer
and he needed something like a database for keeping track of like, of photoshoots. Like location, topics, tags, descriptions. Yeah. And it was just a regular, like, it could
have been a spreadsheet, but he didn’t know how to use Excel. Everything can definitely be a spreadsheet. Yeah. And so I was trying to gather, but I was reading
books. So right after Visual Basic I think I never,
like, I didn’t start reading books about programming fundamentals, but instead I got fascinated
by the OOP stuff. So I started, like, I read Gang of Four, I
read, like, refactoring, design patterns, I got super fixed on UML for some reason. So I was, like, drawing these crazy diagrams
of object oriented things and, like, inheritance hierarchies and all this stuff. Was this so you could build a product for
your step-dad or was this out of curiosity? It was kind of both. I was using this project as an excuse to,
like, do everything. So like, I was trying to, I was reading a
book about how to gather project requirements and like user stories and Agile stuff and,
like, all of this. And I was, like 14. And I it made a big impression on me at the
time. So I was, yeah, I was just drawing UI mockups
and figuring out how to express this in objects. And also at the same time, so I was using
this project as a test bed for everything I learned. I was also buying part of the copies of ActiveX
controls. Wow. That sounds really funny in 2017. And there was this component abstraction for
Windows, which is, like, a way to share comp- like this is like React components now that
I think of it. You could just drag and drop them, and decide
their properties. And they had events. This is ridiculous, it’s like I am working
on the same thing now. Yeah, but at the time they were not open source. So like, open source was not a big thing back
then, everything was commercial. But in Russia, you could just go to this,
like, underground shop and there would be CD-ROMs with 250 ActiveX controls… Oh my goodness. And stuff like this. And I would just like, I was fascinated by,
like, toolbars. So there were a lot of controls that implemented
Microsoft Office style tool bars, that are not native to windows. Like, you actually have to implement them
and I would like, try every single one of them and I would change like the tool bar
implementation every week and, like, try to give it abstracts so I could swap them up. And like, this project was ridiculous, and
I never really shipped it, so I think it kept going for like, two years for me. I was just tweaking random things I mean he
was using it at some point because like, it kind of worked but I think I never really
finished all the features I wanted to finish. And yeah. It took me a long time just to, like, I think
it’s gotten to a point where so, .NET came out and VB6 was kind of deprecated. I was trying to migrate to VB.NET and I started
learning C# around the same time because like everybody was using C#. And I think the project kind of just sunk
like, I couldn’t change anything without introducing a bug. Because like, the code was such a mess that
like talk to database and do everything in a single place, in the event handlers and
forms that I would like, fix one bug and introduce three other bugs. And at some point I just abandoned it. But that’s, I think that was, like, the longest
project I had at the time and then I kind of stopped programming for a few years. Do you know remember what year this was when
you finished the program? So I think I was about 15, so that was 2007. And I stopped programming for, like, a couple
of years after that. What made you stop? I just didn’t have any, like, I was just frustrated
after this first project, and I also had, like, the school was getting more demand. And although, like, I hated school so I just
copied my homework. And I don’t know, I just wasn’t in a good
place to like, do something like this. I wasn’t really very interested, but I got
into a programming forum so I started to spend a lot of time online. I had, like, a smartphone with Opera mini
as a browser which was super efficient in terms of network, and I would just spend days
there. There was a forum. Like a Russian programming forum where I tried
to, StackOverflow didn’t exist back then. So I was trying to just answer questions even
if I didn’t know the answer, I would just, like, google them and try to get better at
googling things for other people. And I became a moderator of VB .NET subsection
and later I think, of the whole .NET subsection. And yeah, it was kind of fun. So I think, I spent most of my time just on
the on the forum back then, without any real projects. But I was learning a little bit about windows
API’s, and interfacing with, like, Windows native APIs from managed C# code. Yeah. So, that’s the way I remember it. So that was 2000, you said 2007ish you finished
the project. So took a little break for the next few years
doing school stuff. I don’t know what, is there, like, a high
school in Russia? I don’t know the equivalent of… Yeah. So did you go to college for a little bit
or? No. It’s a bit different. So in Russia you have, I’m actually not sure
how it works now but when I was there it was, so the school was ten years and then you either
go to, like, there is something, like, I’m not sure how American system works either,
to be honest, but like you could go through a thing that last two years, but it’s not
preparing you for any kind of high-tech job, it’s just like, If you want to be a plumber
you could go there, but you could also go to a university. So I actually did that, I went to a university
that I thought would teach me programming because. Like, I don’t know why I thought that. There were supposed, I think there was something
related to programming there but they actually turned out that, like, the first three years
are the same for everyone… Okay. Yeah. It’s same here. Which means it’s, like, super generic. There is one programming course, where the
course work is to write two functions that print a table to the console. So it’s, like… the good part was that they
gave free Macbooks while we were there. That was one of the reasons that I joined. But I dropped out of the second year, and
I got a job at the same time. Okay. It was at the… I got a job and I realized that I don’t want
to do the university. And that was a developer job? Yeah. Okay. So I was 17. I was 17, I finished school and it was my
first year in university. And when I was 17 I started doing freelance
stuff. So there was a website, like Russian website,
with freelance jobs. They were, like, super low paying but I would
try to build a, like a small portfolio there. On just random things, like, somebody needs
to fix their ASP website or there was a project I worked on which is like to build some kind
of thing to enter data and like visualize it or something like this. Also, all this was windows programming. I didn’t know anything about the web at all. Yeah. And it like paid, suddenly I got $200 for,
like, two weeks of work. Yeah. And I mean it wasn’t too bad, like, for a
Russian teenager at the time. Yeah, considering it, like, people who, even
people who got paid, like well in Russia, I think like $2,000 a month is considered
like a really good wage. Interesting. And I mean, like, housing expenses are pretty
small there compared to U.S. and stuff. Yeah. So I was just doing this freelance small things
and tried to, like, build a brand on this website. I would look at people who are successful
there and like mimic them. So I would, I don’t know, make beautiful screenshots
of my stuff. And put beautiful descriptions there and,
like, try to explain what I did. And so a guy contacted me. He was copywriter so he was, like, padding
some ad texts on his website and he had an idea for a joint project. So the thing that he needed was… so in this
industry, like, people write just, like, ad texts for some very small money, and they
need to be optimized for SEO so that they, like, match Google keywords and stuff, but
you need to make sure that the keywords are not too dense in the text, otherwise it’s
penalized. It’s, like, at the time between 2 and 5% was
considered to be a good, I don’t know how to say it in English but yeah. So … The ratio basically. Yeah. So you needed to be careful about that and
there were, the tools that existed to measure it were not very good. And he wanted me to build a tool that would
display like, let people enter the keywords and display them. So that they can see if it’s working well
or not. And I think, I spent also, I think two weeks
on it. I think I got $100 for it. But I put my name in the status bar. Like, I put his name and my name. And I got a like, I kept getting orders from
this. So like, people would just, because like everybody
in this free lancing community started using this tool. People like, I don’t know, word of mouth would
come that, “Hey.Here’s a person who can do some like coding stuff.” And so I kept getting orders. And it was pretty good like, for my age. Yeah. And actually I googled this program, it’s
called, “TextTrust Pro.” I googled it a few years ago. And there are like a lot of Youtube videos
about it, it still exists and a lot of people still seem to use it. We got to find that. That’s awesome. So is this, so I know Stampsy is coming up,
right? So was this after university or like during
university? The freelance stuff was during the first year
of university when I was just trying my skills to see if I can actually do something real. And I think it finished when I, So I implemented
Linux support for fun in this project like it has this Plot abstraction, like, UI abstraction
that would you spot for specific views and stuff and I figured that, “Okay like, if I
did that and it works, maybe I’m ready for like a real job.” And I went to a meetup that was hosted by
some, basically it was a talk by some guy who was a, I think he was a co-founder maybe,
of a local outsourcing company, so it was like a company that wrote Windows, like, line
of business apps basically for, like, finance companies. It was just general Enterprise outsourcing
stuff. And I just came up to him and said, “Are you
looking for somebody who can do C#?” and he said, “Yeah, sure. Drop me an email. ” And I dropped an email and I went to the interview
and like I showed the thing that like the program that, it was a really cool program. Like I used free text input for, so you could
copy and paste your text there, and I use windows API’s to actually highlighted those
keywords, right in-line so that… it sounds trivial today. But like it was really hard for me back then. Yeah, so I showed this thing and I showed,
like, they did a test where I would,like, write a program that showed running processes
and stuff like this. It wasn’t hard and yeah. They just hired me and I started working there
as a C# developer there. And so at that point, I realized that I’m
just wasting time in the university, like, not because I’m smart or something but just
because like there was barely any programming at all. And there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t
care about, like, not in the least. So I quit the university and I worked about
two years at that company, it’s called DataArt. It’s like a joint Russian-American company
and I gained some experience with , like, enterprisey stuff there. And then I quit. Where does Stampsy come into play? Because I’m assuming Stampsy was your introduction
to JavaScript. Yeah. Like where you really started using it in
production. Yeah. After I quit, I think I quit DataArt when
we were hired to do a project that was, like, something, like eBay. Like a startup but outsourced and was really
silly because, like they were, they wanted us to like micro optimize anything but they
didn’t have a real product, like, they didn’t have any users at all. So it just collapsed. And I just felt like I’m wasting my time doing,
like stuff for contract stuff like this. So I quit my job. And I moved back with my mom because I didn’t
have any income for like three or four months. And so I moved back in with my mom. But I, so I found a new thing on the internet. There was this guy, Yury Lifshits, he worked
at Yahoo for awhile and then he came back to Russia. He was running a workshop thing that, so the
way he phrased it is that it would teach you web development. And I was really scared about that because
I spent all my life doing desktop development. And I didn’t know anything about the web. And I was frankly terrified. Because like, it seemed like the web is picking
up traction. And, like, you can’t really, I’m just out
of touch. And so I went to the thing and it turned out
that the way it works is that I don’t pay anything, he doesn’t pay me anything, but
like, there is 20 of us. We have root access to like servers, servers
with his projects. And we just implement things that he needed
to build for this project. So like, he didn’t have any formal educational
thing, it was just voluntary. Building stuff. Yeah. Yeah. We just learned. I guess he just taught us how. He basically gave everyone Django tutorial
and said like, “Go through this tutorial and then build this feature.” And we were just trying to do that. And it was fun. And I learned Git, and CSS, and some HTML
and some super basic JavaScript built with JQuery. And I kept going till I programmed for, like,
a few months maybe, and I felt like, yeah, like I get it, I understand the web more or
less. I didn’t really like learning JavaScript at
the time, I was just like comfortable enough to write this simple jQuery thing. But then I decided to apply for the coolest,
at the time, company in Russia. So there was, I mean there still is, VK it’s
a Russian clone of Facebook. Yeah, but I mean it had a nicer UI you know,
it was based on a version of I think Facebook of 2005 or something like this, when it was
uncluttered and I think VK really paid high, like, paid attention to not cluttering it. They didn’t have a lot of features but it
was really neatly designed and, like, super fast. At the time, everybody wanted to work there
and they had like super solid team of, like, maybe ten people, like, maintaining the whole
website with millions of users. So I went to an interview there and, like,
they told me to build in all the complete component, that like worked the same way that
theirs worked. And I did that. And yeah. But they did not really look at the code. It was more like how does it handle, like,
the balancing and caching and I didn’t really think about some of these things, and in the
end I didn’t pass the interview and I was really frustrated and, like, I didn’t know
what to do so I just went to Coursera and I joined two courses, “Machine Learning,”
and, “Compilers.” Because those were like two topics that seemed
absolutely magical to me. And I thought like, “Maybe I want to do something
like this.” And at the same time, I got a call from some,
so some guy was emailing me asking if I, oh right, so I missed a part. I organized, I mean I didn’t really like do
anything I just messaged a few people. But a few people from that group that did
those projects with Yury Lifshits, so few people were into watching educational videos. As I was going through this Coursera courses,
I messaged a few people, “Let’s like spend a day just watching educational videos. You know like, why not? This sounds fun.” And we went to this working space that Yury
rented, we just stayed there until like 5:00 a.m. or something because I needed to get
the homework for Coursera done by the deadline which was like 7:00 in the morning in Russian
time. And I had a friendly chat with somebody who
also stayed with me. And then this person, it turned out that this
person recommended me to someone who lived in Moscow. So some guy from Moscow was messaging me if
I would be interested in chatting about, like, working his startup potentially. And I was still kind of frustrated about the
whole VK thing that didn’t work out and I was also, ill I think I had mononucleosis. So I looked awful and I didn’t want to talk
to anyone and I also googled this guy and he looked like some kind of fashion guy, like,
he had like a slick haircut, and he was appearing in GQ Russia something like this. I thought, like, what the hell does this person
have to do with software development. And so I kind of ignored him. And then I really looked like I’m not truly
like interested right now. Like maybe in a few weeks. But he was super persistent and he actually
messaged me again in a few weeks. And I said “Okay. Like let’s Skype.” Because like I am in St. Petersburg and he
was in Moscow. How far is that? It’s like four hours by a train, by a really
fast train. Or a night, you know, on a slow train. And so he messaged, yeah, we Skyped and he
showed me, so they made a video about a product that didn’t even exist. It was like a flash mockup. But it was a really slick production. Yeah. It was a great, great video, I’m sure. Yeah. It was like, “Wow. This was beautiful.” And so the idea of the product was like a
thing to create DIY magazines on the web. Like the format that would be like, not like
real magazines but more like Zines. Maybe adapting Zines to web format and it
was really magical. It was like a button that you pressed and
it would change the layout beautifully, and, that button is ridiculous. When we tried to implement it, it was crazy. We got it in the end. Yeah, but I was fascinated by it and like,
aesthetically it felt like it’s something I want to try doing. And so, I went to Moscow to, like, meet him
and the other folks and, he was really trying to, like, give a good impression, and yeah,
I decided to join Stampsy. So that was I think 2012 maybe, or 2013. When did you leave Stampsy? Was it after React Europe? It was before, a few months before React Europe. Yeah. That’s right. You did a few months. So you worked with Stampsy for the next few
years doing Backbone initially, right? Not exactly. Initially it wasn’t even a web app. We started with an iPad app so it was Xamarin
and C# just because like we knew C#. And after, so we released the iPad app. It was even featured by Apple. Like Apple folks wrote to us saying that,
“Hey. The design is great and stuff.” But the product didn’t really make sense because
it was, like, it was a compromise between two visions. It was like in part, one of the co-founders
was pose like in part one of the co founders was…So Roman, he was more like a visionary. But he had this like idea for Stampsy. And like he always wanted to make Zines. Like he used to make Zines when he was a teenager
and he had this art project where he would create several web magazines with, like, by
hiring like graphic designers. And JS developers that would, like, look pretty
cool with like glitch effects and stuff like this. But it was pretty expensive, so he just wanted
other people like him to have a tool to express themselves. And the other co founder was like more pragmatic,
I guess. And more of a, he was a designer and so he
was, the result was like a tool that pretended to be the thing that Roman wanted. But it was like just an editor I guess. Like a drag and drop editor. And so if you don’t know how to design pages
you just like drag, like, headings and text and it just looks awful. Because you don’t know how to beautifully
position something, you don’t know how to automate… like how to lay things out. So it was like a fancy drag and drop tool
but it was too simple for designers but not restricting enough for beginners. So people just created a lot of, like really
shit content. And so that was pretty frustrating and we
figured that nobody has good content on iPad anyways because like people usually have pictures,
like very low-quality pictures of their family. And this is what they post then, instead of
like, beautiful editorials. So we scrapped the iPad app and we started
building a web app. And this was, so the iPad app was a hybrid
app. It was like parts of it were native. I mean C# but still it used native APIs. But the drag and drop editor was built with
WAP because we wanted to have the same exact experience in the editor. And in the viewer part like, when you view
a piece of content and since you can view it on the internet it follows that it has
to be a web thing otherwise the fonts are going to be different. The layouts are going to be slightly different,
so we implemented that as hybrid thing. That was really cohesive, I’d say. I’m pretty proud of how we did. And it wasn’t noticeable that it was a hybrid
thing. I mean even like Apple agreed. So yeah. And the web part was built with Backbone at
the time. And I kind of, I mean, I knew like MVC paradigm. So it wasn’t hard. Although, the logic was kind of messy in some
places. And so we started with building the web app
from scratch. Completely from scratch because they had a
different, design slightly different like target audience it was more, supposed to be
more automatic, and so on. And so we had to choose between Backbone and
Angular at the time. Angular won. Or Angular.js I’m not sure what’s the right
way. And so we picked Angular for a prototype of
this, and we didn’t have a good experience with it. Like, we had cryptic errors. Like, not the js, middle of the js or something. We just decided to go with backbone because
like we understood was going on there. So yeah. We started building a complex single page
app in Backbone. And at some point we just hit the limits. Like, it’s not dynamic enough and we had this
custom system where like a custom data binding system which would, like, try to re-render
a template if there’s any change. And like replace the poorest of poor marks
especially. I even remember looking at some library that
diff’ed the DOM nodes. So there was like a diff node or something
like this but it never occurred to me that those could have been plain objects. So I was like thinking what if we have Backbone
call the render method and the render method creates the DOM nodes but then we diff’ed
them and applied the changes from the diff to the regional nodes but we never made it… So close. Yeah. So close. But we never made it work. And then a coworker of mine he showed, so
he showed React to me and I was like, “What the hell? This doesn’t make sense.” and I just forgot about it. And then in a few months he showed it again
and he said, “Actually this might be good.” and so I tried, and at the time I was , so
I needed, like, a like button that would show, like, ‘Liked by… and three other people.” And like, it had to be dynamic and feel light
and personal. What if like there’s like two people and it
comes to just one person and like, there is a few combinations there? And it was the same text was used in several
different places so like this label would be online. But it was also be on top of the page and
they needed to like sync with each other? Yeah. And so I tried to implement this React component
and it took me just one evening. I would just write a switch case that says,
“If like we have these many people we do that. Otherwise like we are going to do that.” And it just worked. And we just got it like going up from the
like button to like, the whole panel. And then to, like, the whole page and like
to the feed like in the middle of the feed units and then the whole feed and React-Wrapper
didn’t exist back then. So we used, we tried to use some React-wrapper
component by Andrew Bolt. But we didn’t understand the API fully so
it was the routing was managed by Backbone. And later React-wrapper came out and we just
migrated to that. And then it was 100% React but with Backbone
models. But then we had these problems where they
would get out of sync all the time. And nested entities are very hard. And like pagination is hard and it, like,
caching is hard. It’s like everything was hard. And then Facebook release Flux and I was like,
“This is the solution to the exact problem that we are having with duplicated data.” So we adopted Flux. And it took, I think it took about nine months
to migrate but we were shipping features all the time. While, so like, we never stopped to rewrite
anything. Like, as we started to introduce React and
Flux we’ve been able to ship features along, while we were migrating. At this point, you have obviously a lot of
experience, Backbone, React, Flux. Then comes this is like, this is right before
Redux is about a thing, right? So what, and I know you have a lot of opinions
on like obviously Redux, how Redux is being used today, how that’s kind of a little bit
different maybe than your initial vision. I want to hear about, why does Redux exist? Like what were the things that you were trying
to solve, initially, with Flux, basically? So I was trying to solve the problem of promising
something for a conference talk. I… Which is a great way to, like make something,
right? Yeah. I was just… A stressful way probably. But a great way. Yeah. So I just, the thing is I wanted to talk about
hot reloading. But Brad Simmons already here, so he mentioned
it at React conference. But didn’t do a demo because, like, Wi-Fi
didn’t work or something. Some reason I felt that it was mentioned already,
so like if I just submit a proposal about hot reloading like, that won’t interest anyone. That’s not cool. So, and I was really fascinated by Bret Victor
vidoes. I know that like I want to add a disclaimer
that I know that Bret probably hates everything people do with after watching his videos. Because like they never, they implement like
5% of his vision and like the 95% of really the hard part. And is like just cherry picking the stuff
that’s easy to do. But I mean I did, I thought of the same thing. I was fascinated by this idea of changing
the past, like changing the past and the future. Like when you have this Mario like game where
he would show the trajectory, like he would go in the past after in the game. And he would show the trajectory of like the
character. And then he would change the code and the
trajectory of the character has changed. This is like this thing’s already happened
but here’s what would have happened if the code was different. And this really fascinated me and I was thinking
about Flux and actions. And how if like, if you separate the data
from the logic you could hot reload the logic and reapply the same actions on the top, moving
the problem into a different state. So there’s [00:43:15] I think I do have a
think about Flux at that time so I was thinking about some kind of what if I just add time
travel to React state itself, and I just did that because I was scared that if the talk
was just about hot reloading, like, it would not be accepted. So I said partial loading on time travel and
I got some buzz words in it like the talk proposals said that, “In this talk, Dan will
demonstrate how like ideas from all Elm and Om or if…” But I never tried Elm or Om. It was just that this post by David Nolan
was super influential for me so I figured that, “Yeah. Like, immutability might actually work.” And I mentioned Elm, I don’t remember why. So we still mention it in Redux with me. Because I think that I probably read Elm architecture
at some point. I’m pretty sure that I did not understand
it. Because the first version of Redux did not
follow Elm architecture at all. It’s something Andrew came up with. And he’s saying he also probably also read
Elm architecture and did not understand it because of the syntax. And now it’s just part of the history, yeah. But it was part of the subconscious kind of
thing. But anyway at that time I didn’t try Elm or
Om. But I made this proposal and it was accepted
and then I had like six months to prepare. But I was like Stampsy was running out of
funding at the same time I was trying to polish a drag and drop library. So I kind of just like did not think about
the talk for a long time, I was trying to implement a Flux hot loader, like React hot
loader but for Flux, and I realized it’s really hard because the state has captured the local
variables that there is no access to so you can’t really like transplant it when you change
a module, you can’t really, like, put those into the new version. But what if we separated the state from the
logic. Like that would allow us to do that. So I think Redux was just like an attempt
to actually make a proof of concept of, “There is a Gist, like really old Gist about time
travel in Flux. Which, like, if you scroll my Gist far enough
maybe you’ll find it.” I was trying to figure out what is the minimal
version of Flux that would work with hot reloading and it’s pretty crazy like it’s funny. It’s naive. We were chatting with, I don’t remember who
I was chatting with, but I was chatting with someone and they said that I’m not even sure,
it was my idea. Yeah. I don’t remember who suggested it but basically,
we had this idea that Redux would be a cool name because we have these Reducer functions
and it is Flux. And, like, it sounds really good, Redux. I was watching I think, Jeremy Morrel if I’m
not mistaken, I was watching his talk where he was explaining Flux conceptually as a reduce
operation over time. And I was thinking what if it was actually
like a reduce operation like literally. And so yeah. and after a while, Redux is a
really good name, I like it. Maybe I should like turn it into a proper
library, and so I think somebody gave me the name from, like the npm name. Yeah. And I just, I was trying to make a proof of
concept of Flux where I could change the logic. And it would let me time travel. And it would let me reapply the future actions
on the code change. So that was like, the goal. And I know people kind of liked it even before
it was released. And like they started saying, “Do you use
it in production?” I was like, “Wait. I’m not sure if it’s actually like usable
in production.” So I was trying to like write a proper, the
readme was ridiculous it was super long and you had like decorators syntax. And like all explain everything in a very
rude way. Yeah. It was incomprehensible to anyone who wasn’t
already in the middle of all of it. But then it exploded after the conference
and I spent some time writing the docs. So how was, this all happened just like incredibly
fast. Like from your perspective, how was it going
from someone who’s like even like pre-Stampsy, right? Like even to that you were doing like C# stuff
to all of a sudden Redux. It’s like the thing that every web app like
uses, right? Like it’s just so popular, how was managing
that, both from a personal standpoint, like, you now have issues you’re dealing with like
Github issues? And you going to have like this like fame
that’s like put upon you, whether you ask for it or not, like how is that? I don’t know, I think it was so bit overwhelming
at first, and I’ve just learned to deal with it. So like I think I spend an unhealthy amount
of time on like managing issues and pull requests and stuff. But I also didn’t have a full-time job so
it was like, I really didn’t have a work life balance at all. Eventually, I kind of learned to onboard contributors
and just like, if somebody’s motivated and they seem talented just give them like commit
rights. I think this is all kind of from the program
I was talking about where Yury just said, like here is the keys to the root users. Try not to screw up my websites, please. I kind of follow the same way though. People are going to make mistakes anyway and
like you’re going to make mistakes anyway so you might as well like, if they don’t have,
at least like I have this kind of influence and visibility. Might then just like let them do their thing
and I get there. But it’s also, it’s not entirely altruistic
or something. Because like, in a way I’m making them core
maintainers and co-contributors is important for making them more visible but it also means
that they’re going to get into this potentially unhealthy situation where they take the project
too seriously and can’t manage work life balance and stuff like this. In a way it feels like, you know, in Tom Sawyer
in the first chapter there is this guy who is painting the fence. And he’s like, “Wow. This is so amazing.” and the other guy just
believes it and picks it up. It’s just a trick and I kind of feel this
way about open source, is that yes, there are some good things. But there are also bad things. And, “Hey. Take the whole package and yeah. Pass it on.” What have you managed, what you’ve done too,
because I know in the last year things have gotten better as far as it seems you’re going
on more vacations. Is there anything that you’ve done to help
that? Or it’s literally just like, “Go on vacations
and don’t bring your computer charger.” I just voted contributors to the projects
that I don’t intend to maintain actively. Yeah. And I just am watched everything. And I mean I have a full time job working
on open source now, I have to focus like on specific things. And it’s just now that I’m not going to do
these things that I maybe want to do. And t it’s just competing for my attention
and I’m just not doing it. Yeah. Makes sense. And I stopped writing code at home. Oh yeah. That’s probably a big one too. Yeah. I was just tired. Like if you do this full time it’s not as
much fun to like do it At home too. Yeah. Yeah, exactly you’re not a 17-year-old kid
in Russia anymore. All right so what I’m going to do now is,
thanks again for telling that story I think I think a lot of people will find it interesting. what I want to do is I saw questions here
and we don’t have a lot of time left, so it’s kind of like rapid fire. I’ll ask you and you have like anywhere from
a sentence to like 30 seconds to answer them. [00:51:40] we’ll be done. So the first one I have is, you mentioned
this one before. This is kind of random, Thomas , you have
mentioned is, like, an incredible manager and a few people Christopher S_ has mentioned
the same thing. What makes Tom so effective at that role? I think he just like trusts people. In my experience is hard very good people
and he just trusts them. So like he doesn’t get in their way he doesn’t
dictate what to do and just like he is doing everything he can to empower you basically. And get things out of the way And if there
are any like people issues. He’s going to handle them so like he’s going
to talk to somebody, he’s going to talk to you he’s just very good at supporting people. What’s your favorite open source project right
now? React. Besides React. Yes. It’s still React. All right. I’ll take it. I’ll let that one slide. I’m sorry. It’s true. No. You’re good. I mean if that’s the answer, that’s the answer. I’m honest. What does building for the web look like in
three to five years? I’ve no idea. But I hope that there’s less configuration. Knowing what you know now, if you had to learn
to program all over again, how would you do it? I wouldn’t do it. Really? I don’t imagine what it’s like to do it again. I don’t have the mental energy anymore. Yeah. To go through… Yeah. I don’t know how I’ll do it. Like it was too hard. How do you measure success? Success of what? Anything. It feels good. Like if something gives you good vibes then
it’s probably a success. What’s been your favorite memory throughout
this whole process? So I mean, it’s again like unhealthy open-source. But I remember…so when I was 14, I read
a book about Erlang. Which is like super random, I don’t why I
did that. I just remember reading about functional stuff
and how Erlang can replace modules upon time while the program runs, and it seemed pretty
cool. And then there was this Brad Victor video
where he changed code …And I had this idea that, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do
that in web development?” And and then like I was playing with React
for a long time and it was really good at like, it was really the declarative and then
I was porting the project to Webpack as RequireJS was super slow and the RequireJS optimizer
produced a single bundle so it was too large. I was migrating the project to Webpack and
I saw the page about Hot module Replacement. I had no idea what it means so I asked on
StackOverflow, “What is Hot Module Replacement in Webpack?” And Tobias Koppers, creator of Webpack, he
answered like, “Here’s what it means from a compiler’s point of view. From a user’s point of view, Webpack’s point
of view….” A lot of information but some of it made sense
and I was like, “Can I use this to Hot reload React components?” And this felt like, “Wow. I can put these two different things together
to produce something valuable.” And I started like I couldn’t resist prototyping
this, and I started doing it. And then I sat until like maybe it might 6:00
a.m And I got it working and just enough to record a video And I recorded that video where,
“Hey. I’m editing in JSX while the page reloads. Like I can write expressions there and everything
still works.” And I recorded this video and I tweeted it
out and I think Christopher Chedeau retweeted it. And then like I had twenty followers at the
time and like it went viral. And I was like, “Wow. This is something. Like I’m not a weird person who cares about
this. People want a quick feedback loop.” And I think this was one of the most pleasant
moments for me. Well, that is all I have for you, thank you
so much. I think you’ve been, whether you want it or
not, I think you have been an incredible ambassador for React both myself personally and also
the community. Thank you. Thank you

Reader Comments

  1. The ending question about not doing it again was important for me to hear. It's a bit hard seeing all your role models talk to each other from the outside, not getting to discuss your passions. So you try to break through with the next Redux. Get that golden ticket to the limelight. I think it's good to hear about the cost of that transition.

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