Adrian Cockcroft has enjoyed a long career working at the leading edge of technology, having helped Sun Microsystems, eBay, and Netflix build and scale their systems. When he’s not serving as a Technology Fellow at Battery Ventures, he writes and speaks extensively about a range of subjects, including his fascination with what comes next. We talked with Adrian about keeping up with technology trends, what makes something intuitive, and which innovations that have surprised him during the last decade.
How did you get to where you are today?
I started out wanting to know how everything worked and got a Physics degree in London. After, I wrote software for a living until I joined Sun Microsystems and spent my time there explaining how Suns worked to customers. I moved to the USA and wrote a few books in the 1990’s including Sun Performance and Tuning. I spent time at eBay learning about large scale web services and moved to Netflix as they launched streaming in 2007. In 2010, I became the cloud architect for Netflix and started explaining cloud-native architecture to everyone else. In 2014, I moved to Battery Ventures to help find interesting companies to invest in and help our portfolio companies scale.
You’re speaking about complex technology at this year’s upcoming YOW! Conference in Australia. What about the event are you most looking forward to?
I attended YOW! 2013 and found that unlike most conferences, the speakers at YOW! Conference travel as a group from Melbourne to Brisbane to Sydney and really get to know each other. There is also an opportunity to evolve and tune the content, as well as its presentation. I’m really looking forward to hearing new things and making new friends.
Tell us: how do you define something as ‘complicated’?
Complicated things have lots of moving parts and relationships between them, which are initially confusing to try and understand.
In contrast, what makes technology intuitive?
When we have a mental model for how something should work it becomes intuitive, we can manipulate it and the behaviors become more predictable.
How are complicated and intuitive related, if at all? Is there a specific use case you often share to explain the relationship between the two?
Things that start off looking complicated can be learned over time by individuals and groups of people so that they eventually become intuitive. For example, driving a car is very complicated, not only controlling the vehicle, but navigating roads and around other drivers, but it has become intuitive to many people.
You’ve done some incredible work at well-known companies during your career. What, if any, innovations have surprised you?
When Apple released the initial iPhone, it wasn’t a surprise, but the quality of the user interface experience was so deeply intuitive that it surprised everyone.
I saw a two year old using one of the first iPhones, and that was the inspiration for a hack-day project I did at Netflix to create a Netflix for Kids on iPad demo.
This helped the real Netflix for Kids product get started.
What’s the most challenging part about keeping up with your rapidly changing industry?
I’m constantly exposed to new people and ideas, so the challenging part is to figure out which ideas are going to take off, and which will fade away.
What other industry events, courses, and reading do you enjoy?
I focus on two kinds of events: developer and DevOps oriented conferences that discuss and communicate the state of the art, like the GOTO conference series, DevOps Days, Monitorama and Gluecon; and management oriented events like CIO summits where my focus is on how to setup an organization to be innovative.
Denise Jacobs is a teacher, author and powerful speaker who will discuss processes and techniques for dramatically enhanced creative productivity at this year’s Sydney-based Web Directions Conference. While talking with Denise about her inspiring professional journey, we learned how to overcome speaking fears and procrastination. Read on for her tricks and story about finding her true passion.
How did you get to where you are today?
It feels like a long story, but I started making handmade soap in 1997 to get back in touch with my own creativity. My friends really liked it, and people kept asking if I sold it. At first, I found it baffling and kept saying, ‘no, no, no!’. But when people started asking what was in it, I started offering to teach them how to make it themselves. I had two small classes of about five people each at my house.
From there, I started teaching at an adult extension school. I discovered that I really loved teaching! Though I was working in the web industry on project management projects, I found myself without the passion I felt when helping people. I was knowledgeable about web stuff and had built some experience teaching, so I thought I’d combine them to teach web classes at Seattle Central College. About five years later, that job ended and I coincidentally went to my first web conference. I saw Molly Holzschlag, an open web evangelist, speak. What we were doing was so similar – but she was speaking in front of thousands. I instantly knew I wanted to do the same.
About four years later, I finally broke into the web speaking circuit. I had just authored my first book, The CSS Detective Guide, and it gave me the confidence to pursue opportunities. I took it by storm, applying everywhere, building a reputation as a good speaker. Now I get invited, which is a dream come true!
When did you realize that you had an ability to help others be creative and produce great work?
It totally came from teaching. Through the soap classes, I realized that I was good at explaining, at helping people learn about the things they found interesting. Once I started at Seattle Central Community College, I knew I had found something that I was passionate about and wanted to do more of.
Today, you’re an accomplished public speaker. What tips do you have those with fear of getting up in front of people?
Two things. The first is to know that if you have one more piece of information to share than someone in the audience already knows, then you are helping. I find that people are afraid to speak because they feel like they don’t have anything new to offer. Remember, the lens of your experience is unique and people always need reminders. You are valuable!
The second piece of advice I can offer is to remember that people are rooting for you. Attendees aren’t sitting and casting an evil eye – they’re there to learn and be entertained. Think about this when you get in front of people. Know that everyone is supporting you.
You’re a featured speaker at the upcoming Web Directions conference. What’s special about this event? What are you most excited about?
I met one of the founders of Web Directions, John Allsop, at SXSW in 2006. I had long admired his work and used it in my classes, and he proved to be one of the best people I met! I’ve been wanting to speak at Web Directions for years, and was finally invited to do so this year.
I’m also really excited to go to Australia – I’ve never been – and a lot of my industry friends like Hannah Donovan and Daniel Burka are taking part. The crowd is sure to be amazing, and I know it’s going to be a great time.
A frequent traveler, how do you stay connected when moving around? How do you stay focused?
To stay connected, I make a conscious effort to see people I know when I travel. This includes friends, or in new places, digital contacts. Connecting with people makes places more feel meaningful for me. One thing I like to do is shop for groceries wherever I go – it’s an everyday, self-care thing. Restaurants feel less grounded.
For staying focused, I concentrate on the thing that is in front of me. If I can, I don’t think about things that are too far out. I use an email auto responder with my upcoming schedule, Calendly for meetings, and airline apps like Tripit to help take care of little details.
What was your proudest, professional moment?
This past June, I was the closing keynote at a conference in Columbus, OH (an hour from where I was born/grew up). It was the first time I was able to have my Mother at a conference. As if that wasn’t enough, my 91 year old Grandfather also came from Detroit to hear me speak, and friends from my hometown, including my favorite high school teacher, were also in the audience.
This was one of my best speeches as I was really on and felt an amazing connection with the audience.
I had structured my talk in a way that helped me really speak to technical attendees, and made it a point to tie in the opening keynote with several other earlier talks from the conference. I was so honored to receive a standing ovation from that crowd, and in awe over audience feedback. It was a really special, magical milestone in my career.
How do you maintain work/life balance?
I bracket my time carefully when I’m home, and make myself stop working by using alarms. I deliberately don’t work on weekends. I also recently decided to start imposing a ‘mandatory beach day’ for myself after each work trip. This comes after a recent four-day staycation in Palm Beach (my backyard) which left me asking myself, “why don’t I do this all the time?!”
How can someone overcome procrastination to be more productive?
Instead of focusing on doing the task, trying just getting ready to do it. Open your app or document, get your notes together, maybe jot down a couple of ideas. By just getting ready, you may be inspired to do it. Another trick to try is the Pomodoro technique — block off a small amount of time for the thing you don’t want to do, knowing you only have to work on it for a limited time. You’ll be surprised how easily it can kick you into gear!
What, if any, events/workshops/classes do you regularly attend or recommend?
I can’t recommend Improv classes enough. Not only do they teach you how to be creative, but they’re great for building self-trust. They also help you realize that you don’t always need to plan ahead, how to collaborate and rely on others.
BATS in San Francisco offers classes, along with IO in Chicago and Gotham City in New York City. Find a place and go!
“Maintain your integrity by not cutting corners or taking short cuts. A sustainably focused business doesn’t happen overnight and requires graft and a commitment.”
Mike Murphy – the man behind Kokako coffee, one of the great cafés in Auckland, is a local hero when it comes sustainability. Deirdre Dawson chats to him about his recent trip to Papua New Guinea and involvement in this weekend’s Sustainable Showcase.
Was there a light bulb moment you decided to follow the path of a sustainable citizen or was it a gradual movement?
I think I’ve been working towards it. I studied Social and Coastal Geography at University and also took papers in Anthropology. However as an 18 year old I never really thought of the context of what I was studying and how this could be applied in a commercial way. I was delivering pizzas at 17 and have stayed in food and beverage ever since, I never actually thought I’d use my degree. My interest in sustainability comes from a personal belief that we must look after not only our natural resources but also the people within it.
You recently travelled to PNG on an origin trip, why PNG?
Papua New Guinea is one of the main origins that we source our fairtrade organic coffee from. In April, I joined a contingent from Fairtrade Australia/NZ to PNG. I wanted to validate the core proposition of Fairtrade but more importantly spend time with the coffee growers and their families.
Heaps of memorable moments! Highlights would be the amazing people of PNG and their generosity, helping to harvest coffee cherries, intensive four-wheel driving through mud tracks to remote villages and sleeping in local schools at high altitude with no power. The most memorable thing is the poignancy in the simplicity of life. To us, life in the Highlands may look like it has its challenges – and it does.
However to put it in context, coming back to the pressures of running a business made me consider other ways I could add value to communities in PNG.
What’s your involvement with this weekend’s Sustainable Showcase?
We are running a coffee brew bar and espresso bar at the Sustainable City Showcase. We’ll be highlighting specific coffee origins along with our cold brew coffee. It’s a pretty exciting product – the coffee is soft brewed for eight hours in cold filtered water to create a naturally sweet and chocolaty beverage. We will be collaborating with our friends at All Good, Nice Blocks and Cosset to have a really interesting selection of fairtrade and organic treats for visitors to try.
Why should people come along?
People should come along to see how cool a future sustainable city can and will be. The people and companies that will be at the showcase are progressive and represent innovative thinking and ideas around how we should live our lives and do business. Sustainability, for all its connotations, is essentially about using considered, innovative and simple mechanisms for the people and the planet.
Hints for businesses wanting to shine sustainably?
1) Maintain your integrity by not cutting corners or taking short cuts. A sustainably focused business doesn’t happen overnight and requires graft and a commitment.
2) Collaborate and innovate. Seek out like-minded businesses who are doing innovative things in a sustainable way and work together.
About our contributor // While city ambassador Deirdre Dawson is currently working on the person-to-person rental startup Rentaholic, her background includes being an official ambassador for Kohu Road ice cream, teaching English in Japan and Secretary of the K Road Business Association.
This month, we’re announcing upcoming Dinner Conversation events in London, San Francisco, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne!
For now, if you’re based in the Bay Area check out our event on Tuesday August 6 with host Annie Lin and special guest speaker Sarah Nelson. Sarah is the executive director of 18 Reasons, one of the most well-known food-related organisations in the SF area. The discussion will focus on food entrepreneurship, creatives and SF life. RSVP soon – your ticket includes a two-course meal and drink. Nice!
On Tuesday May 28 Collin Ferry from The Fetch Community Ambassador Team in San Francisco went along to the 13th annual SF MusicTech Summit.
The SF MusicTech Summit boasts the goal of ‘bringing together visionaries in the evolving music/business/technology ecosystem’. The day long event overtook Hotel Kabuki in Japantown, with hundreds of creative, coffee-fueled minds roaming from room to room sharing ideas, projects, and business cards. One common theme continued to reemerge from all the day’s dialogue: the vast importance of authenticity and transparency when engaging an audience. The following is a breakdown of the most interesting and worthwhile bits you may have missed.
Conversation with Ime Archibong (Facebook)
When asked what musicians should be focusing on, Ime shared the Facebook thesis: “music is social.” While offline conversations surrounding music are still happening, the social+music industry is moving “up and to the right.” When pressed about teens leaving Facebook for Tumblr Ime noted that slow growth and user loss were not the same thing, “Facebook is still doing very well with that demographic.”
Conversation with Stephen Phillips (Twitter, former Founder of WeAreHunted)
Twitter launched #music, a platform for artist discovery, just over a month ago. Phillips noted that they’re just getting started, but the most interesting part has been Twitter’s commitment to musicians. They started coding in a space over an auto garage in The Mission and the project was kept a secret (even from most Twitter employees) until near-launch. Now they’re working to track and organize artist-specific data. “We want to work with Spotify and Rdio and everybody,” said Phillips. The platform will be driving users to third party services, “whether they’re subscribed or not.” He went on to say he believed 2013 will be a huge year for subscription services across the board. Google is testing the model, and “hopefully Apple and Amazon will jump in later this year.”
Despite his drive, he noted that they weren’t sure what stories were going to be told to get users to pay for music. An audience member noted that at present, “there are so many ways not to pay.” Ultimately, the idea is to provide users a good experience and then show them that by paying they could unlock a better one.
Conversation with Matt Mason (BitTorrent) and Aaron Ray (The Collective)
Mason was adamant about the need for creatives to be receiving feedback directly from their fans. Without it, he said, “you’re just part of the product.” His sticking point was the need for companies to “stop building houses in other people’s backyards.” Despite handling a massive amount of internet traffic, BitTorrent is getting zero data out of Facebook, YouTube, or Spotify. They “don’t want to build another centralized system” that fails share data with artists. Instead, they want to build a new type of file that can be moved around the internet organically, with the option of gated content that will follow the file.
Releasing Your Own Music
Ken Jordan of The Crystal Method noted that releasing tracks for free online has long since replaced the single. Sahil Lavingia, Founder of Gumroad, described his service as creating the closest possible experience to buying content from the artist directly. Instead of an artist having to partner with or build a separate entity for sales, they can capitalize on pre-existing relationships and enjoy abnormally high conversion rates.
Robb McDaniel of INgrooves got fired up over Youtube, calling them (in jest), “the fucking devil.” He claimed sales had decreased 40% over the past six months due to mobile adoption and YouTube’s inability to to monetize. Right now, he said, mobile is “80% of consumption and only 3% of revenue. If that doesn’t change, we’re all fucked.”
Lavingia commented that, “as long as a sustainable business model exists behind Spotify,” they will continue to thrive. But, as he saw the numbers, it’s not there yet. On the other side of streaming, McDaniel commented that ownership of a download from Apple “is a myth.” What end users are buying is the right to play the media on an Apple device.
Moving the Music Technology Ecosystem Forward
Brian Zisk hosted this open dialogue session to brainstorm the future of the industry. “[Music] is a major part of our culture,” but, “if the system doesn’t work…it doesn’t work.” Audience members tossed around ideas. Was the answer to be transparent? Prolific? One audience member argued that most of music’s 50,000 year history has not been about recording at all.
Ultimately, Zisk noted that this conversation was a, “short session tackling a long problem,” but encouraged companies to make a habit of thinking about the ecosystem at a macro level.
Demos and Presentations
Jack Conte demonstrated his new service Patreon, a platform for fans to become patrons of content creators. “Ad revenue is broken,” he said, and Patreon is one promising solution that allows individuals who are already making quality content to get paid for it.
Matthew Smith showed off DeliRadio, an impressive service allowing users to listen to streaming radio stations based on upcoming shows at specific, local venues. By using DeliRadio, listeners can discover new music from bands that will be playing near them in the future.
Fans Funding Experience // Panel
While there was general agreement that creating direct connections between artists and fans was the most important aspect of creating quality experiences, the industry is still working out the best ways to accomplish this. The panel’s moderator, Benji Rogers of PledgeMusic, asked the crowd how many people were a member of a band’s fan club. “Now there’s something to pay attention to,” be said when only two people raised their hands.
The discussion turned to incentivized sharing. J Sider of BandPage complemented Sara Evans on a campaign that allowed fans to submit videos of themselves singing her songs for a chance to sing with her on stage. Now thousands of fans are putting video and email addresses into the system. On top of that, because the submissions are creative, most fans are then sharing their videos independently on social media.
Rogers closed the session with, “Fans need more reasons to get involved with things, not just more things to buy.”
Digital Strategy // Panel
Panel opened with a discussion on the need to “roll with the punches” when capitalizing on the everchanging attention of the crowd. Oreo’s clever “Power Out?” tweet during Super Bowl XLVII’s power outage was cited as an example. Unfortunately, though the room was packed to standing room only, most advice was general; “Don’t create social media accounts with services you can’t keep up with,” “Content can cross-promote other content to drive attention where you want it,” and “Metrics are important to determine what’s working.”
One interesting tidbit was the suggestion to track an artist’s (or anyone’s) Wikipedia page traffic as it remains one source of data that is a true indication of that entity’s popularity on the internet. Any spikes reveal true organic interest, not paid traffic.
Managing Your Community // Panel
When discussing whether mediums like Facebook and Twitter are channels or dialogues, Mike Doemberg responded, “What we really want to say is ‘go buy our product. We’re important. We’re interesting. Listen to us.’ The truth is that isn’t really what the community wants. What it really wants is a dialogue. It wants us to hear them when they complain. It wants us to recognize them when they do something interesting. It wants us to represent them the way they want to be represented as a community. I think for us…when we start to push the envelope too hard on a business objective, [we] start to lose the community.” He went on to describe the need to constantly evolve and change course based on the way the community might be responding to different messages in the same way that one is constantly gauging reactions and adjusting behavior when interacting with family or friends.
Music, Technology and Health
This was an interesting closing panel on the way the human body reacts to music. Nadeem Kassam of Basis & BioBeats studies the rhythms of the heart, which he described as, “kind of the science of what chinese medicine has been doing for centuries. What we found is that the rhythms of frustration look very different than arrousal,” which looks different than anxiety. It’s the science of heart rate variability, or as Kassam called it, “the science of manipulating emotion.”
Will Henshall, Founder of Focus@Will, demonstrated his new product which he created as a result of his fascination with “why we do stuff when we listen to music.” Most commercial music is distracting, “15% more distracting, actually…we found out that your subconscious mind is explicitly sensitive to different orders of playlisting of different pieces of music.” Focus@Will has around 80,000 pieces of music that are algorithmically placed in an order that will encourage maximum focus and attention span.
Adam Gazzaley of the UCSF Neuroscience Imaging Center noted the vast amount of behaviors that are not in our conscious mind. Kassam agreed calling the subconscious mind, “one of the greatest technologies in the human arsenal.”
About our Ambassador // When not reporting for The Fetch, Collin Ferry is carving a path for Ergo Depot, San Francisco’s first and only ergonomic furniture studio. He recently co-piloted a road tour for IdeaMensch and has otherwise traveled all over the planet. Follow him on Twitter at @collinferry.