Paul Ford This is what it’s like to work at Gartner: ready?
Rich Ziade Yeah.
PF [Loudly, nasally] “Eureka! . . . R-P-A!” And then somebody gets up and does, like, a 40 minute presentation.
RZ They’re all nasal at Gartner?
PF [Nasally] Absolutely! [Music plays alone for 18 seconds, ramps down] Ah! Boy, man. Looks like we’re gonna be obsolete again.
PF Yeah, it turns out that the future is codeless automation, not writing programming.
RZ I’ve seen this movie before.
PF There are so many things that are gonna kill our business [music fades out] at any given moment and what’s amazing is people come and say hi and they’re like, “Hey, how’s it goin’? How do you guys even survive without really being ML focused all the time? How do you—you know, robotic process automation’s probably coming for Postlight, gonna destroy it.”
RZ The graphical user interface [mm hmm] was revolutionary.
RZ For many years. Computers had no metaphor of like real world objects that you grabbed and dragged and dropped in other places—
PF They couldn’t man. You put some words in the bucket and the computer said, “Here’s two plus two.”
RZ Right. It was very console-driven. Right? There was a prompt and just a lot of stuff scrolling by on the screen and it was how the computer’s brain thought, closer than how the human brain thinks.
PF 12 computer scientists just burst into flames.
RZ That’s fine.
PF As you were speaking.
RZ That’s fine. So then the graphical user interface shows up and it opens up the world. Computers weren’t just for the computer scientists and the engineers. It was now being made available to everyone. And when I say graphical interface, I mean we’re talking about the Xerox PARC innovations and then Apple bringing it forward and then—
PF No, when you read, like, the book on C, there’s like the C programming language. This is a fundamental programming language. And you read that book and you realize as you’re reading it, it was written during the seventies, it’s for automating refrigeration systems.
RZ Of course!
PF Like it’s not—it’s not for fun times and cool games.
RZ Or writing a letter.
RZ It doesn’t even have to be fun times. I just wanna write a letter to my friend. And, you know, the truth is it started—Early days, you started to see shades of it with things like WordPerfect green screen and WordStar, you know, early spreadsheet stuff like Lotus and whatnot.
PF Oh and then they bundled them altogether as a big thing. It’s a bundle.
RZ I think when they put that layer on top, right? And I remember everything got masked away. Like you saw glimpses of it, usually when you booted up the OS. There was like [oh you still do] little bits of the console going, “Prrr.” Sneaking by.
PF You still do. We have Ubuntu servers in the elevators at this building and I think we should take a minute and talk about ‘em. First of all, 80% of the time it’s in a state of crashing or boot up.
RZ I’m convinced that we lose half of our business when visitors come to meet us and see the elevator and just go right back down.
PF So it’s a combination of like day old CNN, and then poorly syndicated character encoding screwed up RSS feeds from like the absolute ass-end of the Forbes Contributor Network.
RZ Yeah, it’s like small business advice.
PF It literally is. It’s like, “Have you considered your alligators?” And it’s below like “Trump Eats Baby” and then there’s weather on the bottom left but it’s like also a day old.
RZ It’s really a crime. It’s a piece of shit.
PF [Laughing] It’s so bad! I watched it boot up the other day and it was like the BIOS and the firmware and then [it’s a mess] it comes up and it’s like Ubuntu from 2014.
RZ Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a total disaster.
PF Oh it’s so good. Anyway, so this is the world we live in.
RZ So, no, wait! Masking away complexity. Right?
PF Except the complexity always manages to assert itself.
RZ Well, no, for many it doesn’t. For many, many it doesn’t. Like if you took—
PF [Crosstalk] No, that’s true. If you get like a—if you buy like a standard Windows 10 machine and you just wanna use Word?
RZ A phone.
PF Yeah, you’re in a pretty good place.
RZ You know, Apple takes great pride in how air tight [mm hmm] their experience is. Like there’s no way you’re gonna take a glimpse into—Did you ever jailbreak an iPhone?
PF No cuz I’m a normal person.
RZ It’s awesome. Ok, it’s pretty awesome.
PF Is it?
RZ Because you get to see what’s really going on.
PF You can Secure Shell into it and be—I mean, that’s the thing, it’s a Unix server.
RZ When I was younger, I used to enjoy, for all the wrong reasons, booting up into safe mode. Do you know what safe mode is . . . in Windows?
PF Yeah, I do but tell the people.
RZ Ok, safe mode is you’re having problems and you need to get Windows to not be too smart.
PF Mm hmm.
RZ And to load up in a more basic state.
PF Well, no, cuz it loads up and it’s like, “Ah, I have a 36,000 pixel monitor and a Logitech super mouse, well lemme get all—-”
RZ And there’s all these layers of apps are loading in the background [yeah]. Safe mode’s like, “Alright, nobody is allowed in. We’re just gonna give you the pure OS.” But when it loads up, all this crap starts scrolling by: all the drivers are loading in; all this stuff is happening. To get you back to the desktop—usually you’re in a bad place when you go into safe mode. Something’s gone wrong.
PF Your hard drive’s all confused.
RZ Something’s gone bad. But! It’s worked! The truth is today for 95% of the world, masking away all that ugly has worked except for one corner . . . that keeps getting attacked and keeps failing. We’ve always tried to attack the purview of programming with WYSIWYG [pronounced “whissy wig”]—
PF Oh yeah.
RZ—and it’s been happening for many, many years, in fact.
PF There’s like 70 years of visual programming . . . out there.
RZ Visual programming—
PF You know like—all you need are the flow charts.
RZ Visual Basic is a milestone, actually.
PF But let’s be clear, Visual Basic, you still had to write code but the cool thing about it was it really let you draw like the interface and sort of setup.
RZ It lets you draw the interface; it had great sensing around the objects that you were instantiating.
PF So it was like super enhanced programming.
RZ The UI people got in the mix and this is Alan Cooper [yeah]. Alan Cooper’s innovation at Microsoft, to this day, are still being used: the autocomplete; the ability to sort of really set things up for the developer.
PF This also existed a lot, you know, like in a more difficult access form and list machines and things like that where the computer would know what you were programming and it would go out of its way to give you context and support.
RZ Yeah, and it was really more—it’s not trying to go too far, though. It’s not trying to be smart.
It understands you’re the expert. We’re just gonna accelerate things for you.
PF And to be clear, this experience is still like in a lot of IDSs and—
RZ It is. I think it’s practically standard now.
PF Yeah, not everything—well, I mean—this is true, Xcode is a really good example. It comes with every Mac. You can download it for free and it lets you write Apple programs, Mac programs.
RZ Yeah, and the object model is baked into the GUI [pronounced “gooey”]. So a lot of the things you’re doing just sort of happen as you’re doing them.
PF Well, you actually move pieces around and draw lines between them.
RZ It’s more visual but, you know, Logic stills needs Logic.
PF Deep down—
RZ And you still need to explain what needs to happen.
PF You’re gonna write some code.
RZ You’re gonna write some code but everybody always keeps reaching, right? And you keep on reaching and the dream is you’re gonna drag and drop and make apps. That is the dream.
PF Oh God, that is the good thing, right?
RZ Because it’s incredibly empowering and non-programmers—there is a moment where there is hope when you try those things for the first hour. You’re like, “Ok, I don’t need that whole department on the eighth floor.” [Laughs]
PF Well, there are things that you can learn—Here’s a good example: Airtable.
RZ Airtable’s a great example cuz it’s a huge success.
PF We had one of the cofounders on the show, Andrew Ofstad. I mean, actually, you know what it’s worth? What is their tagline?
RZ “Looks like a spreadsheet, acts like a database.”
PF Alright, this is a big deal, right? Everybody has access to a spreadsheet in the modern world. And everybody overuses spreadsheets because—the way you overuse a spreadsheet is you have data that isn’t purely a flat table, and you go, “You know, this one has five values.” Or, “I wanna link the people to their addresses but I also wanna map the addresses.” Or things like that. You just get into puzzles. And Google for—God bless ‘em—they decided, “We’re gonna just try to help you along the way there.” But it doesn’t really line up . . . because the columns don’t all—
RZ The spreadsheet?
RZ It’s still following the accounting leger paradigm, like the metaphor.
PF That’s right except that Google Docs, that shareable Google Doc makes it so easy to collect—
RZ The URL. Yeah.
PF So people got really into spreadsheets but then, you know, what does a database get you? It gets you really organized data that can sort of all be linked together.
RZ Correct. Correct.
PF And so Airtable went in and was like, “Let’s go one further here,” and like you can put a picture in a cell and different cells link together and you can sort of—
RZ Give a real world example.
PF What we did for awhile, we used it as a contact manager for relationships for sales.
RZ As a CRM.
PF Sort of as like a baby Salesforce.
RZ Yeah, yeah, we put all of our leads in there; and put all our contacts in there; and we connected them relationally and—
PF We use it a lot for mailing lists. Things that you have as a business. Like, you know, when it’s time to send everybody the Christmas card. And you could do it—
RZ Data! Versus calculation.
PF Data. That’s right. That’s right. And then there’s all these widgets on top of it and so you could—
RZ You won’t use Airtable to manage your finances.
RZ It’s important to make this distinction, right?
PF I mean you could theoretically but it’s—
RZ It’s not the thing to use.
PF That’s not what’s for. It’s a like mini app development environment that is on top of a database that you own and control as an Airtable paid subscriber.
PF There’s also Smartsheets which I don’t know as well. And there’s like this whole world of these—of a data-backed model with interface layers on top that theoretically let anybody do stuff. And I’ll tell you what: my wife works in construction and she popped an Airtable the other day and I went, “Holy hell!”
RZ Like deeply complex.
PF She is using it to sort of hack together software and project management challenges.
RZ Mm hmm.
PF And, you know, the killer thing too is you can import a spreadsheet. So it’s that upgrade path from, “I’ve got stuff in a tabular form to—”
RZ This is a huge deal! I mean this is—this is Airtable attacking software that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars.
PF Frankly, the way that a lot of places work, hundreds of thousands. Or it would be some weird, zillion dollar plugin in SAP, or whatever. And it also—it’s a place to hack together, like, “I don’t like the way this thing works. Or it doesn’t let me keep track of my friend’s hair color but that’s really important to me.”
RZ Mm hmm.
PF It lets you do that. So, that is a huge niche. That is huge. And it’s a real business, obviously.
RZ And you are eating away at what would otherwise be software.
PF But every like few years or so, this comes up again and it always runs into a wall. And this is not me saying like there’s a problem with Airtable. Airtable’s fine. But it always seems to run into a wall. And I don’t think anyone has ever truly articulated what that wall is. It seems to be there’s a level of complexity whereby you just need a lot of the things that programming gives you.
PF Like, access to visualization or better—
RZ Specific Logic.
RZ Cases that require particular Logic to make them truly useful for you.
PF You know what it is is people think that programming is like this one monolithic thing. It’s not a language. A good programmer knows an ecosystem. They’re like, “Oh that’s the numerical analysis library; that’s the graphing and charting library.”
RZ Pull stuff off the shelf. Yeah, there’s everything—
PF Or, “Here’s the rules engine.” Right? [Yeah] So Airtable doesn’t have a rules engine built in.
RZ It doesn’t yet.
PF Right? And so, like, it would have to catch up with 70 years of convention—
RZ And it could keep going! By the way. And I’ve seen different platforms do this. They have like this advanced customization mode where you can actually write scripts and drop them in—parachute them—[Paul crosstalking inaudibly] yeah, you’re eventually gonna back into what the business demands and what the business needs or whatever the user base needs. Right?
PF And this is—
RZ And that’s real. And that’s always been the case.
PF Well, this is—it’s a tricky thing because you go back as far as you want and you’ll see ads in magazines, or online, which are like, “Program in plain English!” Or, “Do this—”
PF Or, you know, “All you gotta do is move these boxes around.”
PF But when you do that you cut yourself off from that vast world of abstractions and the tricky thing is that, really only profressionals pay much attention to that vast world of abstractions.
RZ Well, what happened to us . . . with using Airtable as a CRM? And we’re not a huge, growing business. We are a growing business. But we didn’t explode and all of a sudden found Airtable. What happened? We used it for about what? Eight months?
PF But this is scope, too, we kept running to challenges where it was just hard to keep track of things and it didn’t have the alerting we needed. We needed more of a workflow. And that’s where—so we went over to a CRM called Pipedrive which, let’s be clear: we don’t love. But it does let us—
RZ It’s ok, I mean—
PF It lets us move the cards along and it has one killer feature. And this is a true software feature. The way a CRM works is you essentially have leads and you’re trying to turn them into sales. Most leads will never turn into sales. But when you have a lead, Pipedrive pushes you to add an action to it. Right? So, like, “Call Sally.”
PF You wanna get things from one column to another in the workflow and the way you do that is you perform actions: you get in touch with a client; you send them a proposal.
RZ And this is where it starts to buckle, right? I mean, a tool—
PF Well, what happens—It has a power move which is the minute you complete one action, it pops up and says, “What’s your next action?” So that you’re never able to fully escape that you’re moving these things along the line. So we could’ve created that with a custom API in Airtable.
RZ Yeah, and then you’re—you’re cobblin’ shit together, right?
PF Just go buy a different product.
PF Or! We’ve built a CMS in Airtable that is API powered that works just fine.
RZ We’ve outgrown Airtable a couple of times, right? And what we’re seeing is there are specific needs—
PF Well, we have the option cuz we’re a software firm. We can like, “Mm, ah, I’m done.”
RZ Yeah, yeah, yeah.
PF “We need to do this custom over here.”
RZ And the thing is, look, there are industries, I don’t know how big the CRM industry sector is—
PF Unbelievably huge.
RZ Yeah, and there’s the CMS sector.
PF Not as huge.
RZ So, where you have many years of focused requirements gathering and creation of software for very specific needs.
PF But the same is actually true of general purpose software, right? Like[yeah] it’s the various algorithms and rules that you need to get stuff done [yes]. It’s so tempting when you see that stuff, to go, “Well, that’s it, that’s all anyone’s ever gonna need.”
RZ And it always outgrows it. Yeah.
PF Always, always, always. If you’re company’s growing—If you are like a church, a not for profit, a five person company with a specific product, my God those tools are great.
RZ Yeah. I guess what we’re saying is: these tools are great and there is this kind of dream that they’re gonna replace programming and it’s over and we’re just gonna need a mouse. It always—
PF You’re gonna fill out the table. Everyone will learn just enough data. And then the computer will do the rest. But no firm can keep up with culture. And I mean Apple and Microsoft try. So does Google.
RZ I’m gonna throw in acronym at you.
PF Oh God, I love acronyms.
RZ RPA. Robotic Process Automation.
PF Oh God.
RZ It’s an emerging form of business process automation technology—
PF I’m just gonna moan the whole time you’re doing this.
RZ Now, look, this sounds impressive. Ok? And there is a company out there called UiPath [pronounced “you, eye, path”]. It’s essentially screen recording [laughs].
PF Ah, here we go! “UiPath Skyrockets to Number Three on the Forbes 2019 Cloud 100”! God! Don’t you just, every now and then, just—I’m ready for my South Pacific island.
RZ We sound so cynical.
PF I don’t know if I would—
RZ We’re a software company, for Christ’s sake!
PF I—Yeah . . . it’s ok to be cynical about marketing but love software. Here’s why: cuz it’s just like, “Skyrockets to Number Three on Forbes 2019 Cloud 100.” What does that mean for me as the consumer? And then there’s a picture of a guy with a beard.
RZ That’s none of your business.
PF Maybe it is! Maybe I am a UiPath customer. I like intelligent agents.
RZ Tell everyone what Selenium is.
PF Oh! Selenium is a web browser automation and testing framework . . . came out of the world of Firefox and basically it records your motions around the browser. And there are other ways to do this—
RZ By motions you mean the mouse pointer.
PF The mouse pointer stuff, and you can also script—
RZ The focus on different elements, et cetera.
PF So you can script like, “I’m gonna open this; login; hit ‘submit’; check my bank account; log out.” And so if you are working at the bank and you need to automate that so that you can send a screenshot and sort of let everybody know how the tests are going whenever they release new code.
RZ Mm hmm.
PF Selenium is a lifesaver.
RZ So calling these things robots—
PF Eh it’s a stretch.
RZ Is it a stretch?
RZ Cuz robots usually have like kind of—
PF Like a neurosurgeon uses a robot that is controlled by—You know like, you build a Toyota with a robot.
PF I don’t know if movin’ a mouse around on a screen [Rich laughing] from like one hundred to two one hundred is—
RZ It usually is associated with some kind of hardware.
PF Filling out a form, it’s a stretch.
RZ Yeah, and this—I mean, look, let’s be clear. I continue to be humbled by how people are able to recycle concepts and market them as if they’re brand new. It’s really impressive to me. And multibillion dollar industries arise out of it.
PF Well, this is the great Tim O’Reilly quote from way back in the day. And maybe it wasn’t him but somebody said this . . . which was, “Go find a Unix utility from like the seventies and put a web layer around it, and you will succeed.”
RZ You will have innovation.
PF So Twitter is finger and Gmail is old email and just sort of on and on. Like [right] the basic patterns of what you do with computers socially were set a long time ago and we are just reinventing them as the hardware in the community—
RZ And making them easier, though, making it more accessible—
PF Progress is—
RZ FTP to Dropbox is a hell of a leap, let’s be honest.
PF Progress and innovation are totally real. Discovery, which is everybody’s fantasy, that they’ve discovered something wonderful.
PF Is unbelievably rare.
RZ That’s true. I agree with that.
PF Everybody wants credit for discovery, really, frankly, the best you can hope for in this world is innovation.
RZ Mm hmm. The great-great-grandfather of these automation tools is, I mean, the Batch Script.
PF Oh yeah. Hell yeah.
RZ I mean, lemme—I got a whole bundle of things that I wanna tell the computer to do one after the other.
RZ And it’s just gonna do them. And I could run that same collection of commands again and again and again.
PF Well, and this—you know what’s funny here is you’re actually talking about the way—So, Unix, which is the operating system that runs on your iPhone and your Android phone, is, deep down—so that’s 50 years old right now. And the way that it was conceived of is you had this lower level language called C, which we’ve talked about. C was like a little hard to program. Takes a minute, you gotta think about the memory, and there’s all sorts of stuff you gotta do. People still use it every day today. Zillions of people. A lot of what you use is written in C. Then Batch Scripts are a simple way to orchestrate and run C programs. And the C programs have output and input and the Batch Scripts let you coordinate—
RZ And you can have Light Logic in them. You can say—
PF That’s a programming language, too. It’s just not—[yeah] it doesn’t take into account like the memory of the computer. You don’t have to think about the hardware as much.
RZ It’s just running.
PF “I ran this. I got some output. I got some input. I put it—” You know you pipe things together, and so on. It’s another level of abstraction [yes] that’s similar to all the other things we’re talking about.
RZ You know what’s funny is you would think there would be this chart over the last 20 years, where as things became quote/unquote “codeless”, that the marketplace of designers and engineers would go down—the job market.
PF No, it goes up because we create—
RZ Because humans are—
PF We create new problems.
RZ We create new problems and we love jumping on top of that bit of automation and then going for more.
PF Yeah. We still want more culture, more information, more search, more whatever.
RZ Yeah. So you would think UiPath and its mission would bring an end to thousands of jobs.
PF But this is the great paradox, which is that a lot of times technologists and companies see the world as a problem to be solved. And the world doesn’t see itself that way.
PF It’s like, “Thank you, you made me another tool that I will now use to gain resources and power in my community and environment.”
RZ “And I will need new tools to harness those new resources and new powers.”
PF Or the monkey across the lake sees that other person get the tool, and they go, “I’m gonna need to go a little further here because look at them [exactly] they’ve got Airtable over there—”
RZ I think that’s exactly right.
PF “I need to get over—I’m gonna learn Python so that I can kick their ass.”
RZ Wonderful, though. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that human advancement?
PF Whether it’s good or bad, to me, doesn’t matter very much. It is how people are.
RZ Yeah, and I think it’s just acknowledging that there’s no silver bullet here. Like there is—
PF There will never be a silver bullet.
PF You know, it’s funny because I think we profit, fundamentally, our business profits off of the fact that there is no silver bullet.
RZ Yeah, yeah, and—and—
PF People come to us and they’re like, [nasally] “Why don’t I just use x, y, and z?” And we’re like, “Go to, have fun. And we’ll see you in a year and a half.”
RZ Or we’ll tell them, “Here’s why and here’s what’s gonna happen to you.” By the way, we often take tools that are off the shelf and leverage them. We do it all the time.
PF All the time. I tell half the people who come in for a sales pitch, I’m like, “Well, there’s a zero dollar solution for you.”
PF Yeah, and it doesn’t involve us and then there’s like a 50 dollar solution. And then it gets really painful. You can get this far with off the shelf.
RZ Mm hmm.
PF But here’s—you know what else is tricky is you can usually build just about anything with off the shelf stuff. Like an ok mobile app that works pretty well, until your customer has one request.
RZ Of course!
PF It could be like, “I need to make the troll hair, you know, have a purple face.”
RZ I had a meeting yesterday, as far as we know, everything had gone perfectly well, and the person who came in, they are hearing the chatter from different stakeholders. And they’re like, “I just need five more things.” And she’s anxious because she wants her stakeholders to be happy but it doesn’t—it doesn’t stop.
PF No one believes that you can continue to develop after launch. No one. They don’t believe that you could ever get anything done and then update it because usually at that point budget goes away and there’s no future.
RZ This is probably the single best piece of advice we can give people. I mean, this has been sort of a [sic] anthropological podcast to this point [mm hmm] but the best piece of advice we can give people is do not think that you are going to make one investment on your piece of software and then launch it into the sky. That is a fantasy. It is always going to be a fantasy. We had a client—I’m not gonna name ‘em. We delivered for them in 2016. They thought we were gonna be done, maybe hang on a couple of months, sort of button things up and whatnot. We are still doing work for them as we record this podcast.
PF No, it’s real, and you wait for the other shoe to drop—
RZ And that’s not—that’s not—nobody screwed up, it’s not us [no] kind of holding the damn together. Everything’s great. It’s just life. That’s called working software. And people putting in requests and asking for stuff. It’s a living, breathing thing.
PF They have a team and the team is working on it. And they realized that the velocity of requests from their users who are in the thousands . . . of like regular, daily users, is so great that they need to keep us around.
RZ And that’s actually success.
PF That is success and it’s been success and like people understand that. There’s no such thing as a launch. There’s no such thing as a solution because you’re dealing with human beings in an ongoing, dynamic culture—
RZ Absolutely. Requests that come in after something ships, is a great sign. That means people want it; they wanna invest in it—not invest financially but they wanna invest their time and they wanna commit to it.
PF I have a maxim. Nobody believes me when I say it: every bug’s a gift. Like when they complain, that’s a gift . . . because you literally are learning what they want. You have to stop seeing the software as a reflection of yourself, or of your business or whatever.
RZ Yeah, yeah.
PF And they might not love the heroic narrative that you’ve put forth where you shipped it and good for you.
RZ Let’s replace ‘bug’. Let’s make that a goal of Postlight’s. Let’s call ‘em—
RZ No, no, that’s too much [Paul laughs]. Wrinkles.
PF Wrinkles. Ironing out the wrinkles. No, you and I are getting old and that’s not good.
RZ What’s like a charming—that’s charming and eccentric, what’s that word? That trait?
PF That’s right. It’s not a bug, it’s a quirk!
RZ We only call ‘em quirks from now on.
PF And we’re gonna stamp it down with a boot of good coding practice.
RZ No boots.
PF That’s the problem is that you have to kill the quirks.
RZ You do have to—
PF You have to enhance the quirks, adjust the quirks.
RZ Adjust the quirks!
PF We’re gonna adjust the quirks! We’re not—
RZ That’s the most woke software terminology.
PF We’re not gonna fix bugs anymore, we’re gonna adjust quirks! And we’re not—you know, Jira is gonna just become a quirk adjustment tool. [Rich laughs] That is our plan, my friends.
RZ You know, this is cheery. What’s the takeaway from this podcast is your gonna need us [Paul laughing] for the rest of your lives, whether you like it or not.
PF It is wild how—
RZ We are Postlight! [Laughs]
PF It’s wild how many of the things we discuss, the end conclusion is that you need to engage in expensive software consulting firm—
PF For the rest of your life. It’s just weird how it comes out that way!
RZ It really is and you know, for a shop like ours that really is your digital transformation partner—
PF Hell yeah!
RZ Located at 101 5th Avenue in New York City.
PF We’re gonna adjust so many of your quirks!
PF Just get in here and let us.
RZ We’ll give you new ones.
PF We’ll give you new quirks to—[yes] and then we’ll adjust those too!
RZ Reach out to us.
PF Yeah, when you hit the limit of that Airtable solution [music fades in] for your team of 50.
PF You got a good job right here that’s glad to talk. [email protected] [music plays alone for four seconds, fades out]. Rich!
RZ Is this another Hello, Postlight segment?
PF It really is. Hello, Postlight.
RZ Who do we have today, Paul?
PF Jorge Mir. Did I get the last name right?
Jorge Mir Alvarez In Spain, we actually have two last names. So it’s Mir Alvarez but the US has a little trouble with the two last names.
PF Boy, do we.
RZ We’re a simple culture [Jorge laughs].
PF Jorge Mir Alvarez.
PF Thank you for coming on. What do you do at Poslight?
JMA I’m a Product Manager at Postlight and that essentially means being the glue that holds a lot of things together and serving as a bit of like a translator between a lot of different entities, between design; and technology; and the business clients. So, a lot of different hats are worn.
RZ How did you end up at Postlight?
JMA Yeah, so I’d been following Postlight from abroad. I’m from Spain originally, like I mentioned, I’ve been following the podcast and the blog, knew of Paul from just friends and the internet. And I was actually in town last year for some personal stuff and I came to a meetup and based on that, got talking to you guys, you mentioned that you were maybe looking for Product Managers, and it all happened very, very quickly. So it was very unexpected. I kind of made the conscious decision not to move to New York earlier that year, and then I made the conscious decision that maybe I was gonna [I remember] move to New York and here I am. So, very happy to be here.
RZ We had connected at I forget which one of our events.
JMA The AI one, I think it was. October, September last year or something like that.
RZ And we were chatting and one of our clients is a big insurance software company and Jorge said, “I live in Spain and I work on insurance software.” And the first thought in my mind is, “People insure things in Spain?” [Jorge chuckles] And we chatted a bit. It’s funny, I thought that was it. To be honest.
JMA Yeah, so did I.
RZ A lot of time passes—
PF It was neat, you were like, “Hey, I’m a podcast fan. It’s good to meet you.”
RZ Yeah, but the brief conversation, I could tell Jorge was smart and level-headed and I was like, “You know what? Lemme just connect you to people and see where that goes.” And you don’t know where things go sometimes.
PF I remember that. You were like, “Yeah, that guy seems like the real deal.”
RZ Yeah. And here you are. How is the United States treating you?
JMA I mean, it’s been a lot of a transition. I was lucky in that I grew up in The States, essentially from six to 18 I lived here for like ten or 11 years. So it wasn’t as much of an adjustment as kinda coming here firsthand. But definitely after being back in Spain for about ten years, it’s a very different lifestyle. Took awhile to get settled. Apartment hunting and—
PF [Laughs wheezily] I mean sort of famously so, right?
JMA Oh yeah, New York is probably like the most extreme of the examples.
PF I mean you’re literally coming from a place where it’s like, “We like naps and meat.” [Jorge laughs] To a place of anger [Jorge laughs].
RZ Well, I wanna share a story. Like, I think it was day two or three and I was like, “Hey, how’s the transition going?” And Jorge was like in the kitchen here at Postlight, in the corner, kind of his face was white. And I was like, “What’s going on, man? How’s it going? How’s New York treatin’ ya?” And he said, “I just paid 30 dollars for lunch.” [All laugh] And he devastated.
PF It’s a lot, you go to the bodega and you’re like, “I’m gonna get a Fresca,” and then—
RZ Yeah and it’s a shitty little bodega and, you know, the BLT is 11 dollars, right? So.
JMA But it’s been good. It’s been good.
RZ Good. Tell me your path to becoming—it’s like, “Ok, I guess I’m a Product Manager.”
JMA I went to school for telecommunications engineering which is a Master’s we have—or a degree we have in Spain which is a bit of like computer science and electrical engineering. And a lot of people end up in software development there. So I was interning at a startup over the summer, two or three months, and I realized that that was not what I wanted to do, like full-time. But luckily, you know, small teams, you’re exposed to a lot of different things and the CTO there, he was very interested in kind of my development and realized that maybe software development was not for me but I showed a lot of interest in like the marketing side of things and how kind of the business decisions were made. That startup, unfortunately, didn’t do so well but when he transitioned to the next job, he’s like, “I’m gonna bring you on as kind of a product owner and I know that you’re not ready and I’m very much throwing you into the deep end,” but I was very fortunate to work with a very experienced tech lead and between the three of us, we kind of made one Product Manager.
RZ That’s great.
JMA So I’ve only worked in Product and I’m very fortunate to do that but it’s been, you know, a journey and learning something new everyday is very, very, very fulfilling.
RZ Sometimes it’s luck. Sometimes [it really is] you get to be exposed—I mean I was around during the dot-com era, and it’s just nobody knew what the hell was going on. So I was Director of Product Management. And I was 27 and out of law school and I was like, “Ok, cool. Nobody’s at the wheel.” And the learning experience, it’s such an intense crash course.
PF There’s nothing better than being told, “Alright, you’re not gonna know what you’re doing but good luck. And like we’ll try to get your back—”
RZ It’s the best education. It’s so fast.
PF You’re allowed to fail a little bit. And you know you’re not gonna get it right, so you don’t feel this horrible burden, but then the lead to unlock stuff just comes to you.
RZ Yeah, it’s awesome.
PF Faster and faster. You feel you’re getting that here with our clients?
JMA Yeah, I mean, it’s—
PF Some surprises?
JMA It really depends on a client by client basis. Obviously I’ve only worked in-house before, and kind of the client services nature of work, of longer timelines and big, kind of overhauls, and redesigns is a different type of experience but it’s a lot of just looking at a macro level and a micro level and still providing a lot of opportunities to—like I said before—wear different hats and then just try to build that really best version of it for that client.
PF I have a big funny—I have a weird question.
PF You listened and you basically were marketed to by Postlight for like a year and a half. Now you’re here.
PF What’s the percentage delta between your expectations and what’s actually here?
JMA That’s a hard question to answer. There’s definitely a lot of overlap. I think you get a really good sense of like the culture of the company between the two things. The nature of the work sometimes changes, right? A lot of Postlight marketing is about those early stage conversations with the clients, which is something that we’re not always exposed to day to day, and it’s more about taking things not through the finish line cuz we’re in charge of the whole project, but a lot of things have been defined. I think that’s the biggest delta, really, between the two things.
RZ What’s the advice you’d give someone who is wondering, “Hmm, I’ve got a couple of friends, they’re doing real well. Product Management’s a hot profession right now.” What’s the advice you would give? Actually let me make it a two-part question.
RZ For the designer . . . out there who’s decided that they like design, and they like pickin’ up the pencil, but they wanna do—they wanna have more ownership over the overall effort. What’s the advice you would give someone?
JMA That is a very loaded question. It’s very difficult. But I think there’s a lot of opportunities. I mean, Product Management is still kind of nebulous and it’s still—it depends a lot on different situations [mm hmm]. So a lot of it is just more about trying to connect the business needs and the overall customer value with the end product. So I think even as a designer, there’s a lot of just going deeper and trying to understand the business problems a little bit deeper, and most good designers, and fortunately, here we have a great team that does that—that tries to do that. But try to then analyze kind of like the business impact, and I think it’s more about, you know, weighing in, why are we doing this now at the right time? Versus, “Hey, this is a fun challenge that I wanna tackle.” Which, again, not saying that designers do that all the time but it’s a little bit of weighing in different factors.
RZ Yeah, I think what’s interesting is, you know, design, unfortunately, and it’s kind of changing but is often task-driven. It’s like, “Ok, it’s time to get to work on the designs.” Whereas in Product, you are really setting the agenda. You are actually saying, “Woah, woah, woah, that might be a bad call.” Because you’re in the business side of it, right? You’re driving that. So, to close it out, [music fades in] the engineer?
JMA Actually, and let me use this a little bit to answer the previous question about designers—
RZ Yeah, go.
JMA So one way to think about Product Management is a lot of Product Managers are responsible for kind of prioritizing the problems to be solved and a lot of Designers are responsible for finding the best solutions to those problems and the Engineers kind of execute that. So I think for both Engineers and Designers that are maybe looking to make a shift into Product Management, I would encourage them to try to take that step and to discovering those problems and helping prioritize them, right? Because that’s a little bit how it’s set up. Without being a hard transition is Product Managers are kind of in those early stages, “Ok, let’s try to figure out what the problems are, let’s talk with the client, see what the business needs,” and try to prioritize them according to like the impact that they’re going to generate.
JMA And then we’re ultimately not responsible for a lot of the solutions. So, it’s moving less from the solution-based approach and more into like that discovery and problem-finding approach, I think.
RZ That’s a great piece of advice.
PF Can’t do better. Alright, I know you’ve got a—
RZ It’s free! People.
PF I know you’ve got a call with one of our clients, so we gotta let you go.
RZ Jorge, thank you so much for doing this. This was very cool.
JMA Thank you for having me. Yeah. Glad to be here.
RZ Ok. Have a great week, everybody.
PF Bye! [Music ramps up, plays alone for five seconds, fades out to end.]