Starting projects is intoxicating. There’s something cathartic about that clean sheet of paper. Tearing it off the pad and filling it with possibilities. You start with a vague outline in a world where all things seem possible, even reasonable. Your idea stretches and balloons into something epic in your minds eye. Something world changing. You look out across your scrawled notes of everything that it will be.
Reality sets in as you then have to make something happen.
Anxiety starts to grip you as you realize it’s may take eons (or millions of dollars) to get to that thing you had in your head. Where do you even start? What is the single most important thing to get running? How do you know it’s the most important thing? Decisions upon decisions.
These issues of choice are only compounded by the tech landscape. In the technology world, there are endless stacks, solutions, patterns, services, microservices, platforms. Plus the infinite people on the Internet bearing strong opinions about your tech stack. Ones usually saying that you are wrong.
My role as Chief Technology Officer at The Culture List is to reduce that signal to noise ratio. To make rational decisions about our digital products.
So here’s a non technical introduction to how we are building our products.
1. Focus on the problem
“Do one thing and do it well.” – The Unix Philosophy
I’m not a genius. Elegant computer algorithms don’t dance in my dreams. I can’t even keep more than a few concepts in my head at one time. No one can. If they say they can, they are just trying to land the job.
When you solve a problem, you feel phenomenal. When you solve a big problem in a clean and simple way, it makes you feel like a powerful wizard. Gandalfian even. The way to get there, is to never lose sight of the problem you are trying to solve.
So, every thing I do here echoes our simple mantra: “Discover, Curate, Connect”. The goal is to help reduce the signal to noise in the art and culture world. By doing so, we help you find places and events that resonate with your interests. Every time I build or prototype something, I ask myself a question. “Is this helping people find, save and experience museums?”
If not, I know I’m on the wrong path. It might be a clean interface, or an intelligent algorithm, or just a clever line of code.
If it’s not helping to solve the problem, then it just doesn’t matter.
2. One ring to rule them all
For example: if one part of a system is using Lego and the other K’nex, then you need an intermediary. Some duct tape or glue, or even an invented solution to connect them both together. In the programming world, they’re called different names. Bindings, wrappers, bridges and a bunch of other vocabulary. Problems compound. Subsystems don’t play nice together. Programmers spend time arguing about which language is better. In the end, it’s just a computer solving your problems.
Less things to keep in your head.
3. Code is art, art is reaction
“A programmer who subconsciously views himself as an artist will enjoy what he does and will do it better.” – Donald Knuth
I’ll take the risk of sounding pretentious here. The environment of coding is much like any other art form. The ones I know and have practiced most, are music and writing.
I don’t know a single musician or writer who completes their vision in a single session or draft. At least not the way it exists in their minds eye.
In general starts with a small idea. A small page of notes. A couple chords strung together. A few sentences. A line of code. A blob of paint that becomes a happy little tree. Whatever it is, it hasn’t yet matured. So you move things around and check the results. Did that change help, or hurt? You layer on another idea and see how that interacts with the previous, and build upon that.
It’s a feedback loop, and it’s essential.
I learned one or two profound things in college. The most blatant was that student loans are a trap. The most useful was how to start showing drafts early, and how to accept feedback in a graceful manner. It gives you a fresh perspective. Often that feedback exposes problems early. You get so deep in the flow of the feedback loop, that you lose sight of the whole.
Another lesson, was that just because there is feedback, doesn’t mean you have to use it all. Rather, you gain a sense of if you are communicating the the ideas in the way that you intended. You don’t need to do what is told of you, but fix your communication.
So there’s an ongoing attempt at The Culture List to reduce feedback loops. Finding the shortest route from idea to your phone or browser. And finding the shortest route from what you think, to our ears.Add in an idea in the computer, see the results. Show it to Elizabeth, get the feedback. Push it to our beta testers, get the feedback. Send it to the world, get the feedback.
Our app is in Beta right now, which means it’s a first draft that we are dying for you give us notes on. If you aren’t already a beta tester, please sign up below so you can check it out.
We’re all ears.