Has Angular gone the way of the automat? Paul and Rich discuss how hard it is to give up on a programming language that’s fallen out of fashion—especially when it’s as much a part of your identity as your work. Plus: An ode to bananas, nature’s perfect creation.

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Old Skills Never Die

Paul: I’m Paul Ford.

Rich: And I’m Rich Ziade.

Paul: And this is the Aboard Podcast.

Rich: It is.

Paul: Sponsored by Aboard.com.

Rich: Aboard.com. 

Paul: Rich, what is Aboard?

Rich: Aboard is a wickedly powerful link-saving data-management tool that uses AI. Blurrrrrr—

Paul: Blurrrrrr—

Rich: Terrible words. Um, it’s a great way to collect, organize, and collaborate on work you’re doing on the web, uh, or on your phone. Mobile’s coming real soon. It’s a way to save links, but when it saves the links, it studies the links and turns the links into data, which is very cool. A great way to organize stuff. 

Paul: I don’t know why anyone would listen to people talk about Aboard on a podcast when they could— 

Rich: Go to Aboard.com.

Paul: Perfect.

Rich: Sign up, it’s free.

Paul: So I was on Wikipedia the other day.

Rich: We all were. 

Paul: Yeah, I love Wikipedia. Just love it.

Rich: What’s not to love? 

Paul:  It’s a gift. So I’m on Wikipedia and I found a glorious page.

Rich: Okay. 

Paul: On Wikipedia, and it reminded me of something a friend said, so I’ll tell you, the page is called “List of Obsolete Technology”.

Rich: Oh…

Paul: No, no, no. 

Rich: Here come the old men talking about old tech.

Paul: This is not old men. This is…the bathing machine. No, but that was okay. You, you never had this experience and neither did I, but you used to like, go to the ocean and get into a little box that could take you out into the ocean for modesty purposes.

Rich: We are old.

Paul: Not that old.

Rich: But not that old. 

Paul: We are not 240 years old. 

Rich: Yeah 

Paul: Uh, you—

Rich: Tech comes and goes.

Paul: You know another one, the hourglass.

Rich: Mmm. 

Paul: Because you know, and there are still hourglass makers out there.

Rich: I mean, it’s a trinket.

Paul: But there must’ve been a day where the hourglass people went, “Come on, no one’s gonna buy it, look it’s got all those gears—”

Rich: Yeah. 

Paul: Yeah. “Mine, I put sand in a thing and you turn it over, it does everything you need. Why the hell are you telling me about watches?”

Rich: Totally. Totally.

Paul: Um, and so, quill pens, sundial—you know, the sundial and the hourglass people, you can just imagine a private-equity firm like buying all the sunglasses and the hourglasses.

Rich: [Laughter] We’re going to sunset this.

Paul: Yeah, and just like, we’re gonna, guys you need to get me 30 percent more per year. 

Rich: Yeah, yeah. 

Paul: “We can’t, it’s just sand, the clocks are kicking our ass.”

Rich: [Laughter].

Paul: So I was looking at this because I was thinking about obsolete technology because a friend of mine just reached out, sent me a message and he had a picture of all the textbooks for the programming language that he used in his day to day job.

Rich: Okay. 

Paul: It’s called R. He’s a mathematician statistician.

Rich: R is a well-known, uh, stats-centric…

Paul: It’s a great language.

Rich: Data stats centric programming language, yes.

Paul: Exactly. 

Rich: Okay.

Paul: So he’s, he’s a rock star, but like everyone he’s moving more into machine learning and AI. So his life is more about the programming language Python.

Rich: Yeah. 

Paul: Which he doesn’t love. And he asked in the, and it was a rhetorical question. He wasn’t saying, make me a podcast. “How do you know when you’re done with a technology?”

Rich: Well, that’s a great question. I think there’s two ways to answer that question. One is, you may be done. You’re just tired of it. You’ve hit the edges. You want to learn something new, and you’ve decided, I’m kind of done with this, and I’m going to move on to something else. 

Paul: Mmm hmmm. 

Rich: Then there is the world telling you—

Paul: It’s over.

Rich: It’s over. Or, it’s not that it’s over, it’s more like—we need more of this and less of that, and that expertise, and that is a, that’s a sad moment, because there’s something really beautiful about becoming well-versed in something. Making friends—

Paul: That’s the thing.

Rich: In that community, sharing approaches to it. It’s a really nice, I mean, it’s, people think it’s just a skill, but in programming, you know, there are communities that form around these things.

Paul: It’s not just programming, it’s all community. Like, have you ever been, I remember once I was walking, um, in Midtown Manhattan around the public library and an absolutely massive group of relatively beefy, rough-looking men were walking there.

Rich: Okay. 

Paul: And no women, no women. It was the carpenter’s union.

Rich: Going to the library?

Paul: Well, they were having a little protest. Not at the—it was convenient to the library, and they were using the steps.

Rich: I see. 

Paul: It wasn’t about the library.

Rich: I see, I see. Yeah, community. 

Paul: But it is hundreds and hundreds of people who get together, drink, know each other.

Rich: Yeah. 

Paul: And, and there’s the idea of the trade union, of craft being something that connects people.

Rich: Sure, sure.

Paul: And I’ve seen this around, I mean, I don’t know if you, you will remember this, but when we started our agency many years ago, there were many programming languages that we were working with.

Rich: Yeah. 

Paul: And eventually people were like, “Only JavaScript.” 

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And we were like, well, no, you know, the whole world doesn’t just run on JavaScript. And they looked at us, and they went, “Only. JavaScript.”

Rich: Yeah, yeah. Uh, they’re, they’re kind of like religions in a way. Um, they come in and out of fashion. Um, they can actually become hostile to the legacy tools that are around. They look at them as not just outdated, but almost like…sub-quality, they’re just not respected. There’s, there’s a lot of, look, I, I, maybe this is everything. Maybe this is like, you know, the young kid saying that the thing that dad does is dumb and boring and outdated and not fun anymore.

There was a period where it wasn’t like, “Okay, there’s a better way to do this than jQuery,” it was like… “jQuery is horrible.”

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: It’s really viewed as a terrible, terrible thing to do to anyone.

Paul: People in, people in certain trades and crafts will say, this is a war crime.

Rich: Yeah, yeah, and for those that don’t know, jQuery was this kind of like, stroke, like strike of lightning that happened at this moment where it was like, it became really easy to programmatically do things on a web browser and it was like fun and smart and it was this guy wrote it up and just put it out there. 

Paul: It objectively, it was this little tool, you put it into a web page, and it let you treat the web page in a very, like, expressive way. You could suddenly, at that point, there was a point where everything kind of started to light up when your mouse would go over it.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: jQuery made that possible.

Rich: Made it very easy. You didn’t have to drag libraries in and really code as much. It was, it was, it made cool…cool capabilities much more accessible to people. I think there’s a cycle that happens here. I think what happens is this. I think what happens is a new tech gets introduced as an innovation, or as actually a lowering of the barrier because it’s more efficient.

Paul: Mmm hmmm.

Rich: And it’s like, look, why are we doing all this hard work? Why don’t we package it up into something, abstract away all the complexity and make it easy. And then what, and then it takes. 

Paul: Yes. 

Rich: Because all of a sudden, people who didn’t know they could do a thing are empowered to do a thing.

Paul: And it’s faster, or it’s better, or easier.

Rich: It’s faster and better, and then this happens—those same people who are welcomed into the club, right? Put up a giant fence and say, we will defend this, and we will, we will actually create expertise in it. The way I—the way professionals express their love for a skill is to create expertise around it. They create a language around it, they throw acronyms out there that no one else understands. 

Paul: They like to coin terms, and they like—

Rich: They coin terms.

Paul: They create certifications.

Rich: I gave a talk two days ago about AI, and I was sort of the layman’s perspective, and there was this other panelist that was much more technical about it, and he kept saying “hallucination”.

Paul: Mmm.

Rich: Right? Because that word has been appropriated in the AI community, and he said it so casually, and meanwhile the room was not technical people.

Paul: Sure. 

Rich: And he just kept saying hallucination, and he sounded like a drug dealer, to be perfectly honest. 

Paul: This is another interesting moment, there is a point—I used to work a lot with people who also worked at the New York Times

Rich: Yeah. 

Paul: And when you talk to Times people, often they will use the first names of people you’ve never heard of.

Rich: Casually [Laughter].

Paul: They’ll just be like, “Dean says,” and you’ll be, you’ll go, “Who’s Dean?” right?

Rich: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Paul: And, and they look at you like—you animal [Laughter].

Rich: Yeah so if you look at the progression of it there is the like—okay is this a club worth advocating for?

Paul: Mmm hmmm. Mmm hmmm.

Rich: I will join it, when they join it, they create expertise around it. What does expertise do? First off, it makes them feel good, right? It’s a shorthand, but it also excludes others who haven’t invested in joining the club, right? And so you see a young programmer trying to wade into like a forum of a very specific library in a very specific—it’s scary. It’s like you’re trying to get approval from the club. And then if you follow the story arc, at some point something new shows up, and all of a sudden you’re not the cool kid at the lunchroom, you’re not the cool table. 

Paul: That’s real. 

Rich: And that happens, and it happens constantly because technology, um, just keeps going.

Paul: It’s…all human dynamics, because what happens as the engineers of all kinds, the tradespeople of all kinds, get older and older.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: They turn to you when you ask them a question about which language is better or how should I remodel my kitchen or whatever, and they go, it depends.

Rich: Yeah, yeah. 

Paul: It is, the higher up you go, the more it depends, the more experience you have.

Rich: Yeah. 

Paul: But there is, because I also think, at that point, you’ve stopped looking for community in your skills.

Rich: It’s, it’s a little sad and it’s a little scary the moment you realize that the club you’re in isn’t cool anymore. That the technology you’re using seems to have not kept up and there are new things coming out. Because it is not about the tech being obsolete. It is about, it is about you being obsolete. 

Paul: It is. 

Rich: Because you have invested in that. You’ve decided to carry that passport, you are that citizen for the nation of Angular or the nation of, uh, React or the na—like React was like, it was like the Roman Empire for a while. It was just, was trouncing everything in the world of frontend and frankly all the way down the stack. And it became very intimidating to even say that you were into some other more fringe platform and whatnot. And the thing is, these are communities. And you do want to, you do want to get hired, you want to get promoted. And so we tend to gravitate towards where the energy is. So it can be sad. It’s like, man, I got great at Angular. Where is everybody?

Paul: I’m going to propose something that is bananas.

Rich: I love bananas. High in potassium.

Paul: So first of all, if you are in, it is, bananas are great, what a wonderful fruit.

Rich: You know what’s amazing about them? They have a creamy quality to them that if you like, you have like a banana muffin, it feels like a miracle.

Paul: It’s just, they’re heavy in a good way.

Rich: They’re wonderful. This podcast is sponsored by Aboard.com and bananas.

Paul: And Chiquita! So Rich, transitioning off of a technology or from one skill to another, it’s a big deal. It’s not as big a deal as people make it out to be. You can learn another programming language, you’re a smart person, etc. And my friend, if he’s going to be in AI, he can’t really advocate for his old language. He’s got to learn the new stuff and just go with it.

Rich: Learn the new stuff and then, and, yeah, go ahead.

Paul: But I think that, and I don’t, I mean this only semi-seriously, but semi-seriously, you actually have to allow yourself to grieve and say goodbye to the old technology.

Rich: And to a little bit of yourself. 

Paul: That’s right, because the community that you were part of and the community might be weirdly, the term everybody loves is “parasocial.” You read the blogs and you knew the people and you, you followed the Twitter accounts.

Rich: Sure.

Paul: And, and so the news about that world was important to you. You’d wake up and you, you’d check in.

Rich: You would help people.

Paul: Correct. 

Rich: “I can’t seem to get past this one issue with this library” and then you help them and then you feel good and then they help you and it’s, it’s, it’s a supportive place and people seem to be leaving.

Paul: It’s, it’s like college, right? Like you’re moving on, you’re graduating is a healthy way to look at it. And so there are ceremonies at the end, your parents come or not, and you get, you wear a robe and they give you a sticker. 

Rich: Yeah, yeah. 

Paul: Like there is none of that for a lot of this world.

Rich: I think the sadness isn’t that “oh my gosh, I moved on from one skill set to another.” I think the sadness is—you know what this makes me think of? There’s this well known photographer, and if you searched abandoned malls, you’ll find his photographs. 

Paul: Mmm hmmm. 

Rich: He just went to malls around the country, uh, in the United States, and just, they’re just sitting there.

Paul: Right. 

Rich: And like, weird plants are growing in between the escalators at these malls. 

Paul: Sure. 

Rich: And… I think what is sad about those photos, they’re strangely beautiful, but I think what’s sad about them is that you can’t help but look at them and say, well, at one point during the holiday season, there were kids running around and people were hanging out.

Paul: Teenagers used to hang out here and look at cassettes.

Rich: Cause they couldn’t go to bars, right? 

Paul: Right. 

Rich: Yeah exactly, and so I think the fact that it was once a vibrant community in a vibrant town square, and now it’s not, is sad, right?

Paul: It is sad. 

Rich: It’s like going to a town that used to be a hub, a train stop, and then nobody needs trains anymore, right? And, and so it’s a little sad.

Paul: The way that we talk about these things culturally, though, is, “ah, you’re done with that, throw it away.”

Rich: Yeah, I think what you can do past the mourning period is actually find nostalgia and good memories in it, honestly. Like, I love looking at old computer magazines. Like, I think it’s like Byte.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: And, and, and, uh, PC World. Like, they were so bizarre and weird, and at that time, everybody was kind of making up half of the things they were saying in them. They were kind of throwing stuff out, right? And so I do think there is a charm and there’s good memories that can come of it. But yeah, you kind of have to keep going. These are high-skilled professions. I… I am a “retired” quote-unquote lawyer, but I don’t have it in me to unsubscribe from the continuing education emails, which I’m supposed to go attend, because laws change and you’re supposed to go get training to get recertified. And I don’t have to because I don’t practice, but I still get the emails and I like getting them. They’re like, “Hey, big news in the evidence world of New York state” [laughter], like there’s some law that got passed, right? And it’s, it’s—

Paul: I’ll, I’ll make a point, I don’t think it’s about the laws themselves, because objectively, you could not look at that for two years, go get caught up in about two weeks with what’s changed.

Rich: That’s true. 

Paul: And on you go, it’s about understanding how the community is moving back and forth. And it’s, look, it’s the community of lawyers, like that’s, that’s adjacent to politics. There’s a lot to learn.

Rich: I mean these, what you’ll find is a lot of your friends also moved over to the new community. You’ll run into people again, right? 

Paul: Yes. 

Rich: Like that’s a real thing and that’s a positive thing, I think, I do think, I don’t think it needs, I do hate it when everybody kind of… shits on the old tech. It’s just, I think it’s, it’s silly and mean, and you know, a lot of the new tech wouldn’t exist without the old tech. It’s all kind of built on itself.

Paul: That’s humans expressing their chimp like nature, right? 

Rich: [Laughter].

Paul: You can still do wonderful things with R, and the reality is lots of people, like in the climate community, it’s not out of fashion there yet, right?

Rich: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: But it is out of fashion in machine learning and machine learning and, and artificial intelligence is one of those things that I think will require a lot of reskilling.

Rich: Sure.

Paul: Like it, it changes a lot about knowledge work, like I’ve been using it to program recently and I’m like, this is fundamentally different. I would learn how to be a programmer in a different way.

Rich: If you’re young and you wanna learn, totally. 

Paul: Absolutely. So, but so, you know, the upshot of this is yes, you know it’s time to move on when you hear that, when you feel, you feel it, you know, you’re like, uh, am I going to be able to get a job with this in the future. 

Rich: I think it’s job, I think it’s, um, I think it’s also you feeling like you’re continuing to grow professionally. I think that’s part of it. I think, look—

Paul: Do you want to know—

Rich: I do admire the people that hold on. There is a cold fusion expert out there that is just flexing constantly, right?

Paul: Do you want to know the true line for when it’s time to move on?

Rich: Yes, I do.

Paul: When you are thinking less about the tool itself and more that you will be betraying the community and the values of the community if you move to a new technology. 

Rich: Yeah. 

Paul: These are tools. They are not humans. They are not people.

Rich: They’re not religious figures.

Paul: Exactly, and so when you move on—

Rich: They are not monuments to worship on, right? [Chuckles]

Paul: But you can feel really guilty about abandoning the Python community to move towards JavaScript because you’re doing more frontend work. 

Rich: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: Those are real feelings. We tend not to validate them because they’re a little bit ridiculous.

Rich: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Paul: But you went to that conference, you saw the people, you read all the blogs, you kind of feel that you know them. And you might feel that you’re kind of cheating on them when you go over to the new thing. When you feel that, it’s time to move over to the new thing. 

Rich: Can we, can I—yes I agree with that, and I think that’s good advice. And I want to share one other piece of advice. 

Paul: Okay. 

Rich: Learn Python. 

Paul: Python’s great.

Rich: Well it’s not that it’s great. Do you know what it is? It seems to, they never put a lock on the door, and there’s always a house party going on. 

Paul: It shows up everywhere.

Rich: Well it doesn’t have an opinion about the interfaces into it, right? And so it’s like, yeah, we don’t, okay, it’s fine. Maybe we should have stuck with semicolons, here we are. But, come on in.

Paul: Every other language, every other system, um, is like, we’re going to be better. We’re going to do it. And then Python just keeps showing up.

Rich: Well, it doesn’t want to be better. 

Paul: Yeah. 

Rich: It just wants to make… “Oh, you’re doing that? Come on, there’s… Here, wrap this up. Here’s some wrapping paper. Come on in.” Everybody’s welcomed into it. Versus it being orthodox about how you have to behave within its ecosystem.

Paul: It conquered the world of machine learning. It conquered AI.

Rich: It didn’t, though. It just said… It just let the world in. 

Paul: True, true. 

Rich: That’s all it is. Like there is no, Python’s core code library is just saying, “sure…sure.” 

Paul: The funny thing is— 

Rich: “Why not? You look interesting. Come on in.”

Paul: All of the actual code that’s really, really difficult and complicated that drives AI? Not written in Python.

Rich: Sure, exactly.

Paul: Python glues it together and is like, would you like to make it easy?

Rich: Exactly. 

Paul: Can I be your friend?

Rich: And so I think there’s a, there’s a, there’s it—and this is the pull-quote for this podcast.

Paul: Okay. 

Rich: I think. Well, not that you, look at me saying that while I’m co-hosting with Paul Ford.

Paul: Heh. 

Rich: Python succeeds because it has no ego as a programming language. It is one of the lowest, like no one said, “Well, why wouldn’t you just use Python?” No one has that opinion about it. It’s almost, like, ridiculous at this point, I feel like.

Paul: Lean in, it’s good advice. Go ahead and grieve the technologies and communities if you have to move on. Um, Rich, what do you feel about the telegraph? [silence] Don’t use it? What about vinyl?

Rich: You know vinyl, we were talking earlier about nostalgia.

Paul: Mmm.

Rich: And vinyl to me is nostalgia. I mean, I’m not going to get into the debate, I’m not going to fall into the trap—It’s a warmer sound. Let’s leave it alone.

Paul: It’s a sound that feels, people associate the feelings of the vinyl crackle with warmth.

Rich: Yeah. And also I think technically, vinyl records can’t hit the high frequencies, just scientifically. 

Paul: Sure.

Rich: And so therefore it is warmer. It’s because it’s not piercing your ear with digital zeros and ones.

Paul: Sure. 

Rich: But it’s a nice piece of furniture, record cut, like records in sleeves and beautiful covers are cool.

Paul: Is there a technology, technology you wish would come back?

Rich: That’s a great question. Um, the classic Wilco joystick.

Paul: Mmm, yeah, go look those up.

Rich: Yeah, I mean, it’s, it, it was expensive, it was more tactile, I think Wilco started… Is it Wico or Wilco? I’m not sure. It might be Wico. Wilco is a, I think it’s Wico? 

Paul: Wilco is a band. 

Rich: Wilco is a band. Um, Wico is still around, in fact.

Paul: Yeah, and they make joysticks

Rich: And they make joysticks. Wico, I think they made upright cabinet like joysticks, and then they moved to home, and I remember I spent, like, it was a big deal for me to spend twice as much for a Wico joystick, but it was very satisfying.

Paul: It’s just really good.

Rich: I think it spoke to the simplicity of games back then, too. Now it’s like, you know, 80 commands to play a game.

Paul: You know what’s sad for me is pneumatic tubes went away.

Rich: You weren’t around for those, don’t pretend, don’t pretend. 

Paul: But the whole, the whole city ran on pneumatic tubes. You could get a, like a piece of mail from Brooklyn to Manhattan in minutes. 

Rich: Is that true? 

Paul: Paris, too.

Rich: Is that true?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Like the tube would go across Manhattan? 

Paul: Yeah. 

Rich: That’s ridiculous. Yeah, I’m glad that’s not around. 

Paul: Oh, that’s some good stuff. 

Rich: Uh, yeah, I mean, what about like, where do you stand on like, sandwich marts, where you just go and hit a code and you get a sandwich?

Paul: Automats.

Rich: Automats, thank you.

Paul: Deeply awesome to learn about. Honestly, a whole other podcast subject. I’m obsessed with the automat.

Rich: Okay. DoorDash is essentially an automat.

Paul: The automat was the meeting place for all of New York City.

Rich: Yeah. 

Paul: You can’t have, like, vaudevillian theater without it because everyone would go to the Automat.

Rich: Move forward positively. 

Paul: Yeah. 

Rich: Be, look back on, like, some people don’t like to tell you that they used to code in Ember.

Paul: Listen—

Rich: They’re ashamed of it.

Paul: Put that aside.

Rich: Be happy with what you learned. You’re always building on what you learned in the past, and keep going.

Paul: You know who built a sort of, like, automat-like interface where you can just go look at beautiful things and touch them and then meet your friends?

Rich: We did.

Paul: [Laughter] Yes, we actually did.

Rich: Check out aboard.com. Uh, we have a hard time explaining Aboard because it can do so many different things. You can shop with it, you can organize, uh, your contacts with it. You can bring in files into it as a beautiful web parser though that, uh, not only takes a link in but actually studies it, pulls the data out, so you can make use of it. It’s really, really cool. 

Paul: Check it out, Aboard.com, if you want to say hi to us, hello@aboard.com. And we look forward to hearing from you.

Rich: Have a lovely week. Bye, Paul.

Paul: Bye! Bye, Rich!

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