Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Character - Essay from Newsletter 15

Who you are.

Josh and Eliza

Over the weekend I listened to an interview with Josh Shaffer and Eliza Block. For years the duo teamed up to give crowd favorite presentations at WWDC. They are brilliant, personable, and understand how to tell an effective story with the right amount of code content.

Josh is now in charge of Swift Frameworks at Apple and is responsible for SwiftUI. Eliza is now working on Previews in Xcode. If you’re coding for Apple platforms, this interview is chock full of information. Josh gives details about SwiftUI and also talks about some of the thought process behind design decisions. Eliza talks about some of what is involved to create a responsive round-tripping view that most of us use without ever considering the complexity of what’s involved.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.


I have a semi-personal story about Eliza.

I was working as a contractor on a project at Apple about five or six years ago. It was an app that would only be used internally. My team was amazing - I learned so much from them and am sad that WWDC was cancelled this year as I look forward to getting together with some of them whenever I’m out there.

Anyway, we were stuck on something and one member of my team suggested that we ask Eliza. I don’t remember why, but he thought she’d know the answer.

The next morning he popped in my office with code that he’d gotten in reply.

Not only had Eliza answered our question but she’d provided a clear code sample demonstrating the right way to do it.

Identifying what drives you

In the podcast episode, Eliza said that before she joined Apple she’d studied Philosophy and Linguistics and programming on the side.

We’ve talked here before about how you sometimes learn what you’re interested in by seeing what you spend time on.

During her last year of working on her dissertation in grad school she was drawn to coding for the iPhone. It was the very early days. Before the iPad. Before iOS - it was the early iPhone OS. She was souring on academia and instead was spending more and more time working on an app for the iPhone.

This is not uncommon. I wrote my first C programs at the end of my dissertation. Some of it was to do work with elliptic curves that I needed, but a lot of it was not at all related. There are a bunch of books written on the topic that remind PhD students that the thesis is not going to be the last thing you ever produce. Your job, they advise, is to finish and get out. Go into the world and continue producing work.

But it’s also a time where people reappraise whether that’s the work they want to do. Depending on your field, finding a job can be really difficult. There are fewer and fewer positions and of those even fewer pay well (many are part-time, no-benefits, limited-pay jobs). Scientists end up with multiple post-docs before they discover in their thirties that there’s just no job for them now.

So Eliza decided academia wasn’t for her and that programming was really what she loved.

And then…

Eliza tells this next part quickly and understates it. She wrote an app that “went in the app store and it was lucky for me, because people at Apple liked it and so they asked me to come apply for a job.”

I love this story and wanted to share it because we’ve heard so many stories about companies that require a CS degree and a white board test. My time contracting at Apple was better because of the mix of folks from different backgrounds that I worked with and encountered even at a distance.

There is something about finding out the role you are to play in your own life’s story and then getting an invitation to star in that role.

Making plans

I’ve decided to share my plans for the rest of this year. It makes me a little nervous to commit in public like this but I’ve done so in this blog post that draws from the great Penn and Teller take on the Cups and Balls trick. One of the promises of the post is that as I rewrite my books and prepare my classes, I will blog on the content and share things online.

This includes mistakes. My first such post is a beginners error that I made when working with a Nav view. I should have known better. I do know better. I made the mistake anyway. I’m sharing this in the Nav Mistake post to remind us all that we all make mistakes and it’s ok. While I was there, I created categories for my posts on Editor’s Cut and included a directory by topic of the posts.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 15. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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