Behind the Tech with Kevin Scott | 2022 Year in Review

Behind the Tech with Kevin Scott | 2022 Year in Review

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>> Hi everyone. Welcome to Behind The Tech. I'm your host, Kevin Scott, Chief Technology Officer for Microsoft. In this podcast, we're going to get Behind The Tech.

We'll talk with some of the people who've made our modern tech world possible and understand what motivated them to create what they did. Join me to maybe learn a little bit about the history of computing and get a few behind the scenes insights into what's happening today. Stick around. >> Hello and welcome to a special episode of Behind The Tech.

I'm Christina Warren, Senior Developer Advocate at GitHub. >> I'm Kevin Scott. >> Today we are doing our Year in Review episode, our year in review, if you will. This means that we're going to revisit a few fascinating conversations with our guests from 2022.

We've had some amazing people on the show this year. We had Alexis Ohanian, who is the founder of Reddit and is married to Serena Williams. We had Simone Giertz, who literally deconstructed a Tesla and made it into a pickup truck just for the joy of making things. Of course, Randall Munroe who writes the incredible web comic XKCD. >> It really has been an amazing year just in terms of the interesting people we got to chat with.

Sometimes I wonder how we got fortunate enough to be able to have these conversations and that folks are willing to let us record them to share with everyone. It's also crazy that I think this is our third year in review episode, like we've been doing this for a long while now, which I just don't really think about all that much. That's cool. >> It is cool. I was thinking about that earlier today too.

How we've been doing this for a while and it's been really amazing to see all the incredible people who've come through. As you mentioned, it's honestly, it's an honor that they've chosen to spend their time with us. One of the things that came up in so many of your conversations this year was representation and what we can do in tech as an industry to make sure that we're bringing all different kinds of voices and lived experiences into the room.

>> It really is interesting that representation came up pretty much across the board in every conversation no matter who I was talking to this season. It's just a reminder of how important it is and it's just so exciting to see that conversation be organically on the top of people's minds. >> I think the fact that that came up organically, it was one of the things that really stood out to me and because it emerged as such a powerful theme this year, I was thinking that we could start with a snippet of your conversation with Irma Olguin, who's the founder of Bitwise Industries. >> Irma and her company are so interesting. She grew up in a family of farm workers in California's Central Valley.

She got into computer science basically by accident. But it really did, as it does for so many people, open up many possibilities and it literally changed her life. Now what she's doing with Bitwise Industries is trying to create that same transformational effect for other people like her who don't have access to the typical pipelines into the tech industry. >> Here's that interview. >> Do you have any examples of what's happened in these communities when the tech jobs come? >> Absolutely. I have thousands of examples. That's the best part.

Is that, this is not conjecture any longer we've got literal proof. When a tech job, so one of the neat things about the technology industry is that it has a high multiplier. What that means is that for every technology job that's created in a place, 4.3 additional local goods jobs are also created. We're talking about the FedEx person, and the panini person, and the box builder, and on and on and Joe's automotive shop changes as a result of technology coming into town. What that turns into over time is not just that you've got this human being or a dozen human beings who are earning high growth, high wage, community transformative money at this point, but those folks are spending that money at home. Ninety percent of the folks that we train stay in their hometowns.

That's tremendous. These folks are buying houses. They are buying cars. They are stabilizing the neighborhoods that they're already in. I know that technology generally has a bad rap for gentrification and those types of things and the effect on neighborhoods, but when you literally skill the folks who are from those neighborhoods into these jobs, they get to turn around and give back to their neighborhoods. They get to rebuild them for themselves and for their communities.

That's what happens in these cities, and we're most excited about that. Yes, of course, we buy dilapidated buildings and we renovate them. We re-lease them back out to ourselves and others in this industry, but those folks who come and go from those buildings every day go to neighborhoods that they can change, and we see that effect over and over again. >> It's so awesome. Having grown up in one of these places, like I can tell you, just by watching my friends and family being employed like what a big impact it has. It's like this is the industry of the future.

It's probably not going to be the case. Where I grew up, it was tobacco farming, furniture manufacturing, and textile manufacturing. The jobs that those industries provided probably are not coming back to rural central Virginia. But tech jobs could come there and have a huge impact.

>> Absolutely. That's 100 percent right. Same story where I grew up. The job that my grandmother moved to California to have in the fields doesn't exist for me any longer and it's not going to exist in generations after me. What else are we going to do? We're going to have to find something different to do with our hands. >> Yeah. Something different with their hands that will help build the community.

I've said it a couple times, I think it's an important thing to realize these are jobs that are helping build the future the same way that the jobs that your grandmother and her friends and family had were helping to build the communities that they were in. >> Yes, that's exactly right. >> That was a bit of Kevin's conversation with Irma Olguin. As I was listening that just now, I was thinking about how much that conversation shared in common with some of the things that you talked about with Alexis Ohanian, the founder of Reddit. >> I love talking with Alexis about his new venture firm 776. He's so passionate about working with up and coming founders and his firm is really innovating on the VC model to expand how they support their founders and especially founders of color.

>> Let's take a listen. >> This generation of founder, the Gen-Z, they've grown up in the shadow social media. They are a lot smarter, like I said, than I was because they've seen the good, they've seen the bad.

I think they're a lot more thoughtful. They're playing a longer term game than we were because they've seen 15 years of the first startup boom. But my biggest concern is I do see this nihilism. I don't know if it's cynicism, there is also a vein of like, well why bother? Like the earth is screwed. Everything's going to hell in a handbasket.

Yes, we have huge problems that we need to solve. But the part I think is so important, especially right now and for this coming decade, is to make sure that we have people building to solve problems and we're supporting those people who are building to solve problems because we have some huge problems we need to solve. But the only way we will solve them, the only way we will improve things, is by building, is by creating, is by doing. I want to see that culture win. I don't want to see the culture of nihilism and like, wow, well, to hell with it win, because we don't get better stuff from that. >> Yeah.

>> I mean, similarly, we just announced I just funded the first 20 million of a foundation that I very creatively named 776 foundation that I started for basically our version of a, well, similar to a Thiel Fellowship where we're telling college students 18-23: If you have a big swing idea, a big, hairy, audacious idea for climate in particular, you should apply. We'll give you 100 grand, take couple years, bring you into our network, etc. I know this is an existential threat. I know it disproportionately affects communities of color, marginalized communities broadly. Let's get as many of the best and brightest from all over the world to be part of this cohort and we'll just give you money, resources, network support, and just see what the hell you come up with. Because every time I see a TikTok video go viral of some kid who's just depressed about the state of things and doesn't want to have any children or doesn't want...

That's not the energy that's going to help us solve this. It's going to be the folks who inspire us and make us go like, "Oh my God. How did you figure out a way to capture carbon and do this thing? Or how did you create this movement that accomplished this goal." That's what we need.

>> I could not agree with you more strongly. You as a historian should appreciate this. Technology has always been the instrument that we use to create the future that we want. Inspiring that impulse to figure out like how to take the things that we know how to do, how to just jump off cliffs and try to invent things that we don't know how they're going to work yet. Really is the way that you shape the future. Defining who the "we" is, who is doing all of that stuff is also super important.

It can't just be a bunch of tech companies and venture capitalists and urban innovation centers in the coastal United States. You have to have a whole bunch of people feeling inspired to go create this future. >> That was Alexis Ohanian talking with Kevin on the podcast.

>> Another leader of a really popular tech company that I was able to speak with this year was David Baszucki, co-founder and CEO of Roblox. We obviously talked about how Roblox is a huge driver of community and creativity, but we also got into another topic that was huge in 2022, the Metaverse. >> Let's check out some of that conversation. >> We're talking about innovation now.

I'd love to get your take on the Metaverse. I have this definition of the Metaverse, which is, a Metaverse is a fully immersive environment that lets you connect with other people to express the fullness of your identity and to accomplish your creative endeavors. If I say that definition and I look at Roblox, Roblox feels to me like a Metaverse.

Even though it's a 2D screen, you don't have to put anything on your head. There aren't many things more immersive than Roblox for my 11 year old, for instance. >> I think that's very close with what socially, the definition's going to emerge to. I like to think of it as an inexorable category following along like the telegraph, telephone video call, simulated 3D immersive communication.

It's definitely about identity, definitely about friends and connection, in a social graph. Definitely about immersiveness. >> That immersiveness isn't just pure 3D fidelity, it's functional fidelity, it's social fidelity, it's device by device going from phone all the way to immersive VR. Typically, I think it will more and more be about an infinite array of places and content and objects as part of that. I think these are evolving to always get into economic aspects.

Then I think Metaverses will have various levels of safety and civility, just like places on the web, we're leaning in really hard on a civilized place for people together. I think it's still so fun and so early that every company is still trying to figure out their own view of this. It's fun because it's still emerging. >> Yeah. Well, so thinking about this stuff as an engineer for an instance, there are a bunch of components that I think any Metaverse is going to have to have.

There's some way for you to richly express your identity. There's some way to do commerce with other people in the Metaverse. There's some value store that you're going to have to have. There's some way like here's what property means in this Metaverse. Have you all thought about what those things are because, again, I think you have a whole bunch of them? >> Yeah, this is really interesting and it's funny because if we were building cars 60 years ago, this would be some biz school make versus buy discussion and what do you have to make and what can you buy and all of that stuff. Some of these components aren't yet invented and that makes it really exciting.

The components that might allow us to go together to a 50,000 person photorealistic concert with great audio and hang out and dance and wave across the stadium at everyone else and have them wave back, that's a long ways off. I like the notion that it's still early and there's a lot of deep tech that needs to be invented to support this, as well as a lot of proven tech whether it's the economy, is it running on blockchain or a database identity? What's the graphics drivers and all the machines? How did we do a social graph? All of that. It's an interesting mix of some technologies that are mature and some that are a long ways off and being actively invented. >> One of the interesting things that's way more complicated than I think most people would recognize is like you having your own financial infrastructure. You all have this currency called Robux. That's a thing that players have.

You can spend them across all of the games that are happening, they let you purchase entitlements inside all of these games. My best friend used to run product and engineering at Linden Lab. They had their own currency. It is complicated. Having your own economy is an interesting thing, especially you guys are at 50 million daily active users. That is bigger than some countries, right? >> It's complicated in many dimensions.

It's complicated in a reliability, anti-theft, anti hack, SarBox compliant SEC way and that just has to be run at a certain level of rigor and reliability and fraud detection and all of that. It's contemplated from an infra-scaling standpoint, which many companies do really well, but that's still, we shouldn't take that for granted. It's also, I think, complicated looking to the future where more and more, if we can see things happening in real life, we're going to see them in digital life.

We're still very early on this as far as advertising, as far as shopping, as far as collectibles, as far as a lot of other economic things that we're used to that have digital equivalence. There's a lot of complexity going forward in designing elegant systems that work well in the digital domain that we're very used to in our real world life. >> That was from your conversation with David Baszucki, from Roblox. Of course that was not the only time the Metaverse came up this season. It seems like most of the time the conversation was starting with how to define what the Metaverse is. >> That is absolutely right.

We got the very good fortune in this year of being able to talk to the person who actually coined the term Metaverse. Sci-fi author Neal Stephenson and one of my heroes. >> I love this so much. Let's check

out some of that conversation. >> Let's talk about today. It seems to me at least that life is imitating art in a certain sense that many of the things that you talked about in some of your earlier books and even in your more recent books are unfolding pretty closely to the way that you describe them in the books. Maybe let's talk a little bit about Metaverse, which is obviously a thing that is going to see a lot of change over the next handful of years just because there's so many people inspired enough to invest a lot of their time and energy and capital in this space.

Well, what's your rough take on where things are headed? >> Well, Metaverse, avatar, terms like that have been bouncing around the technical world for a long time now, but more as in-crowd terminology. What's happened in the last year or so, is that that's broken out into public discourse as a marketing term, as a catch-all term to mean a lot of things. I think the most general thing I can say about it is just that we're bumping up against the limits of what can really be done with flat displays. When I look at just the displays that are around me here in my workspace they're spectacular. They're gigantic screens that are showing images in incredibly high resolution.

They show movies at full resolution, full sound quality. I have got a TV which is middle of the room. It's not a super special TV, but it's capable of showing movies that are as finely resolved as my eyes can detect. Like if we added more pixels to my TV set, it would be interesting technically, but I wouldn't be able to see the difference. Beyond a certain point, that kind of technology can't really get any better.

I think there are people who are in the business of selling hardware and the associated software and operating systems to the general public need a place to go. They need a next thing that they can use to drive their businesses forward. Metaverse is a catch-all term now for stuff that people want you to buy a few years from now. By process of elimination, it's got to be something beyond screens. It's got to be stereoscopic or better displays, AR, VR.

Then with that hardware, there has to be huge jumps forward in the capabilities of the software and the operating systems that drives pixels and sound into that hardware. >> That was your conversation with your hero Neal Stephenson. I love the way that he talked about how we have to imagine the future if we're going to invent the technology to get us there. Dr. Daniela Rus says something similar when you spoke to her.

>> Yeah. Daniela is a roboticist who heads up the MIT Computer Science and AI Lab, which is a very impressive and inspiring job. We had a fascinating conversation about how robots in the future might be inspired by the natural world. >> Now, one of my passions is to bring machines, materials and people closer together. I want to have more intelligent materials, and at the same time I want to have more flexible, safer, more dexterous machines. One way to think about this is to consider what robots were like when they were introduced in 1961, 60 years ago.

The first industrial robot was Unimate. It was introduced in 1961 and it was invented to do industrial pick and place operations. >> Now since then, the number of industrial robots in production reached tens of millions, and these industrial robots are true masterpieces of engineering that can do so much more than people do, and yet these robots remain isolated from people on the factory floor. Because they're large and heavy and dangerous to be around. We'd like to have machines that are safer to be around and that can be teammates for people. Now, if we compare industrial robots with organisms in nature, organisms in nature are soft and safe and compliant and more dexterous, and more intelligent.

How can we get to the point where we have robots that are like that? As I think about our interaction with machines and the natural world, I actually feel inspired to rethink what a robot is. Because while the past 60 years have defined this field of industrial robots and empowered hard-bodied robots to execute complex assembly tasks in industrial settings, I really wish for the next 60 years to be ushering in robots for human-centric environments, and robots that can help people with cognitive and physical tasks. Now, as we think about what these robots might look like, I'd like to ask us to look back at what our current robots look like. When you think about a robot today, the images that come to mind are an industrial manipulator, a humanoid, or a box on wheels. These are the robots that are most used today, and so these robots are primarily inspired by the human form or by boxes on wheels.

I believe that we can do more than that. I believe that we can stretch ourselves and go to a different stage where we think about soft robots that are inspired in shape by the animal kingdom with its form diversity, by the natural world with its form diversity, and even by the built environment. Because then we would have so much more potential for applications. I also believe that we can consider a wider range of materials that we have available to us to make these extraordinary machines. The robots of the past 60 years have been made mostly by hard plastics and metal. But what about machines that are made out of all materials available to us? We can consider plastic and silicone, and wood and paper, even food.

We can also consider synthesized materials. I think there is so much opportunity to create a whole new type of machine that will be a good teammate for people, that will be a more capable tool for people who need help with physical and cognitive work. >> I'm really excited about the possibilities.

It feels like we're at this point in time where we are really ripe for new breakthroughs. I'm a hobbyist and machinist, and one of the things that I'm seeing in a bunch of machine shops now, and one of the things that people are thinking more and more about is how to integrate simple things like six axis robotic arms into their workflows. How you can have a thing that will pick a raw piece of metal up, open a door on a milling machine, place it into a fixture in the machine, cycle start, the part gets made and then you reverse the whole process. You pull the finished part out, put it on a pallet and that can be an amazing thing in some of these shops where you can run an extra shift to keep these really expensive machines running all the time.

But they are simple things. You program them by basically having a human guide them through a bunch of waypoints in the process you want them to accomplish, and you usually are custom designing some end effectors so that it can pick up the things you wanted to pick up. But it's really exciting to think about things that aren't that simple, that have really complicated, dexterous, and defectors and that can be programmed in more robust ways.

>> Kevin, let's even go beyond that, and let's even bring more cognition to these tools. Let's say that these machines will be able to watch you and understand what you want to do and come and give you a hand. Let's say you're trying to lift a heavy box and the machine comes to help you lift it up just like a friend would today. >> Yeah, that is a great vision.

I'm so glad you all are working on these things. >> I love that image of a robot seeing you struggling with a box and just walking over to you to help with that! And if somebody was going to build that robot tomorrow, it might be Simone Giertz. >> I had so much fun talking to Simone. I've watched her videos so frequently over the past handful of years. She creates all of these wacky inventions, but she does it with the mindset and skill set of a serious technologist, and something that really stood out for me was the idea of how valuable mistakes and accidents and errors can be.

>> building is messy and it's always frustrating, and then when you do get it to work it's exhilarating, and I think for me it was always discouraging to watch videos where people just nailed it. Because then I would feel like I was doing something wrong and because my builds never feel like that. It's the difference between the really beautiful Instagram vacation photo versus what it actually was, and you're...I was cold and hungry and upset with my dad or whatever.

I'm just trying to be transparent. The thing is when bad things happen in builds, I'm always--I get so annoyed with it. But then when I'm editing the footage, I'm always happy that it happened because I'm like, "Oh, that's where the story is at." It is nice to see how I can overcome those adversities even for myself, I'm like, "Yeah, I did solve it." I was really upset and I felt I wasn't going to come around on top and then I managed to finagle my way through it somehow.

>> I don't know how you think about it philosophically, about just the whole struggle of making things. Being a creator, whether you're writing software, making a company or building a project or whatnot there's a whole bunch of things that can make that go easier. It's good if you're curious, it's good if you're willing to explore.

But like the thing that you show is that resilience is super important, nothing ever goes perfectly, and I felt this the same way when I was a young software engineer, all you ever saw was the Computer Science paper that someone had written where they'd gotten to all of the answers and you saw none of the process of how they got there, and you just felt so bad about yourself that you're imagining how much easier it must have been for everybody else when in reality it wasn't. >> I think it's resilience, but also for me, the reason that I am resilient in these situations is because I'm so genuinely excited about what I'm doing. If I wasn't pumped about it, then I'd be whatever. I'd just move on and go play video games instead. But since I really want to pursue this and push it through and make this build come to life, I think that's what's making me resilient, and also just because I think I am really stubborn.

But it's not that I have to push myself and work harder and be really disciplined about it. It's mostly that I'm just laying in bed at 3:00 A.M. and being like, "I can solve it like this or what about if I do that?" My brain just can't let it go because I really want to see it through. >> That's awesome. Maybe we can talk a little bit about how you get the inspiration to make the things that you make. Because you have chosen over the years to make a bunch of interesting things.

If you watch makers on YouTube, I don't even know's not that people are copying each other, but there seem there're these things everybody in woodworking goes and makes an epoxy river table at the same time, and these trends and the things that you do are just so unique to you. How do you do that? >> I think it's because I'm setting that bar for myself. I've just always been like I want it to be something that you haven't really seen before or a spin on something in a way that you haven't done before. It's because it's what I'm most interested in making, but it's also because I think it has to do with the platform that I'm creating for. It is now YouTube and social media, and then I'm always like, "What's the interesting thing?" I think if I'm being totally honest, if it was just making stuff for myself then I would still be in that realm, but I probably wouldn't push myself as hard.

But now I'm just always like, In some way I think it might all -- like almost be insecurities because I'm like, to justify to exist in the space, I feel I have to present something really unique, I'm always like, because there are so many different videos I could be making and it's not interesting enough. I don't feel I can ask people to spend time watching this if it's not elevated in some way. I do think that has a little bit to do with insecurities or being apologetic about taking up space, which goes very against being on YouTube.

But then I think it's also just what I'm interested in, that I love trying to find unique solutions to everyday problems, and that's also what I've been doing now trying to transform or apply that thinking to product design. It's like making things for YouTube, but then also using those same qualifiers to develop products and try to create for that arena as well, which is a whole other world. >> It was so much fun talking with Simone, like you I love her videos, and that is a great episode to check out on YouTube, where you can see footage of some of her incredible inventions. >> I really recommend it for all the time I spent on YouTube, which is a lot embarrassingly, Simone's videos are among my favorite. >> Creativity and collaboration were other things that came up over and over this year. Your conversation with Sam Schillace got very technical.

>> Yeah. It often does with Sam and I think in this conversation we got pretty in the weeds, but it was a great conversation and we also talked about creativity and collaboration. I thought we'd share snippet of that part of our conversation here. >> We have this Calvinist idea in our heads that like work is equivalent to suffering. Like you're not really working if you don't hate it.

I don't think that's true. I actually think that the place for people to be, this is the career advice I always give people is like find the thing you feel guilty about getting paid for, and do the hell out of it. Like if you feel guilty that you're getting paid to do something, it probably means you're really good at it and it's fun for you. If people are willing to pay for it, just go be the heck out of that. Like career growth usually comes from having impact, which usually comes from doing something you love with a lot of passion. Like it's not that much more complicated and so that's what I mean, so I never start off with like, I'm going to go do a bunch of start-ups.

I just was like, what's the next interesting thing I want to go work on? Let's just go do that with all this energy. I always like working with my friend, so we just kept doing stuff and we kept making money and it kept being successful enough, so like why stop? >> Yeah, I think you had another couple of pieces of interesting career advice in there as well, so I totally agree with what you just said. Like I also agree that working with your friends, like whether they were your friends before you start something or whether you like form bonds with folks when you join a company and you start working with them. I think that's pretty important because I'll most days like even when you've got to thing that you're passionate about and the anomaly enjoy.

Like there's just a bunch of hard stuff you got to go do to make anything worthwhile. >> Yeah that's right. >> You do want to be doing it with people whose company you enjoy, where you feel like some degree of camaraderie with them. Otherwise, it's just you and I do this now. Like, I don't want to sell the image that Microsoft is somehow perfect.

Like we got hard things we work on all the time and then the two of us like because we're friends, we will complain to one another and the thing that I tried to do even do this in my marriage is like you want to be grumpy out of phase with each other. >> Yeah. That's right. You want to be complemented. There's all complementarity that you want in these partnerships. That's definitely one of them.

Skill sets is another one. Like you want to linear thinker and a nonlinear thinker. Then you want them to be like in creative tension with each other basically, I can stop away. >> I mean the other, like the most interesting like complementarity advice that I ever got is I had a mentor years ago who told me to imagine a histogram that has five buckets and on the extreme left end of the histogram, the bucket is labeled idiot and on the far right into the histogram, the bucket is labeled genius and in the middle is average and you can take everything that you do and every skill that you possess and put it into one of those buckets, so like that's not the breakthrough thing for me. Like the breakthrough thing was this mentor said, if you work really, really hard, you can move something over one or two positions on that histogram.

Which means that if you've got a thing that you are an idiot at. >> You might get to average if you're lucky. >> Yeah. And every minute that you spend trying to get to average is a minute that you're not spending doing the thing that you're a genius at and like what you want do with teams or partnerships or anything else to your point about non-linear versus linear thinkers is you want to like, you try to do something together. You need a set of skills to go do the thing, so how do you figure out this thing where everybody's histogram adds up to like above average, where you can have everybody focus on what they're really good at.

>> The real challenge with this is that, just to keep going with that example, like sometimes if you've got two geniuses that are pulling in different directions, they neutralize. You don't either genius and in fact that often happens. Like I had this tension a lot with my co-founder with Steve, when you have genuinely different perspectives on the world and you are genuinely both good at them. Those are often, you're blind to the other perspective to some degree and so finding a way to understand and respect the other perspective, even if you don't really get it like you just understand like this person, I don't get their domain. I don't even maybe necessarily fully value it, but I understand that it is valuable and they're good at it suddenly, deliberately like carrots and space, I always tell founding teams like pick somebody who you like arguing with. Don't pick somebody you like.

You don't just go found something with a friend, pick somebody that you enjoy arguing with, where like you have genuinely different perspectives, where you're struggling even find common vocabulary. But it's okay like you're willing to have those arguments find that common ground in between. There is often there's like super small overlap in the Venn diagram of even like the language of these. >> That was from Kevin's conversation with Sam Schillace and that theme of collaboration and feedback came up with another Microsoft person you talked to.

>> That's right, my colleague, Phil Spencer, who heads up Gaming at Microsoft. I just loved the way that he talked about the feedback that they get from users and how much it matters to him personally. >> The feedback on the work that we do, good and bad is out there front and center and while there's obviously good days and bad days for myself and the teams and the products that we're building. For me, that complete loop of we have an idea whether it's iterative on something that we've already done or are completely new. We're going to work that over multiple years. In the case of these big games that we were talking about, to deliver something and that end result in the feedback that you get is the thing that gives me momentum into the next thing.

But like I said, that's how I'm wired. I like the completeness of that. I'm enthralled by and I think I'd like you think for 3, 400 years ago there's like architects in Europe working on these massive churches that are going to take 200 years to build and they're in the middle of this and if you're like a mission you know that you didn't see the beginning and your life will not exist. You won't live long enough to see the end and these people throw themselves into these builds.

We have similar projects at Microsoft is, that takes multiple decades. Especially some of these things where they're way out there, horizon three things and I am just so impressed by people that have that amount of intellectual drive to see-through it. For me, that tighter feedback loop is just part of how I'm wired and I'm glad we have those people that can think longer term about infrastructure and in longer term investments. It's not just longer-term, but it's at a different level in the stack. The things that we do and the conversations.

One of the reasons I always love having conversations with you because the conversations of how different people think about these problems and opportunities are just awesome feedback into what we do. >> That was Phil Spencer, CEO of Gaming at Microsoft. We've got one more guest from this season that we want to make sure and we highlight today. I don't want to say it was a save the best for last but Randall Munroe, the physicist and artist behind xkcd, is such a fascinating person to listen to. >> xkcd is one of my absolute favorite things on the whole Internet.

I was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to get to chat with Randall. >> It's one of my favorite things as well. Let's take a listen to some of what you two talked about. >> When I started drawing comics about this science stuff, I really wasn't expecting it, but people started sending me questions now and then. They'd be like me and my friend had been arguing over this, superman physics question or this thing about the skyscraper or something and they're like, "But it seems it's too pointless a question to bother a real scientist with, which feels like a little bit of a burn, but at the same time, they're like, you seem like you probably have a lot of free time, you're enthusiastic about doing a completely pointless but incredibly hard task because it sounds funny or cool and I was insulted, but also they were definitely right.

I would get these e-mails and the questions that would really hook me were the ones where it seemed there must be an answer, but I didn't immediately know what it is and I had a guess about what it is. I would find that someone would send a one-line e-mail with a question and I would spend six hours going down rabbit holes of research being like, "Oh, it must be this." Then I look up, no, I don't think it's that.

Well, we could solve it this way and I'd finally get to the solution and I'd write them up this whole e-mail and reply, "I've worked it out. I've done this. Here's the citation. Here's the thing and then send it and an e-mail would bounce or something and I would be like, "Oh, okay." Then at some point, I started thinking if I'm going to put all this work into this, other people would probably want to read these too.

I started soliciting questions and writing up my answers. But it really it's nice. It's a way of showing people that you can use the tools of science how to answer questions with them.

To me, it's like you can take a question that is really interesting and showing a way of getting to the answer. It's not a way of sneakily giving you science. It's a way of like sneakily giving you the answer itself and it's not that the answer is important, but that's okay.

It doesn't have to be. It's like telling you you can figure this stuff out. There are ways to figure this stuff out. People don't like asking questions sometimes because they worry that it makes them look like they don't know something. I try to encourage that like in myself, I have a hard time.

When someone uses a word and I don't know what it means, I had a New Year's resolution while back that was like, I'm going to start asking people what words mean and it was really hard. I was not expecting how difficult that is, but then also they're happy to tell you. You can just ask. It's fine.

>> They don't think you're stupid when they respond. >> Then the next time someone uses the word you don't have to feel like you don't know it because you've learned that. With these tools of science and calculations stuff, they'll give you an answer. They don't care if the question is pointless or not or why you want to know, It's just just like if you're curious about something you can ask.

There's probably an answer out there. If there is, here are ways we can try to find it and it's okay to not know stuff and be curious about it. >> It's such an awesome thing.

I do think that curiosity is almost like a muscle. The more I let myself be curious about things, the more curious I become and I think it's a good thing asking lots and lots of questions. Maybe even it's more important than being able to answer lots and lots of questions. >> I think that sometimes people say, "How do you encourage people to be curious or encourage them to be interested in science or interested in any of this stuff?" I'm not a psychologist. I don't know. I really feel that people are curious. It's a question of like, do they feel they have a way to get to satisfy their curiosity or do they feel the things they're curious about are just like, Oh, well, that's something I could never understand.

That's unknowable or this is something that I really admire Carl Sagan. A lot of time the people who would write about science or talk about science, we're like smog or condescending about people are just incurious or they believe in superstition or they're not scientific or not rational knowledge. I think that stuff rubs me the wrong way and I think one thing that Carl Sagan really appreciated is that people are just all looking for answers. If you can offer them answers through science then they will be interested in science. If you can offer them answers, here's a way of figuring out the answers to your questions, they'll jump at that and if you don't, they'll find someone else who has answers, someone else who's offering a way to think about the world that satisfies their curiosity or gives them a sense of understanding and power.

[MUSIC] >> What a fascinating chat with Randall Munroe. >> Kevin, with the benefit of hindsight and hearing all of these great conversations with such fascinating individuals one more time, I think we can safely say that 2022 was an interesting year for Behind the Tech. >> Before we close, I just want to say thank you again to all our guests on Behind the Tech. Your ingenuity, compassion, and dedication to your craft, whatever that may be, truly makes an impact on the world.

We're grateful that these folks took time away from that amazing work to chat with us. >> Thank you seriously to all of our guests and as always, thank you for listening. As 2022 draws to an end, please take a minute to drop us a note at Behind the Tech at and tell us about what you'd like to hear from in 2023.

>> We'll be kicking off the new year with a conversation with the CEO and Founder of Shopify, Tobi Lutke. See you next time. [MUSIC]

2022-12-24 05:18

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