#8: The Future of Education Will Rely on Public and Private Sectors Solutions

In this episode, Sarah and I wax philosophical about how education works (mostly in the United States, but ideas are broadly applicable) and how public schools + college could be improved. Along the way, we talk about how technology creates or eliminates jobs and what kind of market opportunities exist to help people train for better employment.

Sorry for the long delay, hopefully we can get on a more regular schedule!

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Show Notes

Race to the Top — Obama’s incentive-based education program that replaced “No Child Left Behind”

How to Get a Job at Google — Super popular NYTimes article on education and job-hunting in the tech sector

Rising Cost of Not Going to College 

RailsBridge — Sarah’s nonprofit that helps newbies and programming veterans learn the Ruby on Rails framework.

Gengo (translation) – crowdsourced translation

Revv – crowdsourced transcription

This is Probably a Good Time to Say That I Don’t Believe Robots Will Eat All the Jobs — an essay by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen on why technological progress creates new opportunities for human labor


#7: What It’s Really Like to Be a Presidential Innovation Fellow

Are you a developer, designer, data geek, entrepreneur, or product manager? The federal government needs your help. Apply to join Round 3 of the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, a program that Todd Park, CTO of the United States, calls “a start-up within government without any money but with the President’s backing — and that’s what matters.”

In this episode, we invite current Round 2 Presidential Innovation Fellow Mollie Ruskin to the podcast as we discuss what it means to be a PIF and the incredible, intense, and sometimes quite challenging experience of the fellowship.

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Show Notes

day-to-day life of a presidential innovation fellow – Sarah wrote a detailed and comprehensive blog post about her experiences at the Smithsonian and as a PIF
Reflections from an SF Tech Entrepreneur After One Month in Washington DC – a blog post by Jason on what it’s like to live and work in DC and how it compares to the culture in Silicon Valley
The Official WH page – The official page on WhiteHouse.gov detailing the Presidential Innovation Fellowship
Meet Round 2 Fellows – If you want to reach out to specific fellows, this list might be your best bet
Contact Info – to get in touch with us, find us at: @jasonshen, @ultrasaurus, @mollieruskin.


#6: Creating and Changing Culture

In this episode, we respond to one of our listener’s, @mtrimpe, who asked a very interesting question:

So we decided to tackle it, covering a variety of topics, from craft beer to inflatable dinosaurs to value systems to being the first follower. Culture is enormously important and yet often overlooked or paid lip service to.

Sarah + Jason

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Show Notes

Indiegogo: At the Women 2.0 conference, co-founder Danae Ringelmann talked about how they discovered their culture. More details on that process here. They’ve found that this set of values and behaviors extends to its customers when they raised $700k for a bullied bus monitor.

The Awesome Culture Blog:  articles focused on creating great culture by startup founder turned CEO coach David Kashen

Ridejoy: At Jason’s startup, culture was expressed through our hiring and team food practices.

Valve Employee Handbook: an example of how  great company culture can sometimes be successfully be codified through a document (a rare feat!)

Leading vs Following:  Sometimes following is just as crucial as leading. CDBaby cofounder Derek Sivers spoke at TED about how to start a movement. And of course we have the well known quote:

“Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” — Thomas Paine

Decision Fatigue: Culture allows the team to make decisions faster and avoid the perils of decision fatigue.

Creating a Sense of Urgency: a wonderful book by HBS Professor John Kotter on practices like “bringing the outside in” and “neutralizing the no-no’s” for bringing change to an organization

#5: Sprinkle Some Innovation On It

Having served as Presidential Innovation Fellows, we suppose we’re qualified to say something about “doing innovation”. We’ve noticed that some organizations approach this concept as an afterthought – we call this being asked to “sprinkle some innovation” on a project. This typically means being asked to make a product or service that looks different on a surface level from what’s already on the market.

But let’s be clear: that’s very different from implementing a true innovation – which is a more effective method for delivering outcomes for your target user. The problem is that because “innovation” has become hyped as a sexy idea, genuinely novel and significant improvements often look boring. True innovation comes usually from a good process – talking to customers, looking at data, being very clear about the outcome you are looking for.

Under this theme, our podcast takes us from the still undelivered promise of flying cars to the ubiquity of voice calls to the strategies of smart consultants to failure of most Super Bowl commercials. Enjoy!

Sarah + Jason

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Show Notes

Doberhuahua Commercial – Audi’s attempt to do an “innovative” commercial at the 2014 Super Bowl about how they don’t compromise

It’s 2014 and…

Do the simplest thing possible that works – Kent Beck

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” — often attributed to Albert Einstein

We are not normal people – Justin Jackman’s blog post emphasizing that “increasing the technical challenge while creating a product does not increase the chance for more sales”

Jason Seiken’s TEDx talk on the difference between innovation and being undisciplined, how to be be “radical and incremental”. He oversaw PBS’s digital output to reinvent the broadcaster’s fortunes, changing it from a stodgy, conventional broadcaster to one with an edgy mobile and web service, able to produce Mr Rodgers Remixed: Garden of Your Mind, where Mr. Rogers breaks into song. Check out Harvard Business Review on Jason Seiken’s failure metric “if you’re not failing enough, you’re playing it safe.”

What is a theory of change? – “Built around the pathway of change, a Theory of Change describes the types of interventions (a single program or a comprehensive community initiative) that bring about the outcomes depicted in the pathway of a change map. ”

Lean Startup Principles – “Using the Lean Startup approach, companies can create order not chaos by providing tools to test a vision continuously.” — Eric Ries, 

STARTUP IS VISION — Eric Ries’ Startup Lessons Learned guest post by @FAKEGRIMLOCK

Dear Science Fiction Writers: Stop Being So Pessimistic — “After lamenting the slow pace of technological innovation, Stephenson was surprised when his audience leveled blame at sci-fi authors. “You’re the ones who have been slacking off,” said Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University and co-founder of the forward-looking think tank the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes.

Snow Crash – a science fiction book by Neal Stephenson

Knowledge Navigator: 1987 Apple Promo of a voice controlled AI assistant

What Happened to the Future? – an interesting essay + diagrams from Peter Thiel’s Founder Fund on where technological advancement has struggled. “We were promised flying cars but got 140 characters”.

A Conference Call in Real Life – a hilarious video illustrating things what a conference call would appear as a real-life meeting

Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?  – “we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence”

Harvard Business Review Executive Psychopaths – “Many of psychopaths’ defining characteristics—their polish, charm, cool decisiveness, and fondness for the fast lane—are easily, and often, mistaken for leadership qualities.”

Are CEOs and Entrepreneurs psychopaths? Multiple studies say “Yes” — “the incidence of psychopathy among CEOs is about 4 percent, four times what it is in the population at large.”

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right book by Atul Gawande — sometimes innovation is incredibly boring. This book shows how simple idea of the checklist can be ground-breaking.

Slow Ideas – New Yorker Article by Atul Gawande on how some new ideas take a long time and require lots of in-person hand holding to implement

Simple Techniques Can Make You A Great Teacher – “Doug Lemov spent years observing highly effective teachers, and has developed a set of simple techniques that he says can make anyone a great teacher.” One technique is simply challenging students to hand in their papers in under 30 seconds!

Data Scientist


The Scientific 7 Minute Workout – a short, bodyweight based workout popularized by the New York Times


#4: Race and Gender in Technology

In this episode we attempt to have an enlightened conversation about race and gender in technology. Why choose to tackle such a controversial topic? Because we believe that making technology more equitable and diverse would accelerate innovation and benefit our entire industry (and all who benefit from our industry).

Technology sometimes appears like an field that is naturally meritocratic, but when you dig further down, you find that we are still far from that ideal. From overt discrimination and harassment to subtle social cues that suggest that someone “might not belong”, there are many factors that favor straight, white, upper middle class men who are white and perhaps Asian. There’s a lot more we all can do to make working in technology (as a developer or otherwise) more accessible to underrepresented groups.

We cover a ton of ground here: differences in interview questions ask men vs women, recognizing privilege of race and gender, improving conference participation, the weird racial elements of power rangers, and more.

We tried to honest, hard-hitting, and open minded, and we hope you find this episode both educational and enjoyable.

Sarah + Jason

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Show Notes

RailsBridge – Sarah’s nonprofit dedicated to increasing diversity in the technology community through free training workshops in cities across the world (and new parent organization Bridge Foundry).

Loud. Arrogant. Rebellious. Asian – Jason’s blog post on how he strives to break Asian American stereotypes. Inspired by the New York Magazine article Paper Tigers.

Privilege – systematic benefits and advantages that usually accrue to the more powerful subgroup of a population. Here is a comic explaining white privilege, this is a list of 50 white priviledges and 46 male privileges.

Straight White Male: the lowest difficulty setting there is – a hilarious and wonderfully nerdy description of privilege without the academic language

Technical Asian Privilege – while Asians often suffer from being a minority group, Philip Guo wrote a great article on how sometimes being Asian can be a benefit.

Why More Women Conference Speakers – Sarah’s blog post on getting more women speaking at conferences.

To make conferences more diverse look beyond white men – Sarah Milstein’s article on successful techniques for getting diverse conference speakers.

Female Founders – Paul Graham’s essay on his perspective on women entrepreneurs and how to increase their number

Books – We referenced several books in the show, including Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock

The Gender Trap reviews research on how women and men are perceived differently for the same behavior: “different vocabulary used to describe similar qualities in men (confident, take-charge, committed) and women (bossy, aggressive, emotional).”

Editorial: Improving Publication Quality by Reducing Bias with Double-Blind Reviewing and Author Response – “Compared to single-blind reviewing, every study so far shows double-blind reviewing improves the outcome of the process”

What We Learned About America From Richard Sherman – a few interesting thoughts about the controversial post-game interview of the Seattle Seahawks cornerback that got lots of people up in arms

What Would the Yellow Ranger Do? – Explaining why a seemingly innocuous question (“Where are you from?”) could actually be really frustrating to someone.



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#3: The Top Tech Trends of 2013

As the year winds down, we decided to make episode 3 all about the major tech trends of the year and what matters now. If anything, it’ll be fascinating to look back on this episode next year and see how things have changed. We covered 6 major topics and there’s a lot that we didn’t get to, like the leaks about NSA, Bitconin, and Women in Tech for instance, but hopefully you find our list interesting and worth a listen.

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Show Notes



Wearable Computing


Coding goes mainstream

Web / Tablet apps Replacing Desktop

Real-time goes mainstream

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#2: Blogging is a Technical Skill

In our second episode, we explore the origins of our respective blogs Ultrasaurus.com (happy 10 year anniversary!) and The Art of Ass-Kicking, how you sometimes gotta just put stuff out there because you don’t know how people will respond, and the idea that if you can’t communicate your smart ideas … well … maybe they aren’t that smart.

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Show Notes

xkcd: The General Problem – a webcomic on the problem with trying to automate everything

Beyond Desktop UI – a few paragraphs Sarah wrote in 2003 on the future of desktop applications, ended up getting picked up by Robert Scoble. A surprise hit.

Learning Bash – an example of one of the really arcane blog posts Sarah did on learning “born again shell”. Another is “Bash: Xargs is Your Friend”

Running a Fast Mile: an example of Jason’s monthly fitness challenges.

Serious Pony: the internet reincarnation of the really awesome Kathy Sierra

Eleven Compelling Startup Pitch Archetypes : an example of Jason “catching” all his ideas after an intense period of advising people applying to Y Combinator

Rules and Freedom: a post by Sarah on how the best toys give just enough freedom


#1: What Makes for a Good Hackathon?

Welcome to the first episode of the Tectonic podcast! In this episode, we discuss what happened with Smithsonian’s first ever hackathon, explain how API’s work for lay people, and argue over whether Twitter is a cult.

Let us know what you think in the comments! – Jason and Sarah

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Show Notes:

Founding of Smithsonian: “Finally, President James K. Polk signed the legislation Aug. 10, 1846, that established the Smithsonian Institution as a trust to be administered by a Board of Regents and a Secretary of the Smithsonian.”  (via Smithsonian)

Luce Hackathon: On November 16 and17, 2013 the Smithsonian American Art Museum held a “hackathon” to reimagine the digital interpretation in the museum’s visible storage facility, the Luce Foundation Center for American Art. (via Luce Center 2013 Hackathon)

What is an API? A nice explanation video for folks new to the idea of an API. In this case, the Smithsonian is acting as the “map data” company, and there’s no payment processing involved. (via Common Craft – API)

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