Charlie Cheever

Developer at Exponent, previously co-founder Quora, engineer at Facebook and Amazon

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON December 10, 2015

Discussion

Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
Hi - I'm Charlie Cheever. Right now, I'm working on a project called Exponent which lets you use instant native apps that are written in JavaScript and live in the cloud. We just launched on Android . Check it out :) https://twitter.com/exponentjs/s... . I also help out with a new app my friends Dev and BJ made called The List App. In the past, I've gotten to work on some other cool stuff as well -- I cofounded Quora, a question-and-answer site. Before that, I worked at Facebook for a while and built a lot of things, including helping out with the first version of Video on Facebook, wrote a lot of the code for the Facebook Platform, and helped launch Facebook Connect. My first job was at Amazon in Seattle. And I have done some angel investing in the last few years as well. Ask me pretty much anything! Hey everyone- Thanks for having me! I'll be here answering questions for a while.
Vjeux@vjeux · Front-end Engineer, Facebook
I've been working with you guys at exponent for a while now but I have still no idea what you are trying to do with it. Can you explain what the vision of the project is and how it's going to materialize concretely?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@vjeux Hi. If you look at the Android client we just released, I think you'll start to get a better idea. On the developer side, we are making it so that people can write just JavaScript -- and not worry about Xcode or Android Studio or submitting to App Stores and waiting for review, etc. -- and then have a React Native experience they can use and share much more quickly. On the user side, we are trying to create an ecosystem of instant mobile apps that you can use just by tapping on them. For example, if you open up Exponent on Android, you can see a few examples there. If you tap on Floaty Plane, it downloads the game over the Internet and you can start playing it immediately. And if you tap on the Pomodoro timer, it will download that from the Internet and you can start using that, but you don't have to have either one "installed" or downloaded in advance before you use it. And if the developers of either of those change the software, you get the new version the next time you load it. So, the model is much more like the web and web browsers are than the current model with app stores, except that the experiences you get look and feel native because Exponent is built on React Native instead of HTML5.
Jess Hui@jess_hui
Hey @vjeux — we're (Exponent) hosting our 1st community event in downtown Palo Alto next Thursday. The guys will be around to chat / answer questions, plus Brent and Adam will talk about Exponent generally and about Navigation. Would be great to have you there! Ping me w any questions but we'll also keep the FB event updated: http://bit.ly/expmeetup
James Ide@ji · Expo
What kinds of things would you like to see people build for Exponent that you think would be fun to make and highlight where Exponent shines?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@ji Hi James- The kinds of things that I think turn out the most beautifully are the things that people build for themselves and their friends, so I'd love to see people take cracks at that. I still think there is a lot of room on mobile for creating different ways of having discussions around photos, videos, text, etc., and that's the kind of thing Exponent -- and the technology that its built on, React Native -- are really designed to be good at (stuff we think of as "apps"). I'd love to see someone make a Reddit client, or a reimagining of Reddit for mobile, for example. Since it's very quick to build and iterate on Exponent, I think there's also a lot of potential for niche things -- that wouldn't necessarily be worth building an iPhone app and an Android app and going to the trouble of trying to get them into the app stores, etc. One example we've seen so far is a few people have built schedules for conferences -- the kind of thing that would be more of a webpage or a website than a web app. I get really excited thinking about how Exponent could open up this world of the long tail of things that should be native feeling on mobile but are so lightweight that no one wants to build or download an app store app for.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Hey what are some key things that you've learnt working for so many great tech companies?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@bentossell Hi Ben! Thinking about all the different places I've worked, it's interesting that some things stay the same across companies and some things are very different. For example, when I worked at Amazon, the focus was always on the customer -- at every all hands meeting, Jeff Bezos would talk about being "the world's most customer centric company", and even though I was not an important person at all there, in all the meetings I was in, everyone would talk about taking care of customers very explicitly as the most important goal. People would really go the extra mile to make sure that each and every order was followed up on and tracked and that customers were happy. But then when I worked at Facebook, the focus was much more on the network. Serving one individual person was considered much less important than strengthening the connections between all the people on the network. The thing that was the same was that there was a consistency of principle that represented the underlying philosophy of the company that everyone knew about, but there was a meaningful difference between the actual principles. Another example would be: when we started working on Quora, we thought "We are so smart; we learned so many things about how to grow a website working on Facebook, so we'll just be able to use those." And then the things that worked turned out to be pretty different from the things that worked growing Facebook.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@ccheever thank you so much! How about Product Hunt...where do you think we should be focusing? As an outsider looking in :)
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@bentossell I think Product Hunt is beautifully designed and really great. It does seem like its hard for new people to get integrated into the Product Hunt community. There are some nice things about that, but I think I might spend some time thinking about ways to make it clearer for how people can get access to post comments, etc. I'm sure you guys have thought about it more than I have though!
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@ccheever 100% agree! @mscccc recently added a super sexy invite system so that those with invites can give their friends access in one click, but we have a lot more work to do to open access to more people.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@ccheever +1 fo' sho' Something we have definitely brought up in-house :)
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Hey, Charlie! Awesome to see you here. When we first met, you were experimenting with an entirely different social app before starting Exponent. I’m unsure how much you want to share publicly so I won’t mention specifics (unless you want to), but I’m curious why you decided to do something (much) different. Also, for those building products, how do you know when it’s best to move onto something else?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@rrhoover I think about this a lot and I'm not sure I've ever figured out the answer. The founding stories of successful companies are all so different! Sometimes you hear about how important focus is -- and I do think it is -- but if you look at the most successful startup of the last few years, it's Uber, and the founders didn't even realize at first it was worth their time to work on it full time and hired a CEO to work on it, until it started to really take off. If there is a theme to success, I think biggest thing is seeing big opportunities and then just seizing them. In my particular case right now, @ji and started working together because we both thought that, as more and more people use their phones more and more, making it easier and better to make stuff on mobile was the most important software problem we saw in the world. But neither one of us actually knew that much about mobile development, so we had to spend a bunch of time just making things to learn how to build real stuff. I really like the app I showed you -- it was called Nametag and I hope we can finish it one day -- but when React Native was released (thanks @vjeux et al), we saw an opportunity to use that technology to help us move forward on what our vision had always been and so we decided to carpé the diem even though it meant dropping a couple other things that I think could be really cool. I remember a funny study I read about where lucky people just see opportunities other people don't. I don't know how legit it is, but I found a write up here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/techn... ''' I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: "Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper." This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it. For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: "Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250." Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs. ''' Another part of it is that I think it usually works out well to work on the things that you are best suited for, and I think a lot of the work I've done in the past -- on web frameworks and the Facebook developer platform -- sets me up to do a good job on Exponent.
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
Hi everyone - I have to take off now. Thanks for having me and thanks for all your questions!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
@ccheever Thanks so much for being here today Charlie! Hugely appreciate your time out to chat with us today. 🙌
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
Hi @ccheever thanks so much for joining us today. Would love to hear how you view Quora today? Is it how you viewed and wanted it to be? Also if you were to have no knowledge of coding now, and were to start from scratch again, how would you do it? What would you learn, language? What resources would you use?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@harrystebbings Hi Harry- I'm busy working on new stuff so I don't have too much time to pay attention to or think about Quora. If I were starting to learn to code from scratch, I would definitely learn JavaScript to start. You can use it in the browser, on the server (with Node), in mobile apps, etc. and so you can do a lot only knowing that one language. I also have a personal preference for dynamic languages and JavaScript is a pretty reasonable one. One of the ways I learned to code was typing in programs from a book called How to Make Your Own Computer Games into an Apple ][e. The act of typing out someone else's code seems weirdly helpful. I saw Zed Shaw said the same thing in his Learn X The Hard Way series and I really agree with it. It makes you pay attention to each line and think about it a tiny bit. Once you've typed out examples, its easy to change them, and eventually you can get comfortable writing your own stuff from scratch. A completely different path would be to get good at math first. Everyone math major I knew in college was immediately a good programmer the moment they tried it for the first time.
Kingsong Chen@kingsongchen · Founder at Scanate
@ccheever What was the biggest difference between building Quora and Exponent?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@kingsongchen Hi Kingsong! I think the biggest difference is that, with Exponent, there are actually a lot of technical challenges that we aren't always sure we're going to be able to solve, whereas with Quora, we were just building a website and we already knew how to build websites. Even though I think we did a good job technically with it, I was never really worried we wouldn't be able to do that part. With Exponent, we're also trying to engage with developers. It's much easier to make stuff on Exponent than it is using Xcode or Android Studio, but compared to writing a tweet or taking an Instagram photo, it's a much bigger investment and people are hesitant to make a big investment in a new technology without knowing if it will work for them or not. Another difference is just the team and the vibe. The group I'm working with now -- James, Brent, Jesse, and Nik are super fun to be around every day.
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
@ccheever Hi! I wonder what's your view on online schools/education. What are the parts missing that could help it grow exponentially?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@theo_dimarhos It seems like a lot of people are doing great work making education resources available online. My friend David Malan who teaches CS50 at Harvard and now Yale has done an amazing job of taking that formerly tiny course and growing into something that teaches thousands of people now, and I think there are plenty of examples of startups and organizations and teachers taking material and making it broadly available. I'm really excited -- like just about everyone else -- about the idea of taking the educational materials and experiences that used to be accessible to just a few and making them available to anyone who wants. The complement to that idea that I think is also compelling is the idea of making a path for the people most interested in education to push ahead on their own as far and as fast as they can go. My friend Shreyes was just telling me about how important he thought this is. In things like sports or the arts, we create these special paths for people that seem very talented and interested in making it their lives and careers, and we don't do as much of that with school for some reason -- in part because so much of school is (wonderfully) about the social stuff and we don't want to create weirdos who have no friends their own age and haven't gotten the joys of living in society -- but with all the new technology and techniques that are available, it's exciting to think about how we can get the best of both worlds, and have 3rd graders taking Calculus BC on their own, but still playing freeze tag at recess with their neighbors.
Theoharis Dimarhos@theo_dimarhos · Marketing+Biz Dev at AngelouEconomics
@ccheever @theo_dimarhos Thank you, I really appreciate it!
Gorkem Yurtseven@gorkemyurt · Amazon
Have you contacted someone at Apple about the Exponent IOS app? Potentially exponent can disrupt the app store.. Do you think Apple is going to be okay with people bypassing the app store? Do you think there is any risk there?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@gorkemyurt Hi Gorkem- We're being pretty careful to stay within Apple's rules, and so Exponent on iOS will probably be more of a developer tool. But on Android, where the rules are more wide open, and there are more operating system level integration you can do, we can do some really cool stuff so that its something that its a viable way to distribute software instantly to end users.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
Thanks so much for joining us today! During your career to date, what is the best piece of advice you've ever been given? Flip side - what's the worst?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@ems_hodge One thing that stuck with me is "Only agree to new commitments when both your head and your heart say yes." which is a quote from Richard Evans that I think I originally read on @pmarca's blog. I think it makes sense on a literal level -- there's so much going on in the world that commitments are really expensive because if you follow through, you are missing out on other opportunities. At the end of the day, the main thing you have to contribute is your time so you should be pretty careful with how you use it. Another good bit of advice related to that is this essay by Paul Graham: http://paulgraham.com/makerssche... The thing that really inspired me to go start working on startups was reading Paul Graham's website back in 2004. I think everyone who is interested in startups has probably already done this but you should read everything here if you want lots of pretty good advice: http://paulgraham.com/articles.html . But going back to the Robert Evans quote, I think the even more important piece of it is the bit about your head and your heart being in agreement. I think its a good idea to do that for most big decisions -- especially in startups where there is so much change and uncertainty. If you are hiring or firing people, or choosing which job to do next, or what to work on, try as hard as you can to make sure your head and your heart agree. One thing that I learned the hard way instead of getting advice from anyone, but I'll share here anyway is: make sure you get enough sleep!
Topaz Tee@topaz_tee
@ccheever 1. Is there a question you're hoping someone would ask you on Quora that no one has yet? 2. If you weren't involved with Quora what other 'area' do you see need distrupting/solved?
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven't been before?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@jacqvon I've gotten to see a lot of cool places already. When I was a kid and used to watch that gameshow "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego", and the kids could pick anywhere in the United States to visit if they won the final challenge, I decided I wanted to go to the pacific Northwest, but I've already been there (...and lived there, and am there now...) so cross that off the list. My mom has always wanted to go to The Galapagos to see all the life and diversity that is there, and I'd love to go on a trip there one time with my family.
Hash_tag_jeff@jeffumbro · Book Marketing and PR - get in touch
@ccheever Any thoughts on the future of Quora? I'd love to know if you have any plans of indexing past answers, etc.
Tahsin Mayeesha@xenocide15 · Former U of Waterloo software eng.
@ccheever Why don't you post at Quora actively? I joined after you were gone so I was always curious about it. Do you ever browse Quora?
Phil Nguyen@p_ngu · The Daily Water Cooler + Vettery
Yo @ccheever - thanks for taking the time to answer questions! How did you come up with the name for Exponent?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@p_ngu Hi! We were originally going to make a gallery of React Native components to just try out the technology so the idea was Exponent = Expo for Components. And then we liked the idea that it would exponentially increase developer productivity or ("raise developers to the power of"). I like the name a lot but I do kind of wish it were a little bit shorter and totally unique so that it wasn't ever mixed up with other stuff called Exponent and easier to find in search, etc.
Michael Sitver@msitver · I build things
@ccheever What key tricks did you use to kickstart the Quora community, and growth?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@msitver The main thing was that we just wrote a bunch of content ourselves to prime the pump. I remember a funny joke my friend Jeff Hammerbacher made one time where he posted something like "Hey I just found a cool service called Quora that lets you ask Charlie Cheever questions in real time" because we were the only people really answering lots of questions at the very beginning. Then we got a few friends pulled into doing it with us and a community started to form. I'm not really sure what happened from there -- I wish I understood it fully but I'm not entirely sure I could recreate whatever went on to make Quora's community work, but Marc Bodnick was really important. He was on the site literally > 12 hours a day for a long time and was just a backbone of the community, encouraging people writing good stuff, and asking good questions, and just being around. I guess there's a kind of magic in just having people who care who are just present.
Aamer Jomaa@aamerjomaa · Co-founder @ Boosted Jobs
Hi Charlie! Thanks for joining us today at Product Hunt. Working on Quora, what were the challenges you faced trying to cultivate a community and culture that is welcoming and open to newcomers?
Charlie Cheever@ccheever · Programmer
@aamerjomaa Hi! We had two rules that I think were really helpful. 1. Try to make every question page the best thing to see for someone who wanted to know the answer 2. Be nice. The first one was important because it created a shared goal. If someone wasn't working towards that, anyone could say -- "Hey, that's out of line. That's not within the spirit of what everyone is trying to do here". One free-for-all forums, it's not as clear what people are trying to do so its hard to take anything and say "that doesn't fit in here" (which is good and bad). I think the second one is important because on the Internet -- when people aren't seeing each other face-to-face -- it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that you're interacting with other human beings who are sensitive and have feelings, so having an extra reminder to be thoughtful about that, and setting a standard around it, was helpful I think for making sure that people felt safe to contribute whatever knowledge they had. I think the general idea of having a few high level principles and then making those well known within the community -- and backing them up with action as necessary -- works pretty well. Wikipedia has something kinda similar called The Five Pillars. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wi... and that has worked pretty well for them.