Matthew Bischoff

Hey, I’m Matt. I write software in New York.

You’re Up

Whenever I go to tech conferences or meet-ups, I almost always end up traveling with either Brian or Andrew from Lickability.

Let’s face it, I’m a nerd, and it can be a little awkward for me to walk up to a brand new group of people at a conference or a party and introduce myself. Will they like me? Am I smart enough? Are they going to eat me?

Brian and I ended up using a really simple system at WWDC 2011 that we’ve continued using to this day which makes this process fun instead of anxiety-inducing. It’s a game called “You’re Up”.

The Rules

  • Join a team of 2-3 people.
  • Pick one of you to be “up”.
  • If you’re up, you must introduce yourself to someone new and bring your teammates along.
  • Have a conversation with your new acquaintances.
  • Alternate who’s up.

Instead of milling around and staring at the furniture or talking to the people that you already know, it’s good to push yourself outside your comfort zone. This simple game has led to dozens of interactions and friendships with people that I still talk to regularly, and I’ve enjoyed going to industry events much more with this in my back pocket.

There are no points in this game for a reason. You don’t play it to win. The reward is in having engaging conversations with interesting people. This is just a little hack to make the hard part of socializing easier and more fun.

Just remember: most people want to meet you as much as you want to meet them, especially in social situations like this. No one would prefer to stand there and stare at their phone when there are tons of fascinating people around.

So go have fun and meet some people. You’re up.

This post was inspired by Lee Edwards, who recently wrote about his Meetup Golf system which works very similarly.

Don’t Go to College

NJIT College Flag

The following is the text of a speech I gave two years ago at New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Honors College Orientation. The audience was primarily students who were trying to determine whether NJIT was the right school for them.

Don’t go to college. At least don’t go unless you understand exactly why you’re going and exactly what you will gain from it. It’s expensive, it’s frustrating, and it’s not really as necessary as it once was for many professions, especially computer science.

I dropped out of college last year, and I’ve never been happier. I’m a full time Mobile Software Engineer at The New York Times, co-founder of a small successful iOS development company called Lickability, and I have an amazing group of friends. Most people would say that I’m very lucky. I don’t think it’s luck. I work insanely hard, all the time.

I have no idea why I was invited here today, but I figure with the 5 minutes I’ve been given, I’ll give you as much value as I can. If you don’t agree with what I say, that’s perfectly okay. It’s just a different perspective.

A few years ago, when I was looking to attend a college, I knew exactly what I wanted to study: Human-Computer Interaction. NJIT was one of the 10 schools in the country that had an undergraduate program in HCI. I lived in South Jersey, NJIT gave me enough money that I could come here for free, and it meant I could be close to New York.

I attended NJIT for 2 years. I can honestly say that classes here taught me almost nothing of value, but that’s not because NJIT is a bad school. It’s due to a fundamental problem in the way the world works: no one cares about you except you. The curriculums will always be outdated, there will always be terrible professors, and your fellow students won’t be much better. Sure, college is a great way to make friends, but it’s not a great way to learn. College can’t teach you because in reality all learning is self teaching.

I have made many great friends here. One of my business partners and my best friend is someone I met in my freshman dorm at NJIT. The Honors College is great for meeting smart people and that’s about it. It’s not that I regret going here, it’s that I left at exactly the right time.

College is not important. What’s important is spending your very limited life doing things you love. For some of you, that might be helping the sick, for some it might be architecting buildings, and for others it might be pure mathematics. For me, I found my passion in building great software, and college only slowed down my ability to do that. That’s not to say money is not important: it is. But it’s only important so that you can support yourself and the people and things you love.

If you don’t yet know what you’re passionate about, that’s okay, but college won’t help you figure it out, it will probably just confuse you more. You need to sit down, examine yourself, examine your life, and really think. Don’t study something because it has high starting salaries, or because there’s a major for it, or because you were good at it in grade school. Do it because you love it and because it will make the world better. Pick a direction that sounds amazing and head in it, even if it seems too difficult. Everyone who started doing what you want to do at some point felt like they were the worst in the world at it. We all feel like amateurs and frauds, all the time. That’s being human.

Many of my friends who went to NJIT and other schools around the country are nearing graduation and desperately searching for jobs in areas they were never even passionate about.

Last week, I interviewed an MIT computer science graduate that couldn’t program his way out of a box. He walked out of the interview early and apologized for wasting our time. He said “I never should have come here, I’m sorry.” Never let that happen to you. Don’t ever think that going to college will get you a great job. It will get you an interview and the rest is up to you.

Carefully consider what everyone from university admissions says. To them you’re not a person, you’re a product. Everyone of you that they sell to the university means that it makes more money, and they get to keep their job.

I know most of you won’t listen to me. The people sitting next to you, your parents and your friends will urge you to take the safe route, getting yourself into thousands of dollars of debt or spending their money to sit in a prison-like dorm room for four years instead of facing the real world, but it’s not their life. You are or almost are an adult. Make your own decisions, make your own money, and live your own life. Sure, your parents love you or whatever, but they’re naturally cautious. You need to take risks.

You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to be here. You don’t have to come here. Everything you do is a choice, so own every one of them.

If you do go to college, don’t waste your time doing “homework” that you know won’t help you. Make friends, make love, make lots of things. Make something great. Because that is what will make you happy for the rest of your life.

Thank you.

Photo courtesy of Willam Hartz.

App Definition

App Store Banner

The app definition statement is a concept that I’ve been obsessed with since I first read about it in the original iOS Human Interface Guidelines back in 2008.

An app definition statement is a concise, concrete declaration of an app’s main purpose and its intended audience.

It’s not exactly an elevator pitch, or a mission or vision statement, and it’s definitely not a spec. It’s just a definition. It’s what you would see if you looked your app up in the dictionary. It answers the questions “What?” and “For whom?”.

The process to create an app definition statement is pretty simple:

  1. List all the features you think users might like
  2. Determine who your users are
  3. Filter the feature list through the audience definition

You end up with a single sentence which you can use as a litmus test for everything you do. Whenever someone on your team proposes a feature or a design, you should be able to run that through your ADS to see if what you’re doing makes sense. Will my audience want or need this? Does it belong?

Right now it seems like our industry is worried primarily about growth hacking, affiliate marketing, and App Store SEO.** None of those things matter unless you make great software**. Doing this simple exercise is the best way I’ve found to make sure that you make something people want without cluttering your idea or adding features for the sake of a checklist.

A few months ago, I asked some iOS developers on Branch for their app definition statements and got some great responses. Here are my favorites (coincidentally, some of my favorite apps):

  • Grades: an app that shows students what they need to score on their next exam.
  • Languages: lightning fast translation without an Internet connection.
  • Paper: where ideas begin.
  • Basil: a single place for your favorite recipes and makes it easier to cook them.
  • Drafts: where text starts.
  • QueueUp: Fast searching and adding for your Netflix Queue.

These don’t all follow the exact same template, but they do give you a quick one sentence way to understand the app. They let you see why the developers may have cut certain features and included others.

Writing an ADS is the first step in any new software project I’m thinking about. As soon as I have one I’m happy with, I put it in the project README and start designing.

Do you write App Definition Statements, or have you found an even better way to define your work?

Photo courtesy of Cristiano Betta.