Citizen Developers, Global Encryption, Local Housing: an SF Perspective
A funny thing happens in the world of startup events, sometimes if you look at what’s going on in parallel among separate agendas, you can find telling congruence. It’s definitely a function of how hard you look, but the following two SF happenings, from residents of opposite ends of Market Street, share a complementary overlap that rings pretty intuitive for me. It is no secret I follow, even live, this corridor on a regular basis (Market Startup Stroll), and in the 2nd and 9th posts of that ‘Stroll’ twitter series you will find the homes of the two residents I speak of here.
‘The Future of Encryption, Housing, and Regulation’
This event was hosted by Runway in the Twitter Building, and organized by Data4America and the Lincoln Initiative. The reason it caught my attention was the breadth of the subject matter and speakers. Blake Masters of ‘Zero to One’ notoriety (co-written w/ Peter Thiel) and Keith Rabois, also famous for Thiel ties, kicked things off with a pretty thoughtful if not hurried conversation about the state of play in the legal and policy arena(s). Rabois is an expert in this arena to say the least, and true to form he came across immensely well read and informed on where we stand, so to speak, in such dynamic perhaps volatile times. A lot of topics were touched upon including, FBI v. Apple, Thiel v. Gawker, and Trump v. the World. Some of my favorite sound bites included the summoning of “the right side of history” and ‘I truly think he’s a psychopath. I mean textbook. He actually believes all those things he says’ in reference to Trump. I have to say given Rabois conservative slant it was pretty satisfying hearing a very wealthy political donor so ill-contempt with the GOP. It tells me that we may see something very different in four years, if Rabois and Thiel have to write a new Powell Memo themselves! Our two-party system desperately needs that no matter how much I skew towards the Democratic Party. That topic will be the stuff of legendary literature and scrutiny in the years to come I would guess, so for purposes here, back to the evening’s conversation.
Mr. Rabois was pretty outspoken in his opinions from a legal perspective. It was mentioned that the San Bernardino Apple case was a pretty sloppy one despite its high-profile, and that bringing forward a case with less holes in terms of attacking the precedent would have been preferable. But as is most always the case with Libertarian views, the outcome was favorable given the government lost (or withdrew its case rather). With regards to fellow Paypal Mafia Boss Thiel and his current battles with Gawker, the sentiment was a little bit ‘I don’t really want to touch this’, but Rabois did state that he disagreed on principle with ANYONE being able to finance another’s legal case. However given the fact this happens all the time, he could not find an argument against his former colleague’s legal tactics. (And let’s face it, Gawker IS borderline criminal in its doings. My guess however is that the net result will be Nick Denton poaching one of the more seasoned counsel from The Enquirer’s brigade, and matters will resume.)
All in all, I have to say I was pleased with the frankness of the dialogue between Rabois and Mr. Masters. This is to be expected to some degree given the fact that Masters directs the Thiel Foundation and as such, the two of them certainly already know each other. But nonetheless, these two were more than welcome to field questions from the audience, even somewhat disgruntled ones. I left thinking that Keith Rabois by no means has to make appearances like this one, and I think he does so in the interest of transparency. So kudos to him.
The second conversation of the night centered on the oh-so-sensitive local topic of housing in San Francisco, or the lack thereof to be more accurate. True to form, Kim-Mai Cutler does almost as well with the spoken word as she does with the written, and her exchange with SF Supervisor (quite possibly soon-to-be California Senator) Scott Wiener was well versed and researched. News to me was the beyond-dated legacy that Prop 13 and its property tax provisions continue to have on arguably the most future-forward thinking city on Planet Earth, as well as the effect of the ever-Hummer-centric Governator’s first executive order to repeal proportional vehicle license fees.
Building new housing does NOT need to be any more difficult in SF!
Of even more immediate relevancy, Wiener’s point that we need more housing not moratoriums was well received I thought. Full disclosure though, this is in part because I do believe that x≤20% of many new housing projects is far favorable than x>20% of hardly any at all. Building new housing does NOT need to be any more difficult in SF! Further, all too often those opposing and complicating this matter are the ones who already have a place to live. We are gaining a net 10,000 people each year in a city that already has a serious housing shortage. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but your cute little 60’s and 70’s notion of SF set sail a long time ago. Be happy with your grandfathered luxuries, and stop making it difficult for anyone new to move in. We’re here and we’re not going anywhere, nor is AirBnb or Uber for that matter. Get over it. Perhaps you would be better to sell out and move to Marin, I’m sure you’ll find a new set of things to complain about, but at least you will be out of the way to let the United States’ most progressive city do just that, progress.
Ok, enough with the rant, needed to get that off my chest. And now … on to the Citizen Developer in an age of Citizen Kanes.
‘TrailheaDX Developers Conference’
Salesforce doesn’t know how to do a marketing event, said no one ever. If the intent was to tell the world that Trailhead is important to Salesforce, I would say Benioff and team were successful in their Developers Conference. From a Woz keynote to Lenny Kravitz in concert to an inclusive tale of future, present, past in their sponsors: Slack, AWS, Microsoft; this was a well thought out announcement, and one that now has my attention. Recognition should be given to Adam Seligman and his team for all the hard work they have put into Trailhead, and now it would seem the hypothesis has been tested, it passed with flying colors, and is deserving of significant further investment.
What is TrailheaDX you ask? It is the newest version of a pretty clever, gamified platform for building Salesforce developers to in turn build the future of Salesforce itself. Pretty genius actually. Then feed into Heroku and the AppExchange, and you have a pretty compelling roadmap. And if you look at the Salesforce ecosystem overall, this is the type of initiative that helps the company in making good on creating 1M jobs and adding $272B to GDP. Not to mention, future technology decisions and stacks aside, this is pretty interesting/telling/valuable from the PR perspective too. And let us never forget Salesforce is a marketing-force at its core. So in this case it would appear that the Trailblazers are all about being struck by Lightning, and if there is thunder in this metaphor it will come as the onset of an entirely new generation of developers (one defined not by age as much as the ecosystem and ease with which they play/code/learn/work).
I believe the way to start healing this great schism in SF right now between tech and everyone else is to make better on the internet’s promise as the ultimate equalizer. In this case the haves and have-nots are separated by technical ability, if not that sector of the economy in some capacity. If software is going to eat the world, then we should hurry it up already! The sooner more have a couple technical tools in their overall tool belt, the sooner there will be less resentment and a more proportional distribution of the wealth contained in this revolutionary invention called the internet. (Not to mention more developers available to fill the pent-up demand.) I think this is what Benioff and Seligman have in mind with their TrailheaDX release/announcement. Sharing the wealth, love, opportunity … power of software. (I’m looking forward to Dreamforce, and also seeing more about their $50M Lightning Fund.)
More than that though, I’m looking forward to more conversations between the Keith Rabois’ and Scott Wiener’s of the world to find common ground and effective policy, and also more initiatives like TrailheaDX that seek to bridge the gap between the developer haves and non-developer have-nots. I believe in that future, one where our data becomes more of our own asset to monetize/benefit from, where even the most sophisticated apps are as easy to build as a WordPress site today. In that scenario we begin to see a fuller potential of the Web. The Citizen Developer is far better suited to manage his/her encryption and privacy concerns, and better qualified to compete in both global and local markets (be they job, housing, or otherwise). And in the end it is because such a citizen is better equipped to create, not just consume.