Today on the show, we interviewed Nathan Kontny, of the blog ninjasandrobots via Skype from his home in Chicago. Nathan created the writing app Draft. He also recently worked as a software engineer on the Obama for America campaign in 2012.
One of the things we found so compelling about Nathan is that his career has definitely not been a linear, straight line from college until today. In fact, Nathan told us that he began his career as a chemical engineer in a uranium processing plant. He became interested in computers when he was assigned to the uranium-free computer trailer after he broke his ankle. As Jerry said, “you literally fell ass backwards into a fortitutious career.” (Post Bomb Alert: Jerry here. I have never used the word “fortuitous” in my entire life, let alone the word “fortitutious”, whatever the fuck that means…)
Nathan also spent time in Silicon Valley, in 2006 and 2011, working in intensive Y-Combinator companies. He said he enjoyed working in these because it’s intensive and forces you to focus your entire life on what you are trying to produce. You get to put away all other responsibilities and pressures.
Last year, Nathan got the chance to work as a software engineer for the Obama for America campaign, in Chicago. When given the opportunity, he decided to take it because, after working alone for awhile, thought “it would be a good idea to join a large team, on a large project working on large technology problems.”
He said the campaign felt like “basically a billion dollar startup. It was huge, there was a lot of money, but we were working at startup speed. We had to get projects out sometimes on the same day we started them. It was a very different atmosphere.”
Coming out of the Obama campaign, Nathan shifted his focus back to writing code on a much smaller project. He began working on his new writing app Draft. He said he was looking for a simple, stripped down way to write that would make it easier to actually write. He found in his own writing, he processed thoughts, words and writing differently. He wanted to move away from the trend to make everything “real-time” technology and give people a way they could collaborate without messing up one another’s draft.
He said, “People get stuck in the weeds around technology, so it’s nice to have something that is stripped down so you can just write.”
Working on Draft not only gave Nathan the opportunity to hone his craft as a writer, but gave him the chance to practice being a designer as well. He says he made a conscious decision to not try to be like other designers but to “design like myself.” He added that it has been very helpful to have his product available and see what other people have to say about it.
Although the feedback has been helpful, releasing software has been an exercise in not giving in to the hate mail and detractors. He says he gets a lot of negative feedback from people who want Draft to have more features such as formatting, and the fact that he has hit a nerve among users has actually been encouraging. “When you grasp the concept of creating stuff for the people who get you, you can start to make some really neat things.”
Finally Nathan left us with a simple piece of advice, that falls perfectly in line with the Powder Keg of Awesome way of doing things: “write good quality shit. This is what you should be thinking about first.”