Office Not Required
Known to the Ruby programming-language and automobile-racing communities as DHH, talented Danish programmer David Heinemeier Hansson is the CTO and co-founder of Basecamp (“the saner, organized way to manage projects and communicate company-wide”) and creator of Ruby on Rails (“an open-source web framework that’s optimized for programmer happiness and beautiful code”). He is also a best-selling author, professional race-car driver, and photographer.
Having received his first computer at six years old, Hansson originally dreamed of making video games before he realized that that would involve “a whole lot of math” and that he “wasn’t actually that into that.” Later on, in high school, he ended up running a website out of his bedroom in Copenhagen. It was “through the process of writing for the web, developing a website” that led him to programming. “I found it awesomely interesting,” says Hansson, who then “got into web design” after graduating high school and “worked at a small company that was designed for Danish foreigners,” while doing “gaming journalism and organizing gaming websites,” but he was convinced that “perhaps being an employee was not the best fit” for him.
In 2001, Hansson decided to attend the Copenhagen Business School to study computer science and business administration. He thought that he should have been “making some money on the side,” which was what led him to work with Jason Fried, his business partner at Basecamp, doing “contract work” that he could do alongside his schooling. In 2003, they began to work on Basecamp launching the software in 2004 – and that was when his “dream of running a real business together took off.”
Hansson has been fortunate in his ability to apply his focus and meticulousness to his hobbies, particularly race-car driving and photography, as well as programming. “I found a lot of comparisons between learning how to become a good photographer and learning how to become a good programmer,” he shares. “It was made of the fundamental concepts of how you learn something, how you develop an A.I.” According to Hansson, recognizing whether a “piece of code is good or bad” is “quite similar” to knowing whether “a photographer or a photograph is good or bad.”
Yet while his success may continue into the post-coronavirus future due to the global shift towards remote work, Hansson believes that that is a “very myopic view of the world.” He then adds, thoughtfully, “I think we are in an incredibly dangerous and precarious time right now.” In the context of a “broad societal crisis, everything from fracking to environmental protection,” we may remain “very pessimistic,” but Hansson hopes to “work for that pessimism not to come through,” while being “realistic about where we are in the world right now.” However, he thinks that “it’s great that people are realizing that they don’t have to be in the office and that remote work is on the rise,” which is why he has launched HEY, a brand-new e-mail service. “This is how we talk to people, and we just weren’t super-thrilled with the options,” he says. “I’ve been using Gmail for about sixteen years, and it seems like ten years ago, Google just stopped caring.” Seeing the “opportunity in the market,” Hansson did not hesitate to “take on a challenge as broad as e-mail.” He laughs, “When was the last time someone got an e-mail account they were actually excited about?”
Offering some advice to future programmers and computer scientists, Hansson notes that “the best way to become a great programmer is to program both with and on something you like. You have to like it to a point where how you do it matters.” He says that he could have become a “mediocre programmer” if he had chosen to make video games, but it wouldn’t have been “nearly as much fun as becoming really good at something I really liked.”
Writer: Sophia Mazurowski
Photographer & Videographer: Daniel Lennox
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)