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AI in Web Development with Scott Hanselman

In this podcast episode, Scott Hanselman discusses the impact of AI on web development, emphasizing the importance of understanding technology's fundamentals, ethical usage of AI, and promoting empowerment and emotional health in the tech industry.

In this illuminating episode, Scott Hanselman, with over 30 years in the tech industry, including a significant tenure at Microsoft, delves into the impact of AI on web development. He reflects on his technological journey from the early days of the internet and explores AI's potential in automating routine development tasks. Scott advises on the ethical use of AI and stresses the importance of understanding technology's fundamentals for mastery. He also touches on the personal side of tech work, advocating for empowerment, authenticity, and emotional health in the field. The podcast wraps with a call to highlight positive narratives that contribute to a supportive tech community.

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Meet Scott at Epic Web Conf.


Scott Hanselman
Scott Hanselman


Kent: Hey Scott, it's so nice to see you. I'm so happy that you're gonna be speaking at Epic WebConf and I wanted the audience to get to know you a little bit before that happened. So could you introduce yourself to us a little bit?

Scott: My name is Scott Hanselman and I live in Portland, Oregon. For the last 15 years I've worked at Microsoft. For the last 32 years though, I've been working in tech and on the web. I was also a professor at OIT, Oregon Institute of Technology, which is a state school here in Oregon, as well as Portland Community College, where I graduated from many, many years ago.

Kent: Awesome, so you kind of stayed in that area of the world. You like the Northwest.

Scott: 100%. I started here, I'll die here. It's got a good airport. So I've

Kent: Hahaha

Scott: got my finger on the chess piece of Portland and I'll just bounce around. But yeah, this is where we are.

Kent: That's that's fantastic. So 32 years in web that's as long as just about anybody could say they've

Scott: Well,

Kent: been

Scott: I mean, because when I count web, I mean, I guess I mean internet because it's like, you know, I mean, I remember installing mosaic for the first time. I remember when Windows didn't come with a TCP IP stack, so you had to add trumpet windsock. I ran a bulletin board, I want to say, 35 years ago, if folks remember that. And if they don't, I would encourage them to go and watch BBS, the documentary. So I was running an OS 2 machine, an IBM OS 2 on a 486 with 8 megs of RAM. running Wildcat BBS, which was a bulletin board system. And people would dial into my house. I lived in my parents' garage. And we pulled extra copper wire to the back of the house so that we had a two-line bulletin board system running multitasking in OS2. And people would leave email. But email didn't really exist yet. So it was called FidoNet. So if you can't in Utah wanted to email me, you could have a long distance phone call because phone calls used to cost money. But in fact, you would do FidoNet, where it would, I would, you'd call your bulletin board, you'd leave a note, it would be sitting in a queue. And then you'd make a local phone call to somewhere nearby, but heading west, and leave it in their queue. And then we would bounce our way local phone call one at a time, all the way over to Portland at night. And then you'd get the email like the next day.

Kent: What? Oh my goodness, I've never heard of anything like that

Scott: Yeah,

Kent: before, that

Scott: FidoNet

Kent: is

Scott: is what that's called.

Kent: fascinating. Well, so how has this world, not just web I suppose, but software kept your attention for so long?

Scott: I like the, my dad was a woodworker, is still a woodworker, and I like the sense of just inventing stuff, spawning it out of the ether, which is why

Kent: Hmm.

Scott: I'm so fascinated with things like 3D printing, the idea that you can have an idea and then just spawn it like Minecraft. You have an idea, a domain gets bought, a team gets formed, napkins are drawn on the backs of, and then the next thing you know, you're having a conference in Park City, Utah. which is kind of what you're doing, right? It's that power of creation, but also the visceral physical sense of it, whether it be software, which is a little squishier, or like right now I'm working on this Apple computer. This is an Apple One built

Kent: one.

Scott: from chips. So I'm trying to get this guy to boot up.

Kent: Hmm.

Scott: And when I hook this up, I think it'll be cool to try to make a bridge between the past, this is 1976, what if I could get chat CPT on this

Kent: uh

Scott: Apple One? computer and have ChatGBT answering questions here at the top.

Kent: Oh man.

Scott: That's my woodworking.

Kent: Oh, that is fantastic. That's very, very interesting, very fun. Yeah, so like bringing some of your history into the future, which is, you're at Microsoft right now, right? So a huge part, an emphasis for Microsoft is artificial intelligence.

Scott: Yeah.

Kent: And so bringing that technology up to what you're doing at Microsoft, I think is very interesting.

Scott: Yeah, I don't want AI to go the kind of the way of crypto, where it gets used for evil and it becomes the thing that the grifters are using. For me, when I see like generative AI abused where you're inventing new art, I'd rather pay the artist for

Kent: Hmm.

Scott: that kind of stuff. I feel like it should be done to reduce toil

Kent: Hmm.

Scott: and reduce pain. When I think about being human, I think about the cool stuff we make. I don't want to outsource that to the bot.

Kent: Thanks for watching!

Scott: But when I think about a bubble sort, that's not the creative part of the job I want to do. So if the AI can do the bubble sort, cool. But I don't want to just say, make me a website for a conference and then have the whole thing just spawn. You see what I'm saying?

Kent: Yeah.

Scott: So what's the boring part? It's the difference for me and the analogy that I use is like a Marvel universe thing. Ultron is like a robot, but he's empty and evil. And then Iron Man looks like Ultron, bodies are the same, but there's a person in there and he's just made better. So

Kent: Mm-hmm.

Scott: I want iron men and women, not Ultrons, and that's what AI hopefully should do. So I'm trying to really push internally and externally ethical AI, responsible AI, transparent AI that makes people's lives better. And if it doesn't, if it replaces humans, then we're doing it wrong.

Kent: Hmm, yeah, and I am definitely, I don't think that I'm alone in this, but I am a little concerned about what that future looks like, that we could definitely be headed to that Ultron future. It is kind of interesting how the Web3 and crypto space kind of got really big and then suddenly, many of them shifted over to AI. But I do think that this is... nothing like a fad or a trend or anything. This is very much something that is here to stay. And so that's why I am really excited to have you speaking at the conference about this and what web developers can do to upscale themselves so that they can use AI efficiently and like make it a part of what they do

Scott: Yeah.

Kent: in their day to day rather than be like concerned it's gonna take their jobs.

Scott: One of the analogies that I'm working on, that I'm not sure if it's a good one, and maybe I'll test it on you, is that what business is it of I, as an old person on the internet, to tell people that they should drive stick shift in a world where Uber exists, right?

Kent: Mm-hmm.

Scott: Like, just call an Uber, and then your butt gets transported by someone else, right? Want food? A taco drone drops the food in you. Why do I even need to know how to make food?

Kent: Hmm.

Scott: I think there's a balance. I should be able to have a, I have garden, I have square foot gardens. I actually have a blog post called square foot gardening for programmers,

Kent: Oh,

Scott: where

Kent: fun.

Scott: I talk about how to like lay it out, right? So like, I don't need a garden because I have the global supply chain, but it's useful to know how to do that. I don't need to know how to drive stick shift. I have an automatic or a self-driving car or an Uber, but when those self-driving cars break down, when they need their tires changed, there's value in knowing how to do that. So how do we as elders in the web enable people to be more productive, to have more fun, to do more stuff that doesn't involve toil without kind of standing in their way and saying, well, you need to know, young, before you start in the web, build one of these,

Kent: Uh,

Scott: right?

Kent: yeah, gatekeeping.

Scott: I don't want to do that, right? But I do think there's a value in taking the layer that you operate at, whatever it is, could be React, it could be F12 tools, and then go one layer below. Just one layer below. I love that you take Ubers, change attire once. I love that you use React, I love that you use Emmet. Write HTML and Notepad once, just to feel what that feels like and remember our past. So

Kent: Hmm.

Scott: I wanna find a balance where AI enables me to do more of that and explore the full stack and understand the full stack and it'll be my friendly co-pilot, my friendly helper, my patient pair programming buddy. but I don't want to be replaced by an AI.

Kent: Yeah, yeah, I love that. I call that leveling up by going down, the abstraction layer. So, like everybody can start wherever they wanna start. I think that's totally fine. And the quicker you get to shipping something you're excited about, the better. But when you're ready

Scott: Yep.

Kent: to say, okay, now I'm ready to actually really be good at this stuff, then you go down a layer to understand how everything is working down there.

Scott: Sharpen

Kent: So,

Scott: the saw, sharpen the saw.

Kent: yeah. Well, Scott, this has just been such a pleasure to get to know you and chat with you a little bit. I'm super excited to see you in Park City in April. Is the one last thing I wanna ask you about is when we're all at the conference, there are gonna be a lot of people there who want to visit with you. What are some of the things that you hope people come and talk with you about?

Scott: Um, I would like to know if people are feeling empowered and how they are staying with that feeling. Uh, someone, I'll give you a little random anecdote and you tell me if this works, but someone at work asked me how I was and I was a little blue that day. And rather than when your co-worker says, hey, how are you? And you go, I'm fine. How are you? How was your weekend? We went hiking. I said the darkness persists, but so do I. And it made them kind of go, I just asked you how you were.

Kent: I'm

Scott: But

Kent: sorry.

Scott: at the same time, though, I think we all get a little blue about these things. We all wonder about the future. But we've got to stay positive. So I would love to hear positive stories from the attendees about the positive things that they're doing in their community, what they're building for their family, for their friends, for their neighbors, and how they are keeping the darkness at bay.

Kent: Oh, that is great. I love that. That's fantastic. And you know, I think that there are a lot of dark things happening in the world today, and finding a way to persist through those and try to bring a little bit of light into the world, I think is a good thing. When we talk about this, I just have to think of Mark Texan, who is gonna be one of our emcees, and he is just such an enormously positive influence in the community. And I'm super excited to put him on stage to bring some of that positive energy And I think that you're gonna do the same so Scott. Thank you so much for Jumping on board with us, and thanks for giving us some of your time today so we can get to know you

Scott: All right, I'll see you soon.

Kent: Okay, bye everybody.

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