Dim Sum Thinking is a small company started by Daniel Steinberg in 2000. The company has done a wide range of contract work. I’ve produced podcasts for Apple, Sun Microsystems, The Walt Disney Company, O’Reilly Media and others. I’ve written books for Pearson, O’Reilly, the Pragmatic Programmers and others. I’ve written dozens of articles and edited hundreds of articles and more than twenty books. I regularly speak at conferences and conduct both public and private training. I’ve worked on air in radio in a wide variety of formats and have narrated documentaries and a series for public television. I've written code for a dozen clients and loved every minute of it.
Sounds like a lot, but I make sure that I have time to hang out and cook with my wife and daughter.
I used to think my interests were all over the map. There didn’t seem to be a common theme in audio, writing, editing, coding, teaching, screencasting, and presenting at conferences. Then it hit me during a stretch where I was doing regular work for Apple and The Walt Disney Company.
At Apple and Disney there is a culture that understands you need to clearly identify the audience and the story your are telling them. Meanwhile, I had other clients with a budget for podcasts who just wanted to start picking out theme music and recording interviews and putting it together. They didn’t want to stop and ask who the podcasts are for and what the goals were for that audience.
You can get an idea of how important story is to Apple by watching the video of Steve Jobs’ keynote rolling out the iPad. Other companies have introduced devices before and since but Apple does it with story. First, Jobs sets the context by positioning Apple as a company that leads the world in producing mobile devices. He points to successes in sales of laptops and iPhones and then introduces a device that he explains will occupy a niche between these two existing products. And then he sits down and uses it in one of the least exciting demos he has ever done. It was perfect. We saw this device not as a revolutionary product to wonder about and fear but as a comfortable and natural part of the lives we already lead. It lets us do the things we want to do in a convenient and simple way.
Apple gives third party developers the same advice. So many iPhone developers want to open up the development tools and start writing code. Apple’s advice is that you stop and identify carefully who your audience is and what problem they will be able to solve or task they will be able to accomplish with your app. Spend time prototyping your app on paper and really working on the human interaction before you write a line of code. Identify the audience and the story and story board your app just as someone might sketch out scenes in an animated feature.
Story pervades everything that Disney does. You can see it at the end of Pixar movies where the cafeteria workers are credited as craft services. Everyone at Pixar is part of the same enterprise. Over at the Disney parks you can see it in the tiniest of details. Every building has a story that fits into the larger story of the area of the park it sits in. I love visiting the parks with Disney cast members because they point out their favorite details—little touches that I’ve walked by many times without noticing. The details help guests immerse themselves in the story without them feeling the push.
During my time editing books for the Pragmatic Programmers we looked at our books as a heroes journey where the reader is the hero. This requires that the author knows exactly who his reader is and what journey he is taking him on. It also focuses the book on the reader. The author isn’t the hero. The author is Merlin, Dumbledore, or another wise and mystical guide who leads the reader through challenges while showing him that he has the tools to become something greater and triumph at the end.
Before we launched java.net we had a notion of the town square in a modern day Renaissance village where talented people who excelled in different areas would exchange ideas. We seeded the discussion with regular articles and each day I would write a piece that highlighted various blog entries, forum posts, polls, bits of news, and interesting features from other sites. As java.net grew to half a million users the project areas swelled and the conversation flourished.
My formal training is in Mathematics. I have a BA from Brandeis University, an MS from Cleveland State University, and a PhD from Case Western Reserve University. I’ve taught at public and private high schools, in a variety of summer programs, as well as at Oberlin College, John Carroll University, and at Case. In 2000 I left academia to launch Dim Sum Thinking. I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing clients on interesting and important projects.
See, even this longer about page is a story. Fortunately, it continues to have a happy ending.